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© Suzuhito Yasuda 

© SuzuKito Yasuda 

© Suzuhito Yasuda 







New York 



Translation by Andrew Gaippe 
Cover art by Suzuhito Yasuda 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the 
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to 
actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. 

Copyright © 2015 Fujino Omori 
Illustrations copyright © 2015 Suzuhito Yasuda 
All rights reserved. 

Original Japanese edition published in 2015 by SB Creative Corp. 

This English edition is published by arrangement with SB Creative Corp., 
Tokyo, in care of Tuttle-Mori Agency, Inc., Tokyo. 

English translation © 2017 by Yen Press, LLC 

Yen Press, LLC supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. 
The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the 
creative works that enrich our culture. 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a 
theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use 
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Names: Omori, Fujino, author. | Yasuda, Suzuhito, illustrator. 

Title: Is it wrong to try to pick up girls in a dungeon? / Fujino Omori; illustrated 
by Suzuhito Yasuda. 

Other titles: Danjon ni deai o motomeru nowa machigatte iru daroka. English. 
Description: New York : Yen ON, 2015- | Series: Is it wrong to try to pick up 
girls in a dungeon? ; 9 

Identifiers: LCCN 2015029144 | ISBN 9780316339155 (v. 1 : pbk.) | 

ISBN 9780316340144 (v. 2 : pbk.) | ISBN 9780316340151 (v. 3 : pbk.) | 

ISBN 9780316340168 (v. 4 : pbk.) | ISBN 9780316314794 (v. 5 : pbk.) | 

ISBN 9780316394161 (v. 6 : pbk.) | ISBN 9780316394178 (v. 7 : pbk.) | 

ISBN 9780316394185 (v. 8 : pbk) | ISBN 9780316562645 (v. 9 : pbk.) 

Subjects: | CYAC: Fantasy. | BISAC: FICTION / Fantasy / General. | FICTION / 
Science Fiction / Adventure. 

Classification: LCC PZ7.1.054 Du 2015 | DDC [Fic]—dc23 
LC record available at 

ISBNs: 978-0-316-56264-5 (paperback) 

978-0-316-44244-2 (ebook) 




Title Page 


Prologue: Chance Meeting 

Chapter 1: An Irregular Girl 

Chapter 2: Daily Life With a Vouivre Girl 

Chapter 3: The World and Reality and Monsters 

Chapter 4: Mission 

Chapter 5: Heretics 
Epilogue: Boundless Malice 

Yen Newsletter 



A being from the heavens, 
she is far beyond all the 
inhabitants of the mortal 
plane. The head of Bell's 
Hestia Familia, she is 
absolutely head over 
heels in love with him! 


A girl belonging to a race 
of pygmy humans known as 
prums, she plays the role 
of supporter in Bell's battle 
party. A member of Hestia 
Familia, she's much more 
powerful than she looks. 


A girl from the Far East. 

She feels indebted to 
Bell after receiving his 
forgiveness. Former 
member of Takemikazuchi 
Familia who now belongs 
to Hestia Familia. 


A Dungeon adviser and 
a receptionist for the 
organization in charge of 
regulating the Dungeon, the 
Guild. She has bought armor 
for Bell in the past, and she 
looks after him even now. 

he Labyrinth City Orario-A large metropolis that sits over an expansive 

network of underground tunnels and caverns known as the “Dungeon." Bell 


The hero of the story, who 
came to Orario (dreaming of 
meeting a beautiful heroine 
in the Dungeon) on the 
advice of his grandfather. He 
belongs to Hestia Familia and 
is still getting used to his job 
as an adventurer. 


Known as the Sword Princess, 
her combination of feminine 
beauty and incredible strength 
makes her Orario's best-known 
female adventurer. Bell idolizes 
her. Currently Level 6, she 
belongs to Loki Familia. 


A smith who fights alongside 
Bell as a member of his 
party, he forged Bell's light 
armor (Pyonkichi MK-V). 

Belongs to Hestia Familia. 



A fox-person (renart) from 
the Far East who met Bell in 
Orario's Pleasure Quarter. 
Belongs to Hestia Familia. 

Cranell came in hopes of realizing his dreams, joining Hestia Familia in the process. 

After being saved by the Sword Princess Aiz Wallenstein, he became infatuated with her 

and vowed to grow stronger. As he ventured into the Dungeon, he fought fierce battles 
beside the supporter Lilly, the smith Well', the girl from the Far East named Mikoto, and 

the renart Haruhime as a member of Hestia Familia. With more allies at his side. Bell sets 

foot into the Colossal Tree Labyrinth for the first time and meets a vouivre girl who can 

speak using language. Is this a sign of a storm on the horizon...? 



A half-dwarf smith belonging to Hephaistos Familia. 
Currently at Level 5, Tsubaki is a terror on the 


A member of a race of animal people known as 
werewolves. He laughed at Bell's inexperience one 
night at The Benevolent Mistress. However, he 
recognized the boy's potential after witnessing Bell’s 
battle with a minotaur. 


Known for his cool head, he is the commander of 
Loki Familia. 


An extremely powerful member of Freya Familia. 


A waitress at The Benevolent Mistress. 

She established a friendly relationship with Bell after 
an unexpected meeting. 


The head of Miach Familia, a group focused on the 
production and sale of items. 


The deity of Hermes Familia. A charming god who 
excels at toeing the line on all sides of an argument, 
he is always in the know. Is he keeping tabs on Bell for 


The deity of Takemikazuchi Familia. 


Another member of Takemikazuchi Familia. 


The god in charge of the Guild, he also manages the 


Captain of Ikelos Familia and ill-tempered hunter of 
rare monsters. 

Deity of Orario's most well-known and respected 
familia of smiths, Hephaistos Familia. She has loose ties 
with Hestia dating back to their time in the heavens. 


Deity of Orario's most powerful familia and has 
a mysterious western accent. Loki is particularly fond 
of Aiz. 


High elf and vice commander of the most prominent 
familia in Orario, Loki Familia. 


Goddess at the head of Freya Familia. Her stunning allure 
is strong enough to enchant the gods themselves. She is 
a true "Goddess of Beauty." 


A cat person who belongs to Freya Familia. 


An elf and former adventurer of extraordinary skill, 
she currently works as a bartender and waitress at 
The Benevolent Mistress. 


The sole member of Miach Familia. She gets extremely 
jealous of other women who approach her god. 


A very gifted creator of magical items. She is the captain 
of Hermes Familia. 


The captain of Takemikazuchi Familia. 


A vouivre girl Bell meets in the Colossal Tree Labyrinth 
of the Dungeon. Can speak. 


God of Ikelos Familia. Desperate for entertainment, 
his moral scale is based on whether something is 
interesting or not. 



Sharp, labored breaths rang out. 

The ceiling, walls, and floor in this area of the labyrinth were all tree bark. 
Moss thickly covered its surfaces, illuminating the passageway in a bluish-green 
light. It gave the impression that not a soul had ever set foot in this part of the 
Dungeon. The reverberations of distant monster howls made leaves tremble, 
prompting beads of silver to dribble off sundry fantastical flora. 

In this giant tree labyrinth that was completely removed from the world up 
above, a lone shadow ran with every bit of energy it could muster. 

The figure had supple, delicate limbs that closely resembled those of a young 
girl. Azure-silver hair glistened in the light of the moss. 

Besides its long, silky tresses, the being possessed skin of a bluish-white hue. 

The many scales covering its shoulders, lower back, and the long ears 
framing its face, tapering to even finer points than those of elves, were similarly 
colored. But the most notable feature by far was the glimmering crimson jewel 
embedded in its forehead. 

Blue-white skin and a crimson jewel were just the first of many features that 
proved this creature was a monster. 

Thump, thump, thump! The monster held its thin, branch-like arms against its 
chest as it ran through the Dungeon. 


It was bleeding. 

Claws, fangs, and blades had inflicted many wounds on its body. Deep-red 
blood trickled from open gashes with every step. The attacks had ripped entire 
scales from its shoulders, dyeing its cerulean skin completely red. 


Terror showed in its eyes. Confusion. Grief. 

Several water droplets accompanied the blood on its way to the floor below. 
The clear liquid flowed from the monster’s stunning amber eyes as its thin throat 

began quivering. 


The sound that escaped from its small lips was not the crude howl of a 
monster but a single hoarse, mournful word. 

The voice was like that of a sobbing child. As if disdaining the sounds strung 
together to make a word, the barks of monsters echoing through the labyrinthine 
Dungeon closed in. The lone figure’s bluish-silver hair and slim shoulders 
trembled in fear. 

Sorrow had distorted its face, which was out of place on a monster and 
attractive enough to leave a person breathless. 

The monster—the “girl” was crying. 

Why, why is everyone ... ?! 

She was alone. 

She was only a newborn, recently delivered from the Dungeon walls, but 
everything she had encountered rejected her. 

She had memories of her birth, of breaking out from the wall before falling to 
the floor. Still unable to tell left from right, she wandered the Dungeon, trying to 
make sense of her dim surroundings. While she was anxious at not knowing her 
location, she picked up a familiar scent—one of her own kind. Her instincts 
drove her to follow it. 

It led her to a different corner of the Dungeon, where a creature much larger 
than herself stood. She approached it to ask: 

“Where am I?” 

The creature’s response was a monstrous roar. After raising its voice in anger, 
the monster slashed her with sharp claws. 

Skin torn, she ran away without understanding why. 

As confusion seized her body, the red blood seeping from her wounds and the 
first-time sensation of pain inspired terror in the newborn. 

Since then, she had been attacked again and again. The beings that shared her 
scent, no matter their shape or size, threatened her life. There were no 
exceptions. She fought desperately to hold back something that threatened to 
flow from her eyes as her injuries continued to increase. 

Rushing out from the depths of the Dungeon, the exhausted “girl” next 
encountered creatures of a completely different species. 

They were humans equipped with swords and bows. 

Accompanying them were a fairylike male and female. The long-eared pair 
nestled close together, protecting each other. 

She approached them, unaware that her eyes betrayed her envy. 

Not wanting to startle the newcomers, she hid her sharp claws from view and 
opened her mouth to speak. 

“Help me.” 

In an instant, a blade opened a new wound on her body. 

The group appeared more confused and shaken than she, but most apparent 
was their terror as they rejected her. 

Faced with this new animosity, she fled once again. The men scattered as 
they swung their swords, and the pale-faced women readied their bows with 
muffled shrieks. 

Arrows streaked at her from behind as her tears finally spilled over. 

Pain. Suffering. Sadness. 

The scales on her back deflected the arrowheads but cracked with each 
impact. Her torn, lacerated shoulders felt as if they were on fire. The world 
excluded, alienated, and rejected her; it had branded her an outcast. 

She questioned herself over and over. Why, why? 

Cries of I’m scared, I’m so scared slipped from her mouth. 

Her weeping did not stop. 

What.. .am I... ?! 

No matter how many times she asked, the Dungeon, her mother, gave no 

She fled for some time, but in the end her pursuers appeared again. 
Astonished by her beauty, they adopted unfamiliar expressions as they gruffly 
yelled, “Stop!” 

The hunters, wetting their lips and gazing sadistically at her, had no reason to 
halt their advance. The madness in their eyes as they stalked her was far uglier 
than anything she had seen from her fellow monsters. She tried to escape on her 
two slender legs, having already learned to fear everything. 

The reason she was regarded as a beast lay in the latent power she used to 
shake off her pursuers, dodge other monsters in the Dungeon that continued to 
attack her, and race through the arborous path alone. The lonely echoing tap, tap, 
tap of two feet hung in the air of the seemingly endless Dungeon. 

Translucent tears spilled from her amber eyes again. 


A downward slope. 

She lost her footing like a child and tumbled heavily down the hill 
crisscrossed in tree roots. 

After falling to the very bottom, the “girl” noticed she had injured her leg. 
She couldn’t stand. 

Distant monster howls and the footfalls of people prompted a shiver in her 
body. She examined her surroundings before setting off, dragging her immobile 
leg along. Her wounds had already clotted enough to stem the flow of blood, 
allowing her to hide her trail. In one corner of the Dungeon, she found a single 
tree and an abundance of plants. Using the leaves as a shelter, she hid within. 

Her back pressed to the wall, she held her breath. Trembling, she squeezed 
her badly injured body tightly with both arms and fought back against the 
endless waves of terror. 

Then she realized something was approaching. 

Her breath caught again. 

She could hear steps coming closer and closer with each passing moment. 
The crescendo of footsteps made her recall the biting pain of a sword, almost as 
though the memory itself radiated heat, paralyzing her with horror. 

Her body shook uncontrollably. 

Her cheeks still wet, another wave of fear crossed her face. 

Looking up at the human figure drawing near, the girl hugged herself with all 
her might. 


The “girl’s” tearful eyes looked up as the newcomer appeared. 

“A monster.. .a vouivre?” 

White hair and rubellite eyes. 

In a dim corner of the Dungeon, she had a fateful meeting with one boy. 



© Suzuhito Yasuda 



It all started with a certain quest. 

“Firebirds are overflowin’ on the nineteenth floor. Little Rookie, you’re 
gonna lend us a hand, too.” 

We, Hestia Familia, had just arrived on the eighteenth floor when the 
adventurers of Rivira came to us unexpectedly with a request. 

From time to time, there are unpredictable outbreaks of many monsters 
unique to the Dungeon. These erratic, unusual phenomena are referred to as 

The specific species involved this time had been confirmed as firebirds, a 
rare kind of monster normally found on the nineteenth floor and below. Just like 
its name suggests, they have the appearance of birds and predominantly use 
flame-based attacks. This is a problem because the nineteenth floor is the start of 
the “Colossal Tree Labyrinth” in the Dungeon. 

Apparently these firebirds can turn an entire area into a sea of flames if left 
unchecked. What’s worse, I’ve heard they sometimes come up to the eighteenth 
floor—which should be a safe point—and soar through the wide-open skies, 
putting even the lakeside town of Rivira in danger. 

Upper-class adventurers who stage expeditions from Rivira weren’t about to 
let their base go up in flames, and we had arrived just as they were setting off to 
exterminate the monsters. The residents were seeking help in suppressing the 
outbreak and soliciting every upper-class adventurer who happened to be passing 

The war against Rakia had ended three days ago. Having returned to our 
regular activities in the Dungeon, we had finally made it all the way to the safe 
point without relying on anyone else for the very first time. Lilly was quite 
unhappy when this quest was forced on us upon arrival, but given the handsome 
reward and the fact that a flock of firebirds in our way made it impossible to 
comfortably progress any farther, she grudgingly gave in. 

The adventurers of Rivira provided robes made of burn-resistant salamander 
wool as an advance payment to all cooperating participants. Meanwhile, the 
organizers temporarily assigned me to a different party because of my high 
agility. They wanted to finish the monster subjugation as quickly as possible, so 
I was deployed in a group that stressed speed. 

With my salamander-wool robe wrapped around my shoulders, I left Lilly, 
Welf, Mikoto, and Haruhime for the time being and followed my assigned group 
of burly adventurers through the entrance leading to the nineteenth floor. 

Just when I thought things were going well, I realized I had ended up 
separated and alone. 

The Colossal Tree Labyrinth was completely different from the other floors 
I’d seen before, and I had no experience with its structure and paths. Since we 
were chasing after and sometimes running away from firebirds in unfamiliar 
territory—not to mention my possibly detrimental position at the rear of the 
formation—the other adventurers totally left me behind. 

I found myself in a deserted corner of the Dungeon, trying to get my 
bearings, when it happened. 

I glimpsed something that resembled a human silhouette. 

It dragged an injured leg along the ground and hid itself in the lush 
undergrowth of the Dungeon, suggesting it was attempting to evade pursuit. 

At first, I thought it was an injured fellow adventurer and started running 
over in a panic, but then I suddenly felt as if something was off. With as much 
caution as possible, I approached. 


“A monster.. .a vouivre?” 

I’m shocked by what I see. 

It’s a humanoid monster with delicate, slim limbs and bluish-white skin. 
When I spot the jewel in its forehead that could be mistaken for a third eye, I 
reach back into my memory and find a type of dragon called a vouivre. 


On par with the unicorn, it’s known for being the rarest of rare monsters even 
in the Dungeon. 

I’ve heard it’s known to appear between the nineteenth and twenty-fourth 
floors, and its drop items, whether scales or claws, fetch tremendous sums on the 
market. However, these are nothing compared to the red gem set in their 
foreheads, known as “Vouivre’s Tear.” Its value promises such immense riches 

that adventurers often refer to it as the “Prosperity Stone.” 

But extracting the jewel from a vouivre’s forehead causes it to go berserk— 
and slaying the dragon inevitably shatters the precious item. There are records of 
innumerable adventurers who have been cut to pieces trying to obtain one. 
Vouivres are a species of dragon, the greatest monsters in the Dungeon, and their 
combat strength is unmatched. 

Usually, vouivres would have a humanoid upper body with a snakelike lower 
body, like lamias. Overall, they resemble women attached to a dragon tail, but... 

.. .Is this really a monster? 

The creature’s face seems surprisingly human, and there are tears leaking out 
of its breathtaking amber eyes. 

It’s not wearing anything at all, just the bluish-white skin it was born in. 

I notice it has thin legs where the dragon tail should be, and a pair of modest 
breasts sits on its chest. 

Apart from its complexion and scales, it could very well be a girl about my 

U | 55 

• • • 5 • • • • 

The vouivre.. .is crying. 

Arms wrapped tightly around its trembling body, it looks up at me from its 
spot on the floor. 

Like it’s forgotten that it’s a monster, showing fear like a person. 

I don’t believe it, comes a whisper from a corner of my mind. 

I can’t even think clearly. My confusion is only building. Even seeing it with 
my own two eyes, I simply can’t understand. 

I mean, monsters are our enemies, after all. 

Monsters are born killers, baring their fangs at us and taking every chance 
they get to attack. They possess such atrocious destructive urges that there’s no 
room for reason or emotions to intervene. 

Monsters are, well, monsters. 

—At least they should be. 

I don’t feel any of the hatred and disgust that a monster is supposed to 
summon within me. 

These enemies unconditionally drive us to fight back, but I can’t sense even a 
fragment of the instinctual animosity I would expect. 

Right now, it’s the exact opposite. I’m reluctant to thrust a sword at this 
humanoid figure before me. 

I’ve never seen a monster like this. 

“Uu, aah.!” 

U | 55 

The vouivre’s eyes are glued to the tip of the Hestia Knife. I quickly hide it 
behind my back. The hell are you doing?! I scold myself. The tiny bit of relief 
passing over the monster’s face bewilders me even more. 

Is this specific vouivre a subspecies? 

A product of sudden mutation that could be considered an Irregular itself? 

It’s hurt...No, it’s wounded. 

There are several places on its body caked in dried blood. I can see spots on 
its shoulders where scales have been violently ripped or broken off. 

Only weapons can make injuries like that. Likely, it was adventurers who 
attacked it. Whatever the case, the badly wounded vouivre is looking up at me in 
terror and desperately trying to put more distance between us. But its back is 
already up against a wall, and no amount of retreating will help. 

I can’t move. 

Monsters are the purveyors of death and destruction. 

One should never befriend them, and certainly not extend a helping hand for 
any reason. 

But I’m standing here, trapped in the vouivre’s gaze, peering into those 
amber eyes that definitely carry emotion. I can’t finish it off...Slowly, I back 

At an impasse, I decide that acting like I never saw it is the best option and 
then run away pathetically. 

Turning my back on the vouivre, I leave the place behind me. 


The human gone from her line of sight, the vouivre looked around with a 
mystified expression, tears still filling her eyes. 

The Dungeon was eerily silent. Frightened by what she might see, the girl 
glanced at her surroundings before slowly standing up. 

Placing both hands on the Dungeon wall to take some weight off her injured 
leg, she started hobbling along the passageway. 

Suddenly, with a thud — 

The sound of flapping wings descended behind the injured vouivre as a 
crimson bird appeared from a side tunnel branching off the passageway. The 
firebird was over two meders long from end to end, with narrow bloodshot eyes 
and a massive, gaping beak. 

The vouivre girl froze as she felt heat closing in on her from behind. The 
airborne creature had found its latest victim. 

As the firebird aimed at her a stream of fire more powerful than a hellhound 
could ever produce, she tried to kick off the ground with her slender legs, but it 
was too late. 

The flames dancing in the back of the firebird’s beak lit up the vouivre girl’s 
face, about to spew forth— 


—I brandish my Hestia Knife. 

I sprint and leap forward to attack, the blade carving a bright violet arc 
through the air before splitting the firebird in two. 

The disrupted fire attack breaks apart in midair like fireworks. Its magic 
stone is cleaved apart, so the firebird crumbles into ash, and its remains are 
blown away. 

The vouivre collapses to the ground beneath the cloud of sparks and 
smoldering soot as I land. 

.. .Damn it. 

Now I’ve done it. 

Staring at my Hestia Knife, which I’m holding in a reverse grip, I hunch over 
in despair. 

I couldn’t bring myself to take off after leaving this place behind, so I 
doubled back and watched the vouivre from a blind spot. Then I found myself 
dashing out of my hiding place once the firebird attacked. 

The horror on the monster’s face—no, “her” face—spurred my legs to move 
on their own. 

All alone in the heart of the Dungeon... 

After being attacked by adventurers, it only makes sense that she’s afraid of 
us now. 

But to be assaulted for no reason at all by her fellow monsters? 

Yes, I know thinking like this will only cause problems. The rational, 
levelheaded part of me keeps telling me to not do something so stupid. But my 
hands already went ahead and did it anyway. 

I grip my bangs with my free left hand, clenching my hair as I walk toward 
the stunned vouivre. 

She’s in pretty much the same position as before, looking up at me. 

Trembling with fear and confusion, she gazes my way as if clinging to the 
faintest ray of hope. I let go of my hair and slowly lower my hand with all sorts 
of thoughts running through my mind—and then I smile weakly at her. 

I can’t do it. 

No matter what happens. 

I can’t kill her. 

“—It’s okay. Don’t be scared.” 

I kneel beside her so that our eyes are on the same level. Then I relax my face 
and smile again. 

Her eyes open a little wider, almost as if she understands what I said. 

Even tamers, who bend monsters to their will using a combination of strength 
and pain, would never do something this downright stupid. Growing increasingly 
reckless, I examine more closely the various injuries covering her body. 

Her shoulders are in terrible shape, and her broken leg is hideous. I reach into 
my leg holster and take out a Dual Potion made by Miach Familia. 

The vial containing unknown liquid in my hand must’ve startled her, because 
her whole body flinches when she sees it. 

“Nothing to worry about. This is called a potion—” 


—She spoke. 

I don’t know how many times common sense has been obliterated today, but 
this one tops everything. Her voice is still ringing in my ears. 

I was simply speaking to her about what I was doing to soothe her nerves, not 
expecting a response. Now I’m frozen in place, and a dry, empty laugh escapes 
from my mouth. 

At any rate, I open the vial and wonder if potions have any effect on monsters 
at all as I pour it over her shoulders. Relief swells in my chest as I watch her 
open wounds begin closing beneath the dried blood. She, on the other hand, 
seems surprised. 

High potions can mend a broken bone, but...apparently they can force it to 
heal at the wrong angle if it isn’t set properly. The same is true for other healing 
items and magic—they can cause permanent damage when used without proper 
preliminary treatment. While I have no idea how to deal with injuries the “right” 
way, I tear off a piece of salamander wool for a bandage and wrap it around her 
leg using my knife’s sheath as a splint. 

U 55 

I pour the remainder of the potion over the rest of her injured body while 
kneeling beside her. Now that the vial is empty, the two of us stare at each other 
in silence. 

The long silver-blue-haired girl seems to be flustered. Holding her hands 
together in front of her chest, her surprisingly clear amber eyes quiver while her 
delicate mouth opens and closes every few moments. 

As I do my best to ignore the heat building in my cheeks and keep my eyes 
off her completely exposed breasts, I know there’s something different about her. 

I encountered harpies when I was stranded in the Beor Mountains not too 
long ago—they looked human, too, but also hideous. Those creatures were 
definitely monsters. But this girl—she looks so much like us, and the mysterious 
air around her is completely different from the harpies’. 

A strange monster.. .A strange girl. 

Something catches in my throat as I try to comprehend the being that’s 
somewhere between person and monster sitting in front of me. 

“—Keep looking! It can’t have gotten far!” 

Human voices. 

Rough, angry shouts echo down the passageway toward us. 

The vouivre girl shrinks in fear. The trembling that had all but stopped comes 
back with a vengeance. 

Terror fills her eyes as the footsteps draw closer to us. I don’t say a word as I 
take off my salamander-wool robe and fling it over her shoulders. 

I just finish hiding all her bluish-white skin beneath it as several heavily 
armed adventurers turn the corner. 

“Hey, you there! Did you see a vouivre girl pass by?” 

A group of four men and women rush up behind me with the leader yelling at 
the top of his lungs. I stay facing the Dungeon wall. 

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. 

It’s not difficult to guess their relationship with the vouivre girl. If I don’t 
protect her now, then... 

I can tell they’re already suspiciously glaring at the girl hiding beneath my 
robe. Taking hold of the small, trembling hand beneath the red fabric, I 
desperately rack my brain for a solution. 

Time slows to a crawl. I can hear the agitation in their voices and feel beads 
of sweat dripping down my face. Glancing down—I see the empty vial still 
clutched in my grasp. That’s it! 

It’s risky. I just hope my acting skills are up for the task. 

“Forget about that, do you have any potions on you? She’s been hit by a 
firebird and got burned bad, real bad!” 

Fixing my gaze on the form against the wall, I put as much panic in my voice 
as I can. 

The empty vial, the shaking body beneath salamander wool, the singed 
ground and foliage left over from the firebird explosion—everything here tells 
the story. Their eyes shift to me, narrowing. 

My desperation must be doing the trick, because they sneer at me before 
turning on their heels. They don’t want to get involved with my problem and are 
much more interested in tracking down a rare monster. The adventurers sprint 

Once I’m sure they’re gone for good...I let my shoulders relax. 

“W-we should be okay now...” 

I whisper to the trembling robed figure, and she timidly pokes her head out 
from the fabric. 

I’m sure that never in her wildest dreams did she expect an adventurer to heal 
her rather than deliver the killing blow, let alone protect her from other 

I saved a monster—how would I react if I saw someone else do that? 

.. .No, I don’t want to think about it. 

I can’t help but sigh as the vouivre girl still shivers in fear of the adventurers, 
even though they’re gone. 

“Um.. .Can you walk?” 

I stand up and offer her my hand. 

Staying here only puts her at risk of being found by.. .well, anything. Those 
adventurers could double back, and she’d die a pointless death. 

She looks at my outstretched hand and then up to my eyes...then nods 

Her trembling hand reaches out and comes to rest on my palm. It’s cold, 
surprisingly so. I curl my fingers around it and gently pull her to her feet. 

She’s probably about 150 celch tall. After making sure she’s completely 
hidden by the salamander-wool robe, I pull her arm over my shoulder as we take 
our first steps. 

Sounds like there’s a battle over there...Okay, we’ll head this way for now 
and figure out what to do next on the way... 

Now that I’m separated from my assigned group, I have no idea how to get 
back to the entrance. 

There’s no choice but to follow my ears back to what I hope are other 
adventurers on the same quest, fighting firebirds along the main route. After that, 
it’ll all be a matter of following the map that Lilly practically jammed into my 
pocket before I left. My only hope is to find the landmarks on the map, follow 
them out, and avoid being seen as much as possible. 

Hoping that we don’t encounter any truly ferocious monsters on the way, I 
support my injured companion so she doesn’t have to put any weight on her 
broken leg. If worse comes to worst, I’ll pick her up with both arms and book it. 

u » 

The strange girl-monster hunted by both man and beast watches silently as I 
ward off bugbears and mad beetles blocking our path with my Swift-Strike 
Magic, Firebolt. 

Her moist eyes glisten. “Khaa...” She’s sobbing, I think. 

She turns toward me a few moments later, burying her face between my neck 
and shoulder. A little nose presses against me, and I can feel her warm breath on 
my chest. I know I’m in the Dungeon and losing focus is a one-way ticket to the 
grave—but my cheeks are on fire. 

So delicate.. .and soft. 

Even if she does have the body of a normal girl, getting hot under the collar 
in a situation like this is a failure as a man and an adventurer. 

Did I save the vouivre because she’s pretty? Was it her appearance that made 
me extend a helping hand? If that’s the case, I’m already beyond help. 

What would Gramps, the one who always told me to save damsels in distress, 
say if he saw me now? Would he praise me? 

.. .1 have an inkling that this is the one time he’d groan. 

I’ve gone far off the deep end, doing what I just did. 

Saving a monster. 

Then she whispers: 

“.Thank you.” 

Needing a moment to get over this new surprise, I look down at her. She 
gazes back up at me with tears in her eyes. 

Her head is slightly tilted beneath the robe’s dark-red hood. In that moment, I 
feel something that can’t be put into words—a warmth that only people can 

How do I respond? Should I respond? An endless string of thoughts races 
through my head as she watches me uneasily. 

Her pure, childlike innocence makes all the contradictory feelings melt away. 

I force a smile. 

“It’ll be okay.” 

I give her another smile to try to put her at ease, and she returns the gesture 
with a tiny one of her own. 

She closes her eyes and presses her body against me again, and I wrap my 
arms around her. 

My mind is made up. I’ll protect this girl who can smile like the rest of us. 

There’s only one problem...How am I going to explain this to Lilly and the 

It took a while, but we found our way back to the main route on the 
nineteenth floor. 

Guided by the simple map in my hand, we hid from adventurers and monsters 
at every turn until we spotted the light from the eighteenth floor’s crystal ceiling. 
At last, the exit. 

“—It is true! A monster spoke to me!!” 

“Why do you not believe us?!” 

We follow the path that connects the eighteenth and nineteenth floors and 
come out at the base of the Central Tree located at the center of the area. Several 
adventurers, including the ones from Rivira, are standing around the roots. 

Two elves, a man and a woman, are pleading their case to the group. 

Their insistence does nothing to convince their skeptical audience. I glance to 
my side to check on the vouivre girl and see her grab at her shoulder. Her amber 
eyes lock onto the elves in fear. 

“Yeah, yeah. Hey! You there, get these two a place to rest their heads. 
Dreamin’s fine when you do it on a pillow, so make sure they find one.” 

“Bors, please believe me! That monster, it really did...!” 

The unlikely story of a talking monster is raising more than a few eyebrows, 
but no one will take it seriously if Bors, the man at the top of Rivira’s hierarchy, 
can’t be convinced. 

However, the elves’ pleading gives us a distraction. We quickly slip out from 
the tunnel entrance. 

“Mr. Bell!” 

“Are you unhurt?!” 

“Damn, you know how to make a guy worry.” 

“Hi, guys...” 

Hardly anyone else spares us a glance as we make our exit, but as soon as 

we’re clear of the other adventurers, the rest of Hestia Familia spots me and 
comes toward us. 

I can hear the relief in their voices as Lilly, Mikoto, and Welf reach us first. 
Maybe they heard I was separated from my group? 

“.? Um, Master Bell, who might this be...?” 

Haruhime catches up to them with a relieved smile, but then she points out 
the girl wrapped in salamander wool at my side. 

Well, here goes. “Follow me...” I lead everyone away. 

Rather than returning to Rivira, I head east, deeper into the forest. Lilly gives 
me a suspicious glance as we make our way among the crystals and dense trees 
that fill this area of the safe point. 

I keep going until I’m absolutely sure the other adventurers are out of sight 
and earshot. We’ve come pretty deep into the forest by the time I turn to face 

We form a circle in the middle of a small clearing that’s surrounded by the 
sparkle of rock formations. 

“Now then, Mr. Bell, please inform us exactly who this is. Don’t tell Lilly 
that you’ve dragged us into a new mess by rescuing another girl!” 

Her words are sharp as knives. She walks up to the girl at my side. I think 
she’s got the wrong idea here...Planting her feet, Lilly tries to get a glimpse 
under the robe’s hood. 

“Ah.” A weak sound comes from beneath the cloth as the frightened girl steps 
back. Lilly takes another step forward, and the girl slips in an attempt to retreat 

The broken leg! I reach out and catch her—her hood falling away in the 


Time freezes. 

The exposed bluish-white skin and the jewel on the vouivre girl’s forehead 
come into view. Lilly and the others are dumbstruck, but they’re ready for battle 
with weapons drawn in no time flat. 

Lilly springs backward as Welf grabs hold of the greatsword strapped to his 
back and Mikoto wraps her fingers around the hilts of two blades hanging from 
her waist. 

Haruhime’s green eyes open wide with shock as she covers her mouth with 
both hands. 

Everyone is immediately on edge, and I’m too stunned to react. Beside me, 

the vouivre girl goes stiff as a board. 

“...You’ve got some explaining to do, Bell.” 

“Lady Haruhime, please come this way.” 

Welf’s eyes never leave my new companion while he speaks. I’ve never 
heard him sound so intimidating. At the same time, Mikoto positions herself in 
front of Haruhime, hiding her from the vouivre girl. 

Just as they’ve always been, my friends are extremely wary of monsters. 

“W-wait! Everyone, please! This girl, she’s...!” 

“Get away from it, Mr. Bell!! What’s going on in that head of yours?!” 

Lilly cuts off my attempt to explain, practically screaming at me as she aims 
her bow gun. Her chestnut-colored eyes are brimming with reproach and 

“Did Mr. Bell bring her along because she has a pretty face?!” 

“N-no, it’s not like that...!” 

“Lilly can’t be blamed for thinking this is a monster fetish!” 

Monster fetish. 

Just as the name suggests, the term monster fetish describes those who have 
an abnormal sexual attraction to anthropomorphic monsters like harpies and 
lamias. In the mortal realm we live in, it’s the ultimate insult. 

This is how deeply the hatred for the Dungeon’s inhabitants runs in our 

“Mr. Bell, monsters are monsters!! Even tamed ones aren’t worth that kind of 
attention! They’re—our enemies!!” 

Sensing the panic in Lilly’s voice, plus Welf’s and Mikoto’s reactions, I can 
tell this isn’t going well. 

Fiends and people can’t see eye to eye—that’s always been our relationship. I 
can’t blame my friends for this. It’s expected. 

Monsters have been killing our ancestors since the Ancient Times. Caught in 
a spiral of death for millennia, they could never live peacefully with us. 

Welf’s completely focused on the girl while Lilly presses me for answers in 
his stead. 

“This is no dog or cat!! Mr. Bell, please get away from it!!” 


“Sir Bell.” 

I step in front of the vouivre girl, shielding her from Welf, Mikoto, and 
Lilly’s bow gun. The three of them beg me to get out of the way. Only 
Haruhime, unaccustomed to direct confrontation, stays silent as she watches. 

I’ve never been on this side of their blades before, and I’m at a loss. I can’t 
do anything, but I refuse to stand down. I will protect her. 

The vouivre girl appears terrified of Lilly and the others, but a spark of light 
shines in her eyes as she looks up at me. 


A chorus of gasps fills the air the moment that word leaves her lips. 

“Ah, um, yes.. .That’s my name.” 


“Y-yes. I’m Bell.” 

“Bell...Bell is name...Name is...Bell?” 

My friends need a moment to process what just happened. They stare at the 
girl as she plays with the sound of my name. 

The talking monster leaves everyone speechless. 

Their intense focus now broken, the four of them watch her with blank 

“Bell, Bell.” 

She squeezes my finger with one hand, repeating my name as if she’s figured 
out what the word meant. 

Just “Bell, Bell,” over and over as though trying to burn it into her memory. 
The girl leans in closer to me, bluish-white skin pressed against my armor. 

As if I’m the only thing she can count on in this world. 

“The monster...spoke.” 

“This has gotta be some bad joke.” 

Mikoto and Welf whisper in disbelief. 

At the same time, they begin to lower their weapons. 

Confusion is setting in. The open display of weakness so uncharacteristic of 
other monsters would do that to anyone. 

“Master Bell.. .what transpired between the two of you...?” 

Voice unsteady, Haruhime has built up the courage to step forward and ask. I 
couldn’t be more grateful. 

“I found her...on the nineteenth floor. She was hurt really bad...Adventurers 
and monsters both attacked her...She was trembling.. .crying.” 

I explain my reasoning for bringing her with me as clearly as I can. 

Her leg, limp and useless, dragging behind her. My emotional struggle in the 
face of those amber eyes. 

Welf, Mikoto, and Haruhime consider the girl clinging to my side, now with 
a better understanding of what she’s been through. 

“I...I’d like to help her.” 

“...Should word get out that we’re harboring a monster, Hestia Familia is 

Lilly, who’s been silently quivering all this time, feebly shakes her head after 
I disclose what I want to do. 

Even though I know it puts the familia at risk—the one I’m the head of, no 
less—I apologize to everyone for my selfishness while sharing my true thoughts. 

“Even so, I can’t just abandon her.” 

As pitiful as I sound, I keep my eyes focused on Lilly. She bites her bottom 

A few moments pass. Lilly’s gaze starts to shift, almost as if she can see a 
shadow of her former self in the vouivre girl. 

Memories of the day the goddess and I saved Lilly must be running through 
her head—and she slouches over. 

“Just.. .do what you want...” 

She lowers her right hand, pointing the bow gun at the ground. 

Welf and Mikoto also relax, completely lowering their weapons. The tension 

Linally able to breathe again, the girl apprehensively observes our group. 

The threatening atmosphere might have lifted, but now no one knows what to 
do—least of all Haruhime, who’s in the middle of it. No one’s moving; there’s 
just lots of eye contact. 

Putting aside the fact that I’ve dragged my own familia into uncharted 
territory and caused problems for everyone, I propose a plan of action. 

“She’ll be vulnerable to adventurers and monsters if she stays in the 
Dungeon.. .I’d like to take her home. I also want to hear what our goddess has to 

Besides protecting the vouivre, I’m also interested in Lady Hestia’s opinion. 
And if she can tell me what exactly this girl is. 

Welf, Mikoto, and Haruhime don’t object. They just give me absentminded 
smiles and reluctant nods, as if their necks are covered in rust. 

Lastly, Lilly lets out a long sigh. 

“If we are returning to the surface, it needs to be at night. That’ll ensure there 
are as few adventurers around as possible...We should aim to exit Babel at a 
time when no one will be watching.” 

Whatever we do, we can’t let anyone else know that we’re sheltering a 
monster. With that in mind, it makes sense to resurface when adventurers are too 

busy drinking in bars to notice us. Lilly’s advice is a lifesaver. 

I know she’s not happy about this, but even so, she’s doing everything in her 
power to help me. I don’t know what I’d do without her as my supporter. 

“Sorry, Lilly. And thank you...” 

“...Lilly’s given up. Yes, do whatever you want because no matter what you 
say or do, Lilly can’t bring herself to leave you to your own devices.” 

She turns away, a bit red in the face. Is she sulking? 

Even though I feel sorry for putting her in an uncomfortable position, I’m 
happier that my friends have sided with me. 

I’m extremely grateful to Lilly for saying what she did. 

Welf and Mikoto appeared a bit lost at first, but seeing Lilly’s reaction brings 
a smile to their faces. 


“Yes. Let’s go to where we live.” 

I smile at the nervous girl squeezing my finger amid my friends’ smiles and 
Lilly’s red-faced pouting. She stares at me for a few moments before a tiny smile 
appears on her lips. 

Plop. She falls against my chest, burying her face in my neck. 

Stumbling backward, I catch her small frame before raising my eyes to the 
ceiling far above. 

I can see the countless blue and white crystals overhead among the leaves. 
With every passing moment, their glimmer weakens, signaling that night is 


The gigantic white tower was shrouded in darkness. 

Situated in the very center of the Labyrinth City, Babel stretched high toward 
the heavens in the middle of Central Park as day became night. All over the city, 
a lively tumult developed around the bars as the multicolored illumination of 
magic-stone lamps replaced the sun. 

The vibrant city’s energy never waned, even at night. The streets of the 
Shopping District were still full of people, and a lewd atmosphere was 
descending on the still active areas of the Pleasure Quarter, where some were 
trying their best to help the neighborhood recover. On the bar-lined outskirts of 
the main streets, drunken women danced with deities on the road as though they 

were at a ball. As always, the white tower watched over the nightlife underneath 

Adventurers returning to the surface after a long day in the Dungeon went 
their separate ways to blow off steam at their favorite watering holes. One party 
watched group after group ascend the spiral stairwell before finally making the 
ascent themselves. 

A white-haired human was at the center of this group of six. Swiftly climbing 
the sparsely populated staircase, they arrived at the Dungeon entrance located in 
Babel Tower’s basement. 

Quickening their pace, the group passed beneath a beautiful mural depicting a 
clear sky on the ceiling. 

Little did they know that hidden in a corner of the artful design was a small 
blue orb that twinkled as they went by. 

“—We have a problem, Ouranos.” 

A voice echoed through a dark stone chamber built to resemble the temples 
of old. 

The only source of light was four burning torches in the center of the 
chamber. The dancing flames illuminated a blue crystal set atop a pedestal as 
well as the owner of the voice. 

A black robe completely covered the mysterious figure. Absolutely no skin 
was exposed. This person wore black gloves decorated with intricate designs 
over both hands. It was as if a shadow had come to life. 

Even its voice gave no hint as to whether a man or a woman was speaking. 
The hood of its robe hovered over the blue crystal as the figure continued to 

“An intelligent monster has encountered a party of adventurers. They are 
leaving Babel now.” 

The blue crystal displayed an image: a view of the tower’s basement from the 
orb in the ceiling. 

A white-haired boy was clearly visible beneath the crystal’s surface, as was a 
girl wrapped in salamander wool. 

The black-robed figure knew immediately that the girl pressed up against the 
human was, in fact, a monster. 

“Are they working with the monster?” 

“I don’t believe so...From what I can see, they appear to be protecting it.” 

A different, majestic voice echoed through the chamber from the vicinity of 

the four torches while the black-robed figure focused on the blue crystal. 

The dancing flames cast flickering light on a towering stone throne-like altar 
in the darkness and highlighted the imposing, elderly deity sitting on it. 

Well over two meders tall when standing, the deity, clad in a robe of his own, 
displayed no emotion as he continued asking questions. 

“Fels, who are the adventurers?” 

The black-robed figure—Fels—responded right away. 

“Bell Cranell, member of Hestia Familia.” 

In the crystal display was a familiar combination of white and red. 

The elderly deity frowned at this revelation, his blue eyes narrowing. 

“Little Rookie, now a household name in the city...And one of Hermes’s 

“What is your divine will, Ouranos?” 

“...Wait and observe.” 

The elderly deity quietly closed his eyes at the question and didn’t reopen 
them until he answered. 

“Are you certain? For better or worse, Hestia Familia holds the attention of 
the populace. Should anything happen...” 

“These are Hestia’s followers. There is no connection between them and the 
hunters we pursue. But most of all...” 

The deity’s gaze fell on the blue crystal. He studied the human’s face for 
several moments. 

“I want to know. Can Hestia’s followers become the catalyst for change...? 
Can they provide them with hope?” 

A heavy silence followed. The figure’s hood shifted forward, indicating a 

“As you will, Ouranos. I shall follow.” 

Crackle! A spark burst from one of the torches. 

“Dispatch ‘eyes.’ Keep a close watch on Bell Cranell, his familia, and the 


Inside a peaceful chamber of stone... 

.. .a black robe swished as it disappeared into the darkness. 

© Suzuhito Yasuda 



We surface pretty close to midnight. 

Just as Lilly had predicted, Babel and Central Park are practically deserted 
when we arrive. We don’t stick around, and the side roads and back alleyways 
provide the perfect cover for us as we stay out of sight on our way toward home. 

The bars are loud, as are some houses in the residential areas—the vouivre 
girl jumps in surprise at the lights and sounds of civilization. Although it’s a 
challenge to keep her calm in a city overflowing with noise, we eventually make 
it safely back to Hearthstone Manor. 

“Mr. Bell, please wait here with her. Lilly will have Lord Miach leave first.” 

She tells the vouivre girl to stay out of sight next to the manor’s back gate 
while everyone else enters through the front. 

Miach Familia was kind enough to housesit for us while we were in the 
Dungeon today. Lord Miach is one thing, but the situation will get tense if the 
chienthrope Nahza or his two new followers, Daphne and Cassandra, see the 
vouivre—just like what happened earlier with my own familia. While they’re 
friends of ours, Lilly and Welf thought it might be a good idea to keep them in 
the dark about the monster girl. I agreed. 

The salamander wool-covered girl and I hide in a dark spot behind the manor 
for a few minutes. At last, I hear voices come from the other side of our home 
and fade in the distance. Lord Miach and his followers are gone. 

Haruhime and Mikoto run out the back door to collect us moments later. 

“Sir Bell, who should inform Lady Hestia...?” 

“...I will. Please let me tell her.” 

“Are you certain...?” 

They’re clearly concerned as they open the iron gate to the back garden. 

The girls take up positions one step to the left and right of our visitor. I’m the 
one who invited her here, so I should be the one to explain. I glance down at the 
vouivre girl and marvel at how much her leg has healed on its own—this is what 

monsters are capable of. Even so, I tighten my grip to support her. 

“Hey, hey. Welcome back!” 

The goddess greets us in the living room with her customary smile. 

“Well, Bell! This is unusual, you coming in through the back door by 
yourself. Miach’s already gone home. And who’s this—?” 

She looks at us with bubbly curiosity, only to suddenly fall silent. 

Welf and Lilly arrive and see all of us frozen with our mouths nervously 
clamped shut. The goddess’s sky-blue eyes are locked on me. 

Time slows to a crawl as her gaze shifts to the girl at my side, hiding beneath 
the robe. 

“—Bell, what is that?” 

Her expression changed completely. Our goddess hadn’t asked “who” but 

Overwhelmed, I silently pull back the girl’s hood. 


Bluish-white skin, amber eyes, and a garnet-like jewel in her forehead. 

Hestia gulps hard at the girl’s fantastical appearance. 

Meanwhile, our visitor is terrified of the deity staring at her. She wraps her 
thin arms around me in response. 

“.. .Explain what happened for me.” 

Surrounded by her familia, Lady Hestia takes a deep breath to steady her 
voice and looks at me with unblinking eyes. 

In the living room, I recount the details of how we met. 

Lilly, Welf, and the others have all pulled up chairs around our round table. 
I’m sitting with everyone else, next to the vouivre girl. The goddess retains a 
gentle expression while listening to me and doesn’t say a word from start to 

“...What should we do, Lady Hestia?” 

Lilly asks the goddess for a decision as soon as my story ends. 

The vouivre girl has a strong grip on my right arm and won’t let go. Our 
goddess is deep in thought, arms crossed over her chest until she slowly opens 
her eyes. 

“...Please don’t tell anyone else. We’ll wait and see.” 

She makes eye contact with each of us in turn, even the strange girl at my 

“I’m going to be brutally honest with you all, but I really don’t know how to 

take this. I can hardly believe it...” 

The goddess stares at our unexpected guest for a few moments as the blue¬ 
skinned girl quivers in fear under her gaze. 

A talking monster has violated everything we thought we knew about the 
things that lived in the Dungeon. 

Furthermore, the goddess’s admission that even the all-knowing deities aren’t 
truly omniscient has left all of us speechless. 

“Monsters and you children of the mortal realm...are enemies. Two entities 
fated to fight each other. I know that to be true, but I can’t turn my back on 
someone capable of so much fear.” 

“So that means...!” 

“Yeah, she can stay here for now.” 

Protecting those in need is the goddess’s way of showing affection. 

Her willingness to kindly reach out to any child fills my heart with relief. Her 
decision triggers many different reactions around the table, from sighs to 
grimaces. But no one speaks out against the decree. 

The goddess hops out of her chair with a little grunt of effort. I can see the 
anxiousness in her eyes, but she still gives the vouivre girl a gentle smile. 

“So, do you have a name?” 


The vouivre girl dons a curious expression as she leans in closer to me. 


“No, that’s my name...” 

She tilts her head to the side, making her silver-blue hair swish. A bead of 
sweat rolls down my face. 

“My.. .name? .. .Don’t know.” 

Lilly and the others gasp softly in surprise at her choppy sentence—it’s the 
first time they’ve heard her say something besides my name. But at the same 
time, the girl lowers her head. 

So she doesn’t have a name, after all. 

“Vouivre” is the name that people chose for her species. She needs something 
to go by as an individual. 

“Bell, give her one.” 

“What, me?!” 

“Yep, Welf’s absolutely right. You found her and brought her home, so to 
speak. You’re the one who saved her. You should take on a fatherly role and 
name her.” 

How.. .How did it come to this... ?! 

Welf and the goddess are the only ones who say anything. Lilly, Mikoto, and 
Haruhime have their mouths shut but their eyes silently say, “Go ahead.” 

Heart racing, I search the others at the table. If I didn’t know better, I’d say 
Welf is enjoying this. Even the vouivre girl is watching me blankly. 

So much responsibility...! Why do I have to be the one to give this girl 
something that will affect the rest of her life?! 

I look into her amber eyes. My mind is already reeling, but her expression 
flips my brain into desperation mode. 

Vouivre, dragon, girl, jewel, garnet, bluish silver, amber eyes... 

I try listing every physical trait I can see—it’s no use!! 

Cold sweat runs down my back, and my eyes spin. “Hurry up,” somebody 
says. How long have I been thinking about this...? My lips tremble. 


“Huh?” Everyone responds with confusion, and even the goddess tilts her 
head to the side. Maybe I tried a little too hard to come up with a striking name? 

“If I may ask, Master Bell.. .Is that name based on a fairy in a hero’s tale...?” 

Well.. .crap. 

Haruhime, who likes myths and legends about heroes as much as I do, saw 
right through me. 

There is a story about a fairy with wings of light named Melusine. The story 
revolves around her falling in love with a hero who saved her life, as well as her 
efforts to blend in with people and try to live among them. She tells the hero to 
never peek while she’s cleansing herself, but he eventually breaks that promise 
and winds up seeing her wings, exposing her true form...They become separated 
afterward but reunite to slay a dragon that threatens to destroy the hero’s 

I’ve liked Melusine’s story since I was a kid, so combine that name with 
vouivre and you get.. .Wilusine. 

Too easy? 

“Not a bad name, especially considering it was Mr. Bell’s idea. A bit 
grandiose, though.” 

“Yeah, and long. Stands out like a sore thumb.” 

“Hmmm. Okay then, why don’t we call her Wiene? Sounds cute, don’t you 

“Ohh, very nice suggestion, Lady Hestia. That one’s more down-to-earth.” 

Lilly, Welf, the goddess, and Mikoto take turns criticizing the name I came 

up with. Nobody pays any attention to me shrinking in my chair. 

“I-I think Wilusine is a wonderful name!” Haruhime rushes in, giving me a 
compliment, and Mikoto takes notice. Great, older women are trying to comfort 
me .. .This is so pitiful it hurts. 

But “ Wiene ”.. .That might actually be better now that I think about it. 

“Wiene... ? Me.. .Wiene?” 

“Y-yeah. What do you think?” 

Still attached to my arm, the vouivre girl asks me with that same childlike 

But I’m sure that look on her face is a smile. 

The vouivre girl’s—No, Wiene’s lips spread into an unmistakably joyful 
expression that takes everyone’s breath away. Even the goddess is transfixed. 

There’s a pure, almost naive, childlike happiness on the face of a surprisingly 
beautiful monster right beside me. 

The very foundation of the man-and-monster relationship has just crumbled. 
This strange girl overcame the wall that should have separated us, and now 
we’re completely taken with her. 

“Bell, Bell.” 

Wiene lets go of my arm in her moment of happiness and rubs her face 
against my unarmored chest. 

My arms move on their own to catch her, but I’m speechless. 

Her warmth envelops me, stirring all sorts of emotions in my chest for an 


Our goddess has been watching us the whole time, faking a cough to get our 
attention. Then she clears her throat to bring everyone back into the moment. 

“Let’s start off on the right foot—nice to meet you, Wiene! I’m Hestia, Bell’s 
goddess! You’ll be living with us starting today. Try to get along, okay?” 

She puffs out her chest and gives Wiene an energetic greeting. 

Wiene glances up at the goddess from her perch in my lap as Lady Hestia 
reaches out to shake hands. 

“.. .Bell’s.. .goddess?” 

The words fall out of her mouth as the two make eye contact—and she buries 
her face back in my chest. 

She leaves the goddess hanging with her hand extended. Lady Hestia lets her 
arm drop, having learned that gaining Wiene’s trust won’t be that easy. 
Haruhime and I force a smile. 

“...Anyway, how long are you going to hold her, Mr. Bell? Do you so enjoy a 
girl’s touch, even if it’s a monster’s?” 


“Gah! She’s right, Bell! Let go of her! Ogling is disgraceful, disgraceful!” 

“I-I’m not ogling!” 

And so begins Lilly and the goddess’s tirade. 

I quickly deny all their accusations, but nothing will convince them that it’s 
Wiene who won’t release me. Welf and Mikoto quietly chuckle at our pointless 
argument as Haruhime follows the conversation with her eyes. 

But now that the anxious vibe is gone from the living room, I notice how soft 
Wiene’s body is. There’s nothing I can do to stop the pitiful groan from my 
throat as I blush furiously. 

Sometime later. 

I’m not sure when, but Wiene must’ve succumbed to exhaustion at some 
point during my argument with my offended goddess and fallen asleep in my 

Running around in the Dungeon without a friend in the world...I can’t 
imagine how much stress and anxiety she’s been dealing with. Already in a deep 
sleep with her arms wrapped around my body, she absolutely will not let go. 

Everyone tried their hand at prying me loose, but Wiene’s incredible strength 
—a dragon’s strength—kept her locked in place, and she only hugged harder and 
made me scream in pain. 

With no other alternative, I ended up spending the night with her. Our 
goddess and Lilly had a few choice things to say, like “I won’t forgive any 
‘mistakes,’ got it?” and “Mr. Bell, please don’t forsake your humanity.” I swear 
their eyes were as cold as ice as they issued warning after warning, though I 
vigorously nodded my assent to everything they said. 

As I lay down on a living room sofa with Wiene on top of me, Haruhime was 
nice enough to bring us a thin blanket. 

.. .But in the end, everyone came in... 

They’ve all gathered in the living room, claiming spots on other sofas or on 
the floor under the dim magic-stone lamp. 

My goddess was the first one to join us, a blanket in her arms and an 
expression that said she couldn’t leave us to ourselves. It wasn’t long before 
Lilly, Mikoto, Haruhime, and even Welf settled in for the night as well. 

Do they not trust me at all... ? 

Welf is currently sitting against the wall, one knee up for balance. His eyes 
are closed, his greatsword across his lap. 

It’s the same with Mikoto. She might be lying on a futon with Haruhime, but 
her shortsword Chizan is within arm’s reach on the floor beside her. Even Lilly 
has a firm grip on her bow gun. 

I know why they’re armed and who those weapons are for. 

It’s not that they don’t trust me. They don’t trust her ... 

Surrounded by a soft chorus of shallow breaths of uneasy sleep in the dim 
living room, I look down toward the girl atop my chest. 

If it weren’t for the jewel ominously twinkling on her forehead, she could 
pass for a completely defenseless sleeping beauty. 

What is she, really... ? 

I ask myself that while contemplating the vouivre girl—a monster who’s 
fallen asleep, wrapped in salamander wool, on top of a human. 

It would be a lie if I say that the lines of dried blood on her bluish-white skin, 
peeking out from under the robe, and her unusual smell aren’t unnerving. 
Visions of an uncertain future keep popping into my head, too. 

My brain silently works until.. .my eyelids become too heavy to stay open. 

It’s been a busy day for me as well. I must’ve reached my limit. Sleep can’t 
wait any longer. 

—In any case, the first thing I want to do tomorrow is take a bath. 

That’s my last thought before slipping into unconsciousness. 

“I want more information about Wiene.” 

The next morning... 

Hestia made a declaration at the dining table during breakfast. 

“We can’t decide what to do from here on out without knowing more about 
her. Are there any others like her? What’s happening in the Dungeon right now? 
That’s what I want to know.” 

A drowsy Wiene still refused to let go of Bell, who was the only one unable 
to eat with the rest of the familia. Meanwhile, Hestia ordered her followers to 
collect as much information as possible. 

“However, I need to make this clear: No tidbit of information is worth 

drawing unwanted attention. No one can know...Don’t let anyone figure out 
there’s a monster living with us.” 

The fact that a creature like Wiene existed at all was one thing, but the public 
would panic if word got out that an untamed monster was in the city. Lilly told 
everyone in no uncertain terms that Wiene must never be seen or mentioned at 
any time outside the manor. 

“I’ll do some investigating, too, so please focus on this, starting today.” 

“Guess that means Dungeon crawling is on hold for a while,” Welf 
commented in response to Hestia’s request. 

“Indeed. Also, Mr. Bell, Miss Mikoto, and Miss Haruhime, please avoid 
talking to anyone you cannot trust beyond a shadow of a doubt.” 

“““Ah, yes...””” 

Lilly issued a warning to Bell, Haruhime, and Mikoto, who all agreed with a 
heavy nod. 

It wasn’t that the trio couldn’t keep a secret but more that they were terrible 
liars. The three of them sank back into their chairs, trying to look as small as 
possible. Hestia giggled to herself as she watched her followers banter before 
standing up from her chair. 

“Just be careful, everybody. Well then, let’s get to it.” 

Late-morning sunlight poured onto the streets of Orario. 

The sky overhead was a clear blue as far as the eye could see. Average 
citizens went about their business, brushing shoulders with adventurers as they 
traveled along the main streets toward the Dungeon. 

“What now? This 'important thing’ you want to talk about better not be a new 
excuse for skipping work.” 

“I-I’ve been working really hard! I’ve turned over a new leaf, Hephaistos, 
believe me!!” 

They were on the fourth floor of Babel Tower, inside Hephaistos Familia’s 
branch shop. 

Hestia came to her part-time job at this high-end weapon shop today like 
always, but she had asked her friend Hephaistos for a word in private. 

It just so happened that the Goddess of the Forge had come to the shop this 
morning for an inspection, and she agreed to hear the young goddess out. 

“So? What is it? You better not pull me away from an important meeting for 
some nonsense.” 

The crimson-haired goddess led her counterpart to a consultation room in the 

back. Separated from the commotion of the sales floor by thick, soundproof 
walls, Hephaistos was certain they wouldn’t be overheard. She crossed her arms 
and suspiciously raised an eyebrow at Hestia. 

As this was the first time Hestia had set foot in this room, her head was on a 
swivel. She immediately went up to a beautiful longsword mounted on the side 
of a bookshelf and examined her reflection in the blade until her attention was 
drawn to Hephaistos’s figure over her shoulder. 

“Have you ever.. .heard of a monster that can speak?” 

“What kind of question is that? Of course I haven’t.” 

“Should’ve figured...” 

Hephaistos looked more annoyed than anything as Hestia’s shoulders sank. 

Hestia’s crimson apron, her work uniform, shifted as the young goddess 
slowly faced her friend. 

“If, hypothetically, there were a monster that could speak...what would you 

“...More details—now.” 

Seeing the young goddess’s unusual earnestness, Hephaistos narrowed her 
patchless left eye. 

“A talking.. .monster...” 

The Blue Pharmacy, situated off a backstreet between Northwest Main and 
West Main streets in Orario’s seventh district, was also Miach Familia’s home, 
but the building didn’t get much light. The little sunshine that did make it 
through the windows fell on three figures in the middle of a conversation: the 
god of the familia, Miach; the god Takemikazuchi; and Mikoto. 

“This monster really speaks? Meaning it’s fully aware of itself and its 

“Yes.. .It spent last night in our home.” 

Takemikazuchi had a similar reaction to the news as that of a certain crimson¬ 
haired goddess in Babel Tower. Mikoto’s voice was heavy as she explained the 

Mikoto had received permission to consult with any trustworthy deities, like 
Miach and Takemikazuchi. On the other hand, she was also not to share any 
information with mortals, no matter how trustworthy. 

Ouka, Chigusa, and the rest of Takemikazuchi Familia had gone into the 
Dungeon while the members of Miach Familia were busy collecting ingredients 
to restock the shelves of the pharmacy. Mikoto used this chance to consult the 

two gods about the vouivre girl’s existence. 

“I thought your behavior last night was a little strange. So that’s what 

Miach could attest to Hestia Familia’s anxiety after witnessing their behavior 
the previous night once he had finished house-sitting for the day. Finally 
connecting the dots, he nodded. 

“Lord Takemikazuchi, Lord Miach, do you know of any other similar 

“Can’t say I do. A talking monster...That’s news to me. And shocking, to be 

Mikoto had never seen Takemikazuchi so perturbed. 

“Yes, even now I have a hard time believing it to be true...However,” Miach 
said, “the mortal realm’s ‘Unknown’ is so complex that even we can’t predict it. 
The possibilities are limitless...Perhaps something is also happening in the 
Dungeon even as we speak.” 

Mikoto sat quietly and listened to the deity’s warning, his aquamarine-blue 
hair shifting from side to side as he spoke. 

Takemikazuchi observed Mikoto’s reaction from his spot next to her and 
asked a question of his own. 

“What is your view on the matter, Mikoto? How do you feel about this 
talking monster?” 

“...I don’t know.” 

She answered with honesty, weakly shaking her head. 

“I understand that Wiene...Lady Wiene is different from other monsters, 
but. ..Iam unsure how to treat her as of yet.” 

Her lips quivered as she went on to list specifics. 

“I find myself constantly on guard, concerned that she might betray our 
trust.. .1 stand vigilant, ready to act at a moment’s notice.” 

u » 

“I cannot relax, no matter how hard I try. I am.. .afraid of her.” 

Mikoto’s gaze fell to the floor as she struggled to string the words together. 

Takemikazuchi fiddled with the loops of hair framing his face while he 
listened to her. Beside him, Miach watched Mikoto with an understanding gaze. 

“Well, I’m sure anyone would react the same way...” 

The deity reassured her that this response was only natural. 

Mikoto didn’t have anything to say. She sat in silence, staring at the floor. 

Guild Headquarters, lobby. 

Welf stepped into the spacious chamber of white marble, brushing against 
many other adventurers who were passing through before venturing into the 

He was perfectly comfortable walking among them with his ears wide open. 
He’d learned during his time as a struggling young smith that small treasures 
could be found in the most mundane of conversations. This was nothing new. 
Due to his leveled-up Status, his hearing had become more sensitive than any 
lower-class adventurer’s, and he used every bit of this ability to sift through the 
noise in search of information. It went without saying that he didn’t approach 
any adventurer or Guild employee with inquiries to speed up the process. 

With a black workman’s jacket over his shoulders and a greatsword strapped 
to his back, Welf made his way to a corner of the lobby. 

Several Guild employees were posting new information on a public bulletin 
board as a cluster of adventurers watched. 

“—Oi, did ya hear? Another monster stealing equipment.” 

“I see. In the middle levels this time, too.” 

“Oh yeah, I heard some of the guys in Rivira got a little too worked up an’ 
beat its ass half to death.” 

He heard every conversation among the adventurers. Scanning the bulletin 
board, Welf quickly spotted a sheet of paper. 

It was a drawing of a monster holding a sword and wearing armor. 

“...Nah, couldn’t be.” 

But the attempt to laugh it off did nothing to ease the tension in his face. 

“Well, well. Hey there, cutie...So how about it, little elf? Pour us a round of 

“We’ll listen to what’s on your mind.. .Hee-hee-hee!” 

Long, golden hair flowed out from beneath a hood. A female elf—Lilly 
disguised using her Cinder Ella skill—ignored the crude laughter of the men. 
She quickly made her way through an underground bar where the sun didn’t 

Northwest Main Street, Adventurers Way. 

A little distance away from the weapon and armor shops lining the street was 
a bar in need of a good cleaning. The wooden building itself had an emblem 
hanging over the front door, signifying it was a familia-owned establishment. 

Familias that ran this type of business provided a venue for average citizens 

and those who wanted to remain anonymous to post quests and hosted 
information brokers, people willing to share what they knew for a price. With 
these transactions constantly taking place, it was also common for customers to 
exchange information among themselves. 

Several familias like this one operated inside Orario’s city walls. 

Just as dirty as ever ... 

Lilly whispered to herself as she reminisced about her days as an outlaw and 
continued to ignore the catcalls and whistles coming from all around her. Barely 
standing 120 celch tall, she knew the beauty of her transformed face garnered a 
lot of attention. 

The bar was dark and shabby. There were so many quests pinned to a bulletin 
board in the corner that its surface was hidden beneath the mass of paperwork. 
On the first floor, civilians could access the familia’s services at their leisure, but 
this underground bar was only accessible from the stairwell located in the back 
of the building. From the dim magic-stone lamps to the shady characters 
gathered in the basement, everything about this place was suspicious. 

An animal person missing his front teeth chuckled as he downed an 
unpleasant-looking beer. One Amazon wore so many rings around her fingers 
and neck that her tall frame sparkled in the dim light. A masked man was lurking 
in the back corner. Several customers sat on sofas or around small tables, all 
conversing in hushed voices. 

If the Guild could be called the front, this was the back. People with 
something to hide frequented these bars rather than the Guild. Reliable or not, 
information spread through these hubs like wildfire. At the same time, Lilly 
understood that carelessness in a place like this often resulted in losing every 
valuable on your person. 

Under no circumstances should Bell ever set foot in a place like this. 

“One Alb Spring Water.” 

Clunk! The barstool clattered as Lilly took a seat and ordered a drink from 
the human bartender. 

Ice water procured from the sacred peaks of the Alb Mountains—a popular 
nonalcoholic drink among elves. Lilly took a sip before addressing the bartender. 

“Do you have any information about talking monsters?” 

“...Nope, got nothin’.” 

The bartender didn’t even blink as he accepted the payment and generous tip 
Lilly placed on the countertop. His message was clear: The information was 
valuable, and a pretty face wasn’t going to jar it loose without paying full price. 

Lilly had chosen this disguise as insurance. It was her way of ensuring no one 
would ever know Hestia Familia was seeking out information about talking 

The bartender kept his eye on the “elf” as he silently wiped down glasses that 
didn’t need cleaning. Lilly was one breath away from asking if he knew of any 
customers who might have more information when someone plopped into the 
seat next to her. 

“I know something about these talking monsters. Not much, but something.” 

This newcomer, a wheat-skinned chienthrope, wore lightweight battle gear 
and knee-high boots. 

She must have been eavesdropping, because her doglike ears were perked up 
and a grin was stretched across her face. 

Lilly frowned. 

“Mud Hound Madl.” 

“Oh? You know my nickname? That’s surprising, since people usually forget 
about me with all the really famous adventurers out there...But yeah, I hate that 
name. What were the gods thinking, calling me that? Bit cruel, don’t you 

The girl looked surprised when Lilly mentioned her title and started blabbing 
away as if the two were friends meeting for drinks. Crossing her lithe legs 
beneath the counter, she ordered her own drink. “Barkeep, Honey Beer!” Then 
she whispered her allegiance: “Hermes Familia.” 

“So then, you were saying?” 

“Weeeell, um, Lady Luck hasn’t been kind to me these days...Not too sure I 
can pay for this beer.” 

With a smile and a wink, the newcomer made a circle with her thumb and 

Lilly’s beautiful elvish face twitched. Clicking her tongue, she pulled a small 
bag of coins out from her robe and forcefully placed it on the counter between 

The chienthrope happily wagged her tail and started chattering 

“Well, like I said, it isn’t much. Stories about people hearing words randomly 
in the Dungeon have been circulating for a while now. Rumor has it a few 
adventurers have even heard whole sentences when no one else was nearby, and 
there was another story going around for a while about a beautiful singing voice 
deep in the Dungeon...Oh, one more thing. Other people are after that info as 


« 55 

“Everyone laughed off those rumors—everyone but these guys. They were 
serious. They put up requests for any news at all in bars all over Orario, too, not 
just here, and they’re willing to pay. A lot.” 

The girl glanced at the bulletin board in the back corner for a moment. 

“And who might these guys be?” 

“About that, I’m stumped... I’d like to know, myself” 

The newcomer suddenly became a bit more aggressive as she went on to 
explain that she had posted her own requests for information on this group. 

Squinting with a faint grin on her lips, the chienthrope leaned in to get a 
better look under Lilly’s hood. 

“New around here...? What’s your affiliation? You seem kinda dirty for an 

Lilly silently cursed to herself as the dog-person’s face came uncomfortably 
close, animal nose sniffing the air in front of her face. Her current companion 
had the same “scent” as she once had. 

There was no doubt in Lilly’s mind that this woman was a thief. Not some 
disgruntled child like her former self, but the real deal. 

Madl’s work as a deliveryman for her familia, combined with her activities in 
this darker part of society, granted her access to a great deal of information. 

It was highly likely she was pursuing information about talking monsters as 
well. Lilly’s search for the same information had gotten her attention, and now 
Lilly was her top suspect. 

However, Lilly didn’t share Bell and Mikoto’s trust in Hermes Familia. 
Perhaps the two of them hadn’t lived in Orario long enough to notice, but that 
familia’s constant stance of neutrality was extremely fishy. 

Hermes Familia could easily turn from friend to foe if it fit their needs. 
Lifteen years in Orario’s gutter had taught Lilly as much. 

No real information of value...but knowing there are others asking about 
talking monsters is good enough for now. 

The time had come for her to move on. Without another word, she stood up 
from her stool. 

“What? Leaving already? But there’s so much I wanted to talk about.” 

Ignoring the cheerful voice behind her, Lilly left the bar. 


...She’s tailing me. 

She noticed a presence following her through every twist and turn of the 
backstreets from the moment she stepped out the back door of the bar. 

It was just one person, and Lilly was 99 percent sure it was the same thief. In 
a worst-case scenario, she didn’t stand a chance against an upper-class 

Cinder Ella and items were her only option. Lilly took unusually large 
strides, walking onto a dimly lit path and extracting from her robe a pouch 
connected to a string—a Malboro stink bomb. 

She’d used similar tactics many times back when she was living the shadowy 
life of an outlaw. 

Knowing that this opponent would take some time to deal with made her 
cringe—although this was nothing compared to being chased by the battle- 
hardened elf from that insane bar—Lilly dove into the dark alleyway. 

Bright sunlight is shining down from directly overhead. 

There isn’t even a cloud in the sky. The summer sun hanging over Orario 
makes it almost too hot outside. Warm enough that I roll up my sleeves, anyway. 

Bright sunlight and a clear blue sky—the vouivre girl can’t tear her eyes 

With the goddess and everyone else out, it’s up to me and Hamhime to 
house-sit the manor. 

Having arrived here at night, Wiene hadn’t seen the sun yet. She had been 
saying the same thing since she noticed where all the light was coming from this 

She wanted to go out. 

“What is...that?” 

We’ve brought her into the courtyard in the middle of our home, Hearthstone 

Maybe it’s because the Dungeon doesn’t have a sun, but Wiene is fascinated. 

Haruhime turns to the inquisitive girl and walks up to her from behind. 

“We call it...the sun.” 

“The sun...” 

Wiene gazes up at the brilliant sky as she echoes Haruhime with a smile. 

Without any sunlight to speak of, the Dungeon is rather cold. Of course, there 

are a few exceptions, like in places with fire-breathing monsters and floors with 
active volcanoes. 

But I’m sure most monsters don’t know what it’s like to feel sunshine on 
your skin. 

“...It’s warm.” 

Wiene’s eyes light up as she watches the sky and she laughs. 

Her expression is so innocent, and I think her amber eyes are tearing up. 

I get lost in the moment, staring at her profile from behind, when she 
suddenly turns toward me, tossing her long silver-blue hair. 

“The surface is beautiful.” 

I can’t think of her as a monster anymore. 

Her naive, innocent smile is as bright as the sun. 

It may be our job to hold down the fort while the others are out, but that 
actually means Haruhime and I are tasked with looking after Wiene. 

Whatever we do, we can’t let her leave the manor. She knows nothing about 
the outside world, so we have to keep her entertained in here. 

“’s very hot. Is it okay to take this off?” 

“N-no, you mustn’t, Lady Wiene!!” 

“Y-yes, you must put up with it.” 

“Ugh...” she mumbles, pulling at the salamander-wool robe’s collar around 
her neck like she would give anything to remove it. Haruhime and I panic a little 
but somehow manage to persuade her. This is a relief, considering Wiene is 
completely naked underneath. 

I asked for Haruhime’s help to get Wiene cleaned up after the goddess and 
everyone else left this morning. It was a real struggle because the girl doesn’t 
completely trust Haruhime yet, but she did manage to wash off a lot of the dried 
blood and dirt. 

Haruhime also tried to put proper clothes on her, but.. .that didn’t end well. 

That’s the only thing that she’s outright refused. Maybe she’s scared? 

In any case, Wiene was having none of it, so we at least convinced her to put 
back on the salamander-wool robe from yesterday. 

Even if you call her a monster, she’s still a girl...I just hope she can let her 
guard down around Haruhime and the others... 

The robe still provides ample glimpses of her lithe legs and cleavage, so I 
have to be careful where I look...Not to mention she has no sense of shame 

Haruhime, dressed in the maid outfit she always wears around the manor, and 
I do our best to keep up, but Wiene pulls us along at her own pace. 

“Bell, what is this?” 

“That’s a magic-stone lamp. They make light like the ones in the 

“What about that?” 

Wiene doesn’t want to go back inside. Her leg made a complete recovery 
overnight, and now she’s giddily skipping along out under the sun. 

Since we’re surrounded by four walls in here, I doubt anyone will catch a 
glimpse of her. For someone like Wiene who has no place she belongs, whether 
on the surface or in the Dungeon, this is her only safe haven. 

Peering with curiosity into the walkways along the courtyard, Wiene makes 
new discoveries at every turn. Her cheeks glowing a light pink, she grabs hold of 
my arm every so often. 

“Lady Wiene, would you like to partake in a meal? You didn’t have anything 
to eat this morning.” 

“...A meal?” 

“Um, it’s another word for food...Wiene, you haven’t eaten anything since 
yesterday, right? I’ll eat, too, so how about it?” 


Wiene looks up at me with concern, not completely sure what Haruhime was 
suggesting. I softly smile at her, and she slowly nods. 

Haruhime retrieves a basket from the passageway, and the three of us take a 
seat on the grass. 


“D-do you really think so?!” 


“That is a rice ball, handmade by Lady Mikoto! Would you like to try this 

Haruhime seems thrilled, her fox ears standing straight up and her tail 
wagging back and forth almost as if she were presenting her own cooking. 
Meanwhile, Wiene quietly nibbles on the food in front of her. 

The vouivre glances over at Haruhime’s beaming face. 

I know that bugbears eat the honey cloud fruits on the eighteenth floor—and 
many monsters go after trap items as well—so it seems reasonable to assume 
monsters can eat our food, too. If not, we’d have to go to a pantry to get food for 
her, and Haruhime seems as relieved as I am to discover that isn’t the case. 

She reaches out to pat Wiene on the head while the vouivre girl is busy 
gobbling down fruit. Wiene dodges her hand with a wiff and pulls away. 

Haruhime’s shoulders droop, and Wiene leans closer to me. 


Seems like Wiene is still a bit wary of her. 

But she did let the other girl gently wipe down her body, so I think there’s a 
little bit of trust between them. 

The next thing to capture Wiene’s attention is Haruhime’s renart fox tail. 
She’s watching it very closely, mimicking its movements with her body. 
Haruhime catches on, sweeping her tail side to side and making up a game as 
they go along. 

You’d almost think they were sisters ... 

Haruhime was scared stiff at the sight of her yesterday, but now she’s trying 
to bond with Wiene. 

Her laudable efforts to accept this girl—a monster—make me so, so happy. 

Then again, perhaps only Haruhime, who survived a great deal of hardship 
herself, is capable of this kindness. 

“Bell, do you have any poshun?” 

“You mean potions? I have a few in my leg holster back in my room; I can 

“Do you know.. .it has a good smell? Smells just like.. .the fruit there.” 

Wiene is talking quite a bit. 

Maybe it’s because of the warm sunlight or just that she was really frightened 
before, but she’s using more words than yesterday. Smiling and giggling like 
this, she’s speaking a lot more freely and fluently, or so it seems to me. 

No—it’s not just me. 

Ignoring her earlier reticence, it’s amazing how fast Wiene is picking up 
words and expressions—acquiring language. As I review our conversations, I’m 
sure of it. 

But I don’t think she’s learning, exactly.. .What is it, then? 

She looks like a girl...but she’s a monster. 

I answer her questions with a forced smile, but there are a lot of unsolved 

She has a good grasp of grammar and bears a strong resemblance to us. 
There’s not much difference between her and other people. However, her bluish- 
white skin and scales clearly indicate she is a monster. 

The red jewel embedded in her forehead sparkles in the sunlight. 

“Bell, Bell.” 

Then, as she giggles and playfully tugs at my arm... 

...she tries to change her grip, sliding her hand across my skin—and the 
sharp claws on her fingertips carve into my arm. 

« | 55 

I have no battle cloth or armor for protection, and my rolled-up sleeves do 
nothing to protect me as three long streaks appear on my forearm. 

Turning red immediately, the gouges her claws leave behind start leaking 
drops of blood. Blades of grass beside me turn red. 


“M-Master Bell?!” 

I freeze in place as Wiene stares at her own bloody hand, shock in her eyes. 
Haruhime screams when she catches a glimpse of my injured arm. 

“I shall bring the first-aid kit!” she yells, jumping to her feet once she sees 
the bleeding won’t stop and rushing back into the manor. 

“Ah, n-no.. .Bell, does it hurt?” 

Wiene reaches toward me, amber eyes trembling, before coming to a sudden 

She abruptly pulls back her hand—and the claws that drew blood. 

Moving back and forth between my pained eyes and bleeding arm, Wiene’s 
gaze then falls onto her own fingers. Her face suddenly contorts. 

“ sorry, Bell...!” 

A river of tears flows down her cheeks. I can hear shock and sadness in her 
unsteady voice. 

Then she withdraws her trembling hands and holds them tight against her 

She wants physical contact but can’t touch me. 

She can’t reach out because she’ll hurt me again. 

“Sorry, sorry...!” 

More apologies. 

She’s afraid of her own hand, that it can hurt people so easily. She’s afraid of 

Watching her go through this is too painful. 

U | 55 

I can only watch so many tears roll down her cheeks before my hands move 
on their own. 

Surprise flashes across her face as my injured right arm reaches out, and my 

hand clasps the claws covered in my blood. 

Her claws dig into the palm of my hand and open new wounds, but I pay 
them no heed. 

“It’s all right.” 

I smile at her like I did when we met. 

Paying no attention to the pain, I tighten my grip. 


Overcome with emotion, Wiene shouts my name and dives into my chest, 
wrapping her arms around me. 

Burying her face in my neck, hot tears dampen my skin. 

She’s really.. .just a kid. 

Afraid of being hurt and hurting others, she seeks warmth and kindness like a 
lost child. 

That’s the only thing I can think of as I listen to the soft whimpers beneath 
my ear. 

I wrap my blood-free left arm around her slender body and softly run my 
fingers through her silver-blue hair. Her shoulders quiver, and I swear her eyes 
are closed with pleasure. 

She presses her nose against my neck like a cat wanting attention. 

Overtaken by a sudden warmth, I gently pat her on the back of the head. 

I gently rub her back until she calms down, and suddenly I feel like we’re 
being watched. 

Being rather sensitive to this feeling for various reasons, I quickly look 
toward the source—a single bird sitting on top of the roof. 

An owl... ? 

Several questions come to mind as I inspect the vertical patterns in its white 

Aren’t owls nocturnal? And why would there be an owl in the city in the first 

The owl, far removed from the nearest forest, regards me with what I’m 
positive is a twinkle in its eye. 

It suddenly spreads its wings and takes off before I can get a better look. 

The owl disappears into the heavens, leaving me close-mouthed and 

It was just a bird, and yet I can’t shake the feeling I was being watched. 

All this thinking causes me to tighten my grip on Wiene—as I sense another 
observer right away. 

Twitching in surprise, I look around to see— 


Haruhime is standing nearby, holding a first-aid kit in her arms. 

For some reason, she almost seems jealous at seeing Wiene tucked 
comfortably in my embrace. 

“Bell, Bell!” 

Wiene’s happy voice in my ears, I break out into a sweat when I see 
Haruhime’s tail swishing back and forth. 


The sun descends behind the city wall as night falls. 

Our goddess, Welf, and everyone else is home by the time the sky completely 

“I’m hooome.” 

“Welcome back, Goddess. Oh, hey, everyone. So,’d it go?” 

“Horrible. Couldn’t find any leads at all.” 

“Many things happened to Lilly, but it was impossible to obtain any direct 
information concerning talking monsters...” 

“Lord Miach and Lord Takemikazuchi as well...They know nothing about 
this matter.” 

Lady Hestia drifts through the front door, tired after a long day at her part- 
time job. Welf follows her in, scratching his head. For some reason, Lilly looks 
even more tired than the goddess. Mikoto avoids my question altogether...No 
one seems satisfied with their day as they step into the passageway. 

I know we only started gathering information today, and we’ll need an 
amazing amount of luck to strike gold on day one, but judging by their 
expressions, this could actually take a while. 

I mull over that thought as the three of us who had stayed home today go to 
greet everyone. 

“So, how was your day?” Welf asks. 

Everyone else is looking at the girl hiding behind my back, Wiene. 

She’s gripping my shirt, extra careful to not extend her claws. Haruhime 
walks up beside the trembling vouivre girl with a smile on her face and bends 
over at the waist before whispering, “Why not try doing it yourself?” 

She nods, and ripples run down her silver-blue hair. 

“...W-welcome back.” 

She steps out of her hiding place just enough to expose half her face. Wiene’s 
quiet voice fills the hall. 

The goddess, Welf, Lilly, and Mikoto watch in shock as Wiene quickly jumps 
out from behind me and hides behind Haruhime. 

Haruhime and I exchange glances and light smiles. 

“She used to you.” 

While Lilly and Mikoto continue standing in stunned silence, Welf breaks the 
ice, though he isn’t sure what expression to wear. 

He’s right. Wiene is finally opening up to Haruhime. Her blue frame is 
pressed against the renart’s back, forehead between her shoulder blades. 
Meanwhile, Haruhime is gently patting her on the head with her golden fox tail. 

It must tickle, because Wiene is twitching like she’s fighting back a giggle. 
Haruhime glances over her shoulder and smiles along with her. 

Lilly still hasn’t recovered from the shock of a greeting from a monster. She’s 
standing there with her mouth hanging open. My goddess is next to her, arms 
crossed over her chest and grumbling. 

“Well, well, Haruhime. You’ve got the makings of a great mother. No doubt 
at all.” 

Maybe she’s still sore about being rejected point-blank last night? 

“It’s delicious...! Mikoto is amazing!” 

“Th-thank you...” 

Everyone has gathered in the dining room after changing clothes. 

The first thing Wiene says after taking a bite of dinner causes Mikoto a great 
deal of turmoil. 

A wide array of food, including meat and fish, covers the table in front of us. 
Tonight’s menu isn’t too intricate, everything lightly cooked and seasoned only 
with salt. Thick slices of ham have been cut into small pieces for convenience. 
There’s a plate topped with whole grilled fish and bowls of vegetable soup. The 
only trace of Mikoto’s Far Eastern traditional cuisine on the table tonight is a 
dish of sweetened fried eggs. Apparently, Wiene approves. 

“Haruhime said so. Mikoto is amazing. Makes good food.” 

“N-no, there is so much I can do to improve. I’m vegetarian after all, and...!” 

Mikoto is flustered at Wiene’s glowing praise—well, just embarrassed, really. 

Not sure what to do with herself, Mikoto sways her black ponytail from side 
to side as her face reddens. 

I realize we’re not feeding an animal at a zoo here, but...Wiene’s voice is 
louder than usual. Maybe the tasty meal is exciting her? “Ahn!” She opens her 
mouth and waits with pure bliss for Haruhime to feed her a thick chunk of 
steaming-hot fried eggs. 

Even the garnet jewel on her forehead is twinkling along with her amber 

“Uh, wah...I’ve spent all this time wondering how to approach her. How 
laughable...” The vouivre girl’s innocent smile seems to have disarmed Mikoto, 
who’s hanging her head low. 

“Miss Mikoto, that is a monster. Please go easy on yourself.” 

“Why so uptight, Supporter? Keeping an open mind and mending bridges is 
very important at times like this...and that’s why I’m going to do that with 
Wiene right now.” 

“Please do not compete with Miss Haruhime! How can deities act so 
carefree?!” Lilly issues another warning, but the goddess waltzes over toward 
Wiene like it’s a day at the beach. “Mark Lilly’s words, this is a dangerous time 
for our familia!” Lilly raises her voice further still, but to no avail. 

Haruhime smiles at Mikoto and invites her over; the goddess is hell-bent on 
bonding with our houseguest, and Lilly is equally determined to stop her. Wiene 
is in the middle of all the fireworks. 

“Is it okay for them to get attached? Not worried about Li’l E this a 
good idea?” 

“Um, are you...nervous around Wiene, Welf?” 

“I’d rather avoid her, to tell the truth.” 

The goddess asked me to give up my seat next to Wiene, so I’ve left the 
women’s conversation behind to sit down beside Welf as he eats. 

Having taken refuge, I ask for Welf’s opinion, but he forces an awkward 
smile and shrugs. 

“Still, it must be nice to escape for a bit. She hasn’t left your side for two 
days, right? Don’t tell me you’re feeling lonely now that she has other friends?” 


I know he’s just teasing, but I still snap. At the same time, I can tell I’m 
blushing, so I don’t blame him. 

I’ve figured out that no matter how startled or scared Wiene is initially, she 
becomes friendly when she knows that you mean her no harm. 

The scene unfolding around the table is proof enough. It’s all thanks to 
Haruhime assuring Wiene everything is okay, and now she’s talking with 
everyone without fear. 

I don’t know how long she was alone, but I think she’s trying to put that 
frightening solitude behind her by becoming friends with us—with people. 

Our noisy dinner continues with the men and women on different sides of the 
table. Wiene is happily and contently eating alongside everyone with an indelible 

“Lilly, Lilly.” 

“L-let go of Lilly! Why would you want to hold her like this?!” 

After our lively meal comes to an end and the dishes are put away, we move 
to the living room. 

Wiene suddenly takes an interest in Lilly for some reason and wraps her arms 
around her. Much smaller than the vouivre girl, the prum disappears into her 

“Aww, she likes you, Supporter.” 

“And whose fault is that?! ” 

Lilly has made her stance toward Wiene very clear, but the girl must’ve been 
entertained by their hilarious argument earlier and let her guard down. A vein 
pops out on Lilly’s forehead, her face turning crimson in frustration as she glares 
at the goddess from Wiene’s arms. Thoroughly enjoying the moment, Lady 
Hestia strokes Wiene’s long silver-blue hair. 

“A-and she really stinks! Lilly noticed it before, but our ‘monster friend’ has 
a definite smell to her!” 

Lilly yells once she breaks free of Wiene’s embrace. 

The vouivre girl mournfully watches her go as Mikoto and Haruhime nod at 
each other. 

“Yes, that is true...” 

“I wiped her down with a moist towel this morning, but...” 

Wiene hasn’t had a proper scrub since coming out of the Dungeon yesterday. 
She’s been wearing the same salamander-wool robe, too. It’s been absorbing all 
her sweat over the past two days, so it probably smells worse than she does... 
Then again, it’s not as if I can talk. Being glued to her all this time, I haven’t 
taken a shower, either. 

As I suddenly become self-conscious of my own stench, our goddess’s eyes 

light up as though a magic-stone lamp came on inside her head. “All right, 
then!” she says with a smile. 

“Why don’t we all take a bath together?” 

The smell of cypress trees wafted in the air as white steam rose to the ceiling. 

“Ooo.. .This is.. .bath?” 

“Yes, it is. It feels nice to soak in the bathtub.” 

Haruhime smiled at the completely naked Wiene while holding a thin towel 
over her plump breasts with one hand. 

A spa-like bath was located on the third floor of the manor. The women of 
Hestia Familia left their clothes in the changing room and let the warm steam 
wash over their healthy, vibrant skin. 

“It’s been a long time since all of us shared a bath,” Mikoto casually 
remarked, the skin covering her arms and legs smooth enough to make women 

“Schedules for venturing into the Dungeon and my part-time job don’t really 
line up, do they?” Hestia responded, her shapely bosom jiggling as she spoke. 

Both the girl and the goddess let down their long black hair with blissful 

“Using this bath one or two at a time is the very definition of luxury...More 
people using it at once saves money. Lilly thinks we should do this more often.” 

The cypress floorboards creaked under their bare feet as the women made 
their way inside the bathing room and Lilly offered her opinion on the financial 
benefits of the arrangement. 

This Far Eastern-style bath had been installed at Mikoto’s request. The lavish 
design and spacious interior impressed even Haruhime, who hailed from a royal 
family and had spent years with Ishtar Familia. The tub was large enough to 
easily accommodate ten people at once. With steam constantly rising from its 
softly rippling surface, there was nothing more enticing to behold. A steady 
stream of fresh hot water flowed out of the nozzle in the back corner, softly 
echoing in the bathroom. The wooden floor and ceiling framed the view of 
Orario’s nightscape beyond the window. If it weren’t for the white noise from 
outside, the ambience would be perfect. 

Wiene stared intently at her own reflection dancing on the surface of the hot 


“Lady Wiene? Let’s wash up before entering the bath.” 

Haruhime, who had always carried herself with purity and grace while being 
groomed as a prostitute, procured water from a bath with a bucket before 
pouring it over herself and guiding Wiene away from the shallow pool. 

Hestia and the other girls followed suit and began washing their bodies. 

“Bell’s not with us. Why?” 

“Mr. Bell is a boy! It’s common sense!” 

“Boys and girls have their differences, Wiene. That goes for monsters and 
deities, too.” 

Wiene had looked around the room as if something were missing. Lilly 
offered a retort, and Hestia provided an additional explanation while washing her 
arms. The vouivre girl had invited the boy to join them to the point of pestering. 
“Please no...” The boy turned her down every time, desperately trying to come 
up with an excuse as his face burned red. 

“Lady Wiene, please hold still.” 

“Th-the scales...” 

Instructing Wiene to sit down on a bathing stool, Haruhime knelt behind the 
girl and began washing her hair while Mikoto scrubbed her body from the front. 

The girl’s bluish-white complexion stood out even more in the steam-filled 
bathing room. The two girls were in awe of the monster’s smooth, shimmering 
skin. However, the scales clustered around her shoulders and lower back were a 
constant reminder that this girl was not a normal person but a type of dragon. 
These scales presented a serious challenge for Mikoto because their sharp, sturdy 
points tore the washcloth to shreds whenever it passed over a patch. Determined 
to complete her mission, Mikoto held Wiene’s limbs and carefully avoided the 
scales as she covered the girl’s body in a soapy lather. 

“That tickles!” giggled Wiene. She occasionally squirmed under Mikoto’s 
and Haruhime’s hands running over her skin and through her hair. 

“You have beautiful hair, Lady Wiene.” 

“I do?” 

“Yes. It’s like a stream of pure spring water.” 

Wiene’s face lit up when she heard Haruhime’s compliment behind her. 

The renart—her long golden hair, fox ears, and tail all dripping wet— 
carefully handled the vouivre girl’s silver-blue hair as if washing silk. 

“Shall we rinse?” said Haruhime, and she emptied a bucket of water over the 
girl’s head a moment later. 

All the dirt and grime flowed off her skin along with the suds. A now clean 
Wiene shook off before leaning backward into Haruhime. 

A soft plop filled the room when the girl’s head met Haruhime’s curvy chest. 

“Lady Wiene?” 


The vouivre smiled up at Haruhime from her resting place on her chest. 

Meeting the girl’s gaze, the renart smiled down at her like an older sister. 

Mikoto couldn’t help but smile, too, her eyes narrowing as she watched from 
beside them. 

“She’s taken quite a liking to you, Miss Haruhime...Perhaps you might have 
the talent to become a tamer as well?” 

“It’s because Haruhime would make a good mother...Completely different 
from you, Supporter.” 

“Why drag Lilly into this competition?! ” 

The prum and the goddess watched the affectionate pair’s interaction from a 
short distance away. Once their brief argument died down, they followed the 
other girls into the bath. 

Small waves crisscrossed the surface as everyone got settled, piping-hot 
water lapping against their shoulders. Mikoto’s sigh of pleasure was closely 
followed by several more. 

“Feels good...” 

“Yesss, it’s because your muscles have worked so hard all day and now they 
can finally relax.” 

The words slipped from Wiene’s mouth as the warm water embraced her 
body. Hestia, also very much enjoying the bath, looked up at the ceiling and 
explained to the vouivre girl. 

Several bathers had tied their long hair above their heads, but all their faces 
were relaxed and at peace. 

u » 

“Lady Lilly, is something troubling you?” 

At about the time that everyone’s skin had taken on a pink sheen... 

Mikoto tilted her head and inquired as to why Lilly was brooding quietly by 

“...There are too many well-endowed ladies in this familia.” 

Lilly’s chestnut-colored eyes were focused on Mikoto—specifically, her 

Her gaze shifted across the various figures of her peers, somewhat obscured 

beneath the surface of the clear water, and her goddess’s enormous breasts. Lilly 
sank deeper into the bath and blew frustrated bubbles in the water. 

There was no point in comparing herself to the deity dubbed “Loli Big 
Boobs,” but she definitely ranked lower than Haruhime and Mikoto in terms of 
breast size, too. Leaving out the young prum, the average size and shape of 
Hestia Familia’s feminine curves was almost intimidating—and the biggest 
shock came from Mikoto, who normally kept herself literally under wraps. The 
up close and personal view was a bitter pill to swallow. 

Mind racing, Lilly turned her attention to Wiene and was filled with a sense 
of relief that she wasn’t at the bottom of the hierarchy. However, that relief was 
instantly followed by a twinge of self-loathing for thinking such a thing. Splash! 
Her head disappeared beneath the surface of the water. 

“—Being with Bell is better.” 

One heartbeat later. 

Wiene sprang to her feet, her light-blue skin tinted pink by the hot water. 

Lilly and the other girls were caught off guard by the vouivre girl’s swift 
movements and were late to react. With the speed and dexterity of her dragon 
lineage, the girl climbed out of the bath in the blink of an eye. 

“—No, don’t get out!!” 

“Please wait, Lady Wiene!!” 

“Sh-she must be stopped!!” 


The bathing room descended into an uproar as Lilly, Haruhime, and Hestia 
raced after the stark-naked monster girl. Mikoto called out after them, a moment 
too late. 

Lilly led the charge of mostly naked women, carrying washcloths to cover 
what they could, into the passageway in pursuit of Wiene, but to no avail. 

“GAH!” A boy’s startled yelp reverberated through the manor. 

...After the dust settled, everyone finished bathing, then changed into pajamas 
and went to the living room. 

All of us are looking at Welf and Wiene sitting on the floor in the middle of 
the room. 

“Okay, hold out your right hand.” 

The vouivre girl cautiously sticks out her hand—and Welf goes to work on 
her claws. 

He’s brought a few tools in here from his workshop, including a grinding 
stone. Except this time he isn’t sharpening a blade but blunting keen edges. 

His skills as a smith are on display as his steady hands move with purpose. 
Dragon claws are extremely valuable drop items sharp enough to inflict life- 
threatening wounds on upper-class adventurers as is. As carefully as possible, 
Welf removes each spear point with ease. 

Thanks to him, no one has to be afraid of her claws. 

“All right, that should do it.” 

Welf releases his grip on the girl’s light-blue wrist. 

Wiene’s eyes go wide as she gazes at her perfectly rounded fingernails. Her 
lips curl into a smile. 

“Thanks, Welf!” 

“...Don’t sweat it.” 

A few moments pass before Welf acknowledges her appreciation with his 
own smile. 

Wiene jumps to her feet and rushes to my side. 

Eyes brimming with a mixture of hope and fear, she reaches out to me. 

First to my left hand, then my arm, and finally my chest. 

Her new “fingernails” are so smooth that they don’t even snag on my shirt, 
let alone pierce my skin. 

Tears of happiness glisten in her amber eyes as she realizes her hand isn’t 
covered in blood. 

“Bell...Not hurt?” 

“No, not at all.” 

She starts tearing up in earnest, smiling from ear to ear. 

Wiene reaches for me with both hands. Her palms clap against my cheeks, 
mbbing back and forth like she’s playing with a dog. 

“E-hee-hee!” She giggles and smiles brighter than the sun. Her fingers sliding 
across my skin tickle my cheeks and neck, but I grin and bear it. 

“You mustn’t touch others this much, especially faces! And what are you 
smiling for, Mr. Bell?!” 

“I-I’m not exactly enjoying...” 

Lilly’s glaring daggers at us from across the room. 

I’m just trying to keep Wiene happy by going along with her game, so why 
am I suddenly on the receiving end of a lecture? 

“...Does Lilly...hate Bell?” 

“Huh...? Th-that was sudden.” 

The prum’s obvious irritation and angry tone prompted Wiene to ask that 

Lilly’s face goes blank, so the vouivre asks again: 


“L-Lilly... Lilly, um.J” 

Her chestnut eyes anxiously quiver as words leave her. 

Cheeks turning red, her eyes jump between Wiene and me. 

Her mouth is moving, but no sounds are coming out. Wiene’s shoulders 
droop, her expression clouding—then Haruhime suddenly leans forward. 

“I love Master Bell!” 

Her face pops into my line of sight from behind my seat on the floor, and she 
makes an ardent declaration. 

The sight of Haruhime’s flushed cheeks catches Lilly and Wiene by surprise 
as my heart skips a beat. 

Welf stops picking up his tools, stands, and turns toward us. 

“I’m pretty fond of the guy myself.” 

“Of course I love him, too!!” 

“Ho-ho...I as well.” 

The goddess and Mikoto chime in. 

Lilly looks around the room as everyone gathers near us. She must’ve 
decided that it was pointless to go against the grain and yells at the ceiling: 

“—Argh, fine! Lilly does, too!! Lilly loves Mr. Bell!” 

The magic-stone lamps on the ceiling shake, their light wavering. 

Hearing over and over that I’m loved...My cheeks are burning up. I can’t 
help but smile with my goddess and friends. 

“I love you guys, too.” 

I put the warmth of our familia into every word. 

Suddenly, Wiene puts both her hands on my chest. 

“Everyone loves Bell...Everyone loves one another.” 

She squeezes her eyes shut as another expression of joy blooms like a flower 
on her face. 


In that moment, with everyone here, it feels like we all fit together. The air is 
free of tension, and Wiene dives into my chest. 

Wrapping her arms around my shoulders, she presses her ear against my heart 

as if hoping to hear it beat. 

One look at the giddy happiness on her face is enough to melt all our hearts 
before we know it. 

I put my hand against her silver-blue hair and look up. 

The scene in the living room is reflected in the glass window. 

Humans, demi-humans, a goddess, and a monster. 

All of us have our differences, be it skin color or race or all matter of things. 
But here we all are, together around one girl. 

The picture of a warm family. 

After Hestia Familia spent some time with the monster girl, the members 
decided to call it a night and returned to their rooms one by one. 

The magic-stone lamps on each floor of the manor turned dark. 

“Please tell me, Lady Haruhime. What are your thoughts on Lady Wiene...?” 

“I feel much the same way as Master Bell. I do not want to abandon her. It 
may, however, be empathy getting the best of me...” 

Haruhime and Mikoto lay on adjacent futons in a dark room. 

As they lay on their sides, green and violet eyes met as they spoke. 

“I view myself as a courtesan...Separated from Miss Mikoto and the others, 
perhaps I see my former self in her. My own selfishness may be blinding me...” 

“That is not so, Lady Haruhime. You are still the same generous person you 
were back in those days.” 

Haruhime had donated food to the impoverished shrine where Mikoto and 
her friends lived many years ago, even before she knew their names. Reflecting 
on the memories of those days brought a smile to Mikoto’s face. 

Her face hidden in shadow, Haruhime smiled back. 

“What are your thoughts on her, Miss Mikoto?” 

“It pains me to admit...but I have yet to reach a definite conclusion,” Mikoto 
said. “However...I feel that Lady Wiene’s smile is the same as our own. If 
possible, I would like to build a lasting bond with her.. .Like our familia.” 

“.. .Thank you, Mikoto.” 

Mikoto and Haruhime slowly closed their eyes beneath the narrow streaks of 
moonlight between the curtains over the window. 

Just like when they would take naps together at the shrine in their childhood, 
they leaned in close enough to feel each other breathe as they drifted to sleep. 

“Lady Hestia knows...The gods and goddesses know something about the 

Inside the dim and mostly empty living room... 

A lone magic-stone lamp cast a faint light on the room from its spot on the 
wall. Welf had almost finished cleaning up after disarming the monster girl when 
Lilly broke the silence. 

“That was also the case when the Black Goliath appeared. They are hiding 
the truth about the Dungeon...or something inside it...from the people.” 


“Despite that, the existence of that monster surprises them.” 

Lilly sat in a chair, swinging her short legs back and forth as she spoke. Welf 
had his back to her, responding with the occasional grunt or a word or two to 
show he was listening. 

“An Irregular incarnate, even to the gods...We have a problem on our hands, 
but it may be much more trouble than it’s worth.” 

“You accepted that risk when Bell brought her back here. What’s the point in 
moaning about it now?” 

“Lilly did not ‘accept.’ She gave up...Mr. Bell likes people too much to see 

The prum, who simultaneously supported both the familia and Bell, 
continued her conversation with the young man. 

“If her presence here puts our familia in danger.. .When that time comes...” 

“You’ll chase her out and leave her to her fate?” 

“...If necessary.” 

Welf raised his head and turned to Lilly upon hearing her thoughts on the 

Lilly’s concern for her ally’s future was so strong that she was willing to 
become hated in order to protect it. 

“Take a look in the mirror. Determined people don’t make that expression.” 

« 55 

Lilly’s face contorted. Distress filled her downcast eyes. 

Without lifting her gaze, she strung words together and squeezed them from 
her throat. 

“Following our emotions will lead to disaster...If all of us become attached 

to her, we will surely regret it.” 

« 55 

“It can’t go on like this forever. It’s impossible for tonight to repeat itself for 
the rest of our lives...” 

Because that girl was a monster. 

Lilly’s voice faded to a whisper. This time, Welf didn’t have anything to say. 

“Well then, why don’t the three of us sleep together tonight? Just family!” 

“Just family?” 

“Huh? Goddess...?!” 

They were in Bell’s room, third floor of the manor. 

The room itself was mostly devoid of identifiable features, save for the closet 
that had been refurbished into a storage unit for equipment such as mended 
armor and other items for adventuring. Hestia was standing in the open doorway, 
a pillow tucked beneath her arm. 

Wiene flat-out refused to sleep anywhere other than at Bell’s side, and Hestia 
arrived on the scene to fulfill her divine duty. She practically forced her way into 
the room so she could keep an eye on the two. 

No one else knew she was there. 

“First things first...Wiene, you must now call me ‘Mama’ and Bell ‘Papa.’” 

“Mama, Papa...?” 

“Goddess, what are you teaching her?!” 

Hestia coached Wiene and gently stroked the girl’s hair while Bell yelped in 

The vouivre girl inquisitively tilted her head as the deity, shorter than herself, 
reached up to lovingly pet her head. 

“Bell, at times like this, you must obey the mortal realm’s rules about how 
families behave. We have an image to uphold.” 

“What image? I’ve never heard anything about this!!” 

Bell’s astonishment did nothing to curb Hestia’s enthusiasm. A crisp smile on 
her face, she gave him an energetic thumbs-up. 

“But.. .but my room only has one bed! So it’s not possible!” 

“What do you mean, Bell? You slept with Wiene snuggled up next to you last 
night, yes? So you can do that with her but not with me?” 

“Th-that’s not what I...! You’re a goddess! Sleeping next to you would 

“We slept on the sofa back in the room under the church, remember?” 

“Huh? We did?!” 

She didn’t sleepwalk her way on top of me?! Bell raked through his memory 
in search of answers. 

Hestia turned to Wiene and gave her a friendly smile as the boy clutched his 
head in both hands a short distance away. 

“Is it okay with you, Wiene?” 


Bell’s only hope of escape had vanished. The three of them climbed into the 
single bed and lay down. 

“Is...isn’t this a bit cramped?” 

“Hee-hee, I think you mean ‘cozy.’” 

“It’s very...warm.” 

Bell’s face turned bright red; he knew that they were close enough to touch 
each other with the slightest turn. Meanwhile, Hestia’s smile widened as Wiene 
settled into the bed. 

The vouivre lay between human and deity, all three of them on their backs. 
While it would have been more efficient for Hestia to sleep in the middle based 
on their height, Wiene looked so comfortable that neither of them had the heart 
to move her. 

Every magic-stone lamp in the room was extinguished; the sound of rustling 
sheets filled the space. Bell’s anxiety prevented him from moving at all while 
Hestia and Wiene jostled for bed space. The sound of light breathing began to 
fill the air as the clock on the wall ticked on. 

With all the lights off, sleep descended upon the manor. 


Bell was somewhere between slumber and consciousness when movement 
beside him caused him to open his eyes. 

He saw Wiene facing him, her body huddled up close. 

She was holding onto Bell’s right arm as she had done many times before. 

“Can’t sleep?” 

“No...I’m fine.” 

Two voices whispered in the dark room. Her amber eyes closed to a sliver. 

The garnet jewel emitted a faint light as her blue-silver hair slid down, 
exposing the bluish-white skin at the nape of Wiene’s neck above her pajamas’ 
collar. She smiled up at him from the pillow. 

Bell quickly averted his eyes. “ZZZ...” Hestia snored and rolled over at the 
same time. Bell paused when he saw that the goddess had turned her back to 

them and adjusted his shoulders to face Wiene. 

The vouivre girl donned a calm expression and snuggled in closer. 

“...Wiene, where did you come from?” 

Bell couldn’t help but ask as she pressed her body against his like a sleepy 

The girl from a different world finally trusted him. The question that had 
been eating at Bell this whole time slipped out before he knew it. 

“I don’t know.” 

“Do you have friends? ...Are there any monsters that don’t attack you, 

“I don’t know that, either...” 

The girl claimed ignorance no matter what he asked and looked away. Then 
she mumbled that her earliest memory was of being alone in the Dungeon. 


Wiene lifted her face up from Bell’s chest. 

“I have dreams.” 


“Yes. Attacking Bell...people like Bell.” 

The boy’s eyes went wide in surprise. 

“Slashing people I don’t know, biting them, tearing them apart...” 

In an area filled with rocks and boulders, amid intricate passageways. 

Baring fangs at drawn swords, sharp claws ripping through anything in their 

Loud screams of those who avoided the fangs; ramming horns through the 
backs of those who ran away in a panic. 

“Everything turns red...Scary dreams.” 

The sight of her hands, claws dripping with fresh blood. 

Wiene described it all, how these dreams would play out whenever she closed 
her eyes. 

“I’m always angry in the dreams...always get colder and colder.” 


“Lots of people, just like Bell...protect someone from me.” 

As Bell had protected Wiene from Lilly and the rest of the familia when they 
first met, the people in her dreams did the same, she explained. 

There was one, possibly an elf, who embraced her badly injured partner and 
used his own body as a shield. 

Another, a dwarf maybe, who blocked the passageway by himself, fighting 

against a whole wave of monsters at once to allow the rest of his party to escape. 

Another, and another, and another...Listening to her fragmented stories, a 
picture began forming in Bell’s mind. 

Wiene curled up next to him, making herself as small as possible as her long 
eyelashes trembled. 

“I see those people, and I feel cold.” 

u 55 

“Like there’s a hole in my chest letting everything flow out, until I feel 
empty...But those people were beautiful.” 

People supporting, protecting, and loving one another. 

Sights normally overlooked, such as allies overcoming their fears to save 
each other, were suddenly so much clearer. 

“What happens next is always the same. I become red, and everything goes 

That was how the dreams always ended. 

A cutting flash of silver and a body going cold. Limbs that wouldn’t move 
anymore. Bleeding that wouldn’t stop. 

Lying on the stone floor, staring at the ceiling as vision blurred into 

“I cry for help.. .but no one ever comes.” 

No amount of screaming or begging convinced any of her kind in the area to 
come to her aid. 

Their battle cries filling her ears, they continued to attack the people. 

Clouds of ash choked the air before everything turned dark. 

“Very scary and lonely dreams.” 

The visions always ended without her receiving a helping hand. 

« 55 

Bell kept his mouth closed, listening to her story from start to finish. 

Were those really dreams ? 

Or were they Wiene’s —? 

Bell’s train of thought had reached that point when the vouivre girl buried her 
face in his chest once again. 

“But I’m not scared anymore.” 

Because Bell was here. 

Her muffled voice was tranquil as she wrapped her arms around the boy. 

Wiene was smiling. 

She yearned for his comfortable heat. Bell didn’t say anything and accepted 

her embrace. 

However, he gently reached out and stroked her hair. 

u » 

Hestia, her back to Bell and Wiene, slowly opened her eyes. 

Mulling over what she just heard, she gazed out the window at the night sky. 
After a time, she heard the telltale breaths of two sleeping figures. 

Hestia rolled over once again and, after hesitating a few times, wrapped her 
arms around the vouivre girl from behind. 

A bluish darkness covered the sky. 

Countless twinkling stars filled the night. Ash-colored clouds partially hid the 
moon from view as the heavens cast light and shadow on Orario. 

Business was booming in the bars along the main boulevards and street 
corners. A small group of humanoid figures distanced themselves from the 
liveliest and noisiest area, the Shopping District and the Pleasure Quarter, to 
gather in an alleyway close to the city wall’s East Gate in Orario’s Eastern 

The wall’s imposing shadow overhead, they met where the alleyway 
intersected a cul-de-sac. 

Several adventurers sat atop a pile of wooden boxes and barrels that had been 
left outside. A god stood among them, although this particular deity was mostly 
preoccupied with adjusting the feather in his hat. 

“Lord Hermes, Laurier and the others have returned.” 

The clouds high above drifted away from the moon as a beautiful woman 
sporting short aqua-blue hair appeared in the alleyway. 

The white cape over her shoulders seemed to cut through the darkness. As 
soon as the words left her mouth, three demi-humans wearing traveler’s robes 
appeared behind her. 

Hearing the report of his follower, Asfi A1 Andromeda, Hermes wore a 
delicate smile as he glanced toward her silver glasses and stood up from his 

“Good work on your long journey, Laurier and company! I’ve been waiting.” 

Hermes thanked the three for their hard work as a young elf woman and two 
animal people, male and female, lowered their hoods. “So, how did it go?” 

“Sir...We tracked the illicit sales taking place around the city and identified 
the merchant organization pulling the strings.” 

“You did? Well done.” 

Hermes nodded, seemingly satisfied with the elf Laurier’s news. 

Orario, possessing the world’s only Dungeon—the sole source of magic 
stones—had to keep constant tabs on the black market. The Guild controlled all 
legal rights to magic stones and their related products, but that didn’t stop people 
from smuggling them through the checkpoints and into other countries, where 
they would be sold to the highest bidder. While the Guild and the familias 
collaborating with them did everything in their power to eliminate these crimes, 
the truth was Orario had grown too large to prevent them from happening. 

Therefore, it had fallen to Hermes Familia to investigate the various black 
market operations and shutter the organizations behind them. They traveled 
outside the city at the behest of the Guild to investigate where the products were 
being smuggled. This was one of the reasons that Hermes Familia, which 
nominally worked as a delivery service, could pass through various checkpoints 
at will. With Perseus’s magic items at their disposal, the Guild placed a great 
deal of trust in the mid-ranking familia—even if they weren’t completely honest 
about their members’ Levels. 

A letter had arrived informing Hermes that one of his investigation teams 
would be returning from their mission tonight, and he went to greet them in 

“Every detail has been recorded here...Also, there is one more thing to 

Laurier handed her god a rolled-up piece of paper, and as she continued, her 
pure-white complexion took on an ominous pallor. 

“Just as you mentioned before our departure... The sale of monsters has been 

“...And the buyer?” 

“Our inquiry led us to infiltrate an estate belonging to Elurian royalty... 
Further investigation revealed the possibility that nobility residing in other 
countries may also be involved.” 

The elf fought back a wave of nausea as memories of what she had witnessed 
flooded her mind. She pressed a hand to her throat to maintain composure and 
keep from vomiting. 

“Monsters were chained to one another in underground holding cells. We 
were unable to ascertain whether or not they had been tamed. However, they 

were violated...N-no, it was worse than that. It was treatment that I did not 
believe people were capable of inflicting.” 

As Laurier adjusted her choice of words, the elf’s golden hair swayed, and 
her pointed ears anxiously twitched. 

“They were on death’s door by the time we arrived...One asked us with its 
last breath —‘deliver this to my comrades’...” 

One of the animal people behind the elf stepped forward and held out an item 
wrapped in cloth. 

Hermes pulled back the covering to reveal a heavily scarred monster horn—a 
drop item. 

The deity narrowed his orange eyes. 

The message and the horrid condition of the horn left the surrounding 
members of Hermes Familia, including Asfi, speechless. 

The two animal people in traveler’s cloaks remained silent, their lips pursed 
into thin lines. The elf, on the other hand, could no longer keep her boiling 
emotions at bay. 

“—It spoke to me and asked for help! A monster!! It used words no different 
from ours, with tears rolling down its cheeks!!” 

Her breathing became ragged. 

Her right eye opened wide before she shielded it with her hand. She was on 
the verge of a breakdown. 

A shudder ran through the young elf, who always strove to uphold pure 
ideals. It was no hyperbole to say that she was experiencing a crisis. Her 
beautiful eyes blurred behind tears as she laid bare the pent-up emotions inside 
her for her god and all to see. 

“What was that?! Why did it look at me like that...?! ...What should I— 

Laurier was distraught. 

Not saying a word, Hermes stepped up to her and took the elf’s hand. 

“Everything you saw, everything you witnessed is now my burden to bear. 
Don’t let it trouble you any longer. Leave it to me.” 

Hermes pressed her hand against his chest so she could feel his heartbeat. 

The calming rhythm coursed through the palm of her hand; her breathing 
returned to normal. 

The trembling elf stared up at her god and saw his usual lighthearted smile. 
Then he removed his feathered hat before placing it on her head. 

“That goes for the two of you as well,” he said with a smile and patted the 

animal people on their shoulders. He then left the downtrodden trio in the 
capable hands of his other followers. 

Trusting them to take care of things, he sent all of them home. 

“.. .So what would you have us do, Lord Hermes?” 

Once her allies had disappeared into the night, Asfi spoke to her god with 
thinly veiled agitation at his condescending behavior. 

Sensing her half-lidded glare, the deity looked up into the sky in silence 
before turning to another of his followers who was still in the alley. 

“Lulune, you said you found a suspicious child?” 

“Yeah, I did, Lord Hermes. Some elf brat I’ve never seen before was asking 
around about ‘talking monsters.’ I tried to trail her but.. .she practically broke my 
nose with a stink bomb and got away.” The wheat-skinned chienthrope massaged 
her nose as if she were still feeling the effects. “Sorry,” she apologized through 
her cupped hands. 

Hermes glanced at her while she spoke but quickly returned his gaze to the 
night sky—or at least to the visible sliver of it directly above the alleyway. 

“The client’s request is absolute. All we can do is keep gathering 

Hermes’s words hung in the air. 

“Haaagh, geez,” he whispered under his breath. “Well Ouranos, you certainly 
gave us one hell of a job...” 

The deity’s sharp eyes gazed into the moonlight. A long moment passed 
before he unrolled the parchment scroll in his hands and gave it a once-over. 

It was a list of all the merchant organizations connected with this smuggling 
ring, as well as who had bought and sold monsters. 

Tracing the route all the way back to Orario, he noticed the name of one 
specific familia: 

Ikelos Familia. 

Chains rattled from deep in the darkness. 

Rage-filled roars—and sometimes pained, mournful whimpers— 

accompanied the metallic clanging. 

Hair-raising howls of agony echoed through the dark abyss. 

“You let the vouivre cargo get away?” 

As if its owner was completely unperturbed by the noise, an irritated voice 
cut through the air. 

It belonged to a man with black hair. 

He wore goggles made from smoky quartz, though the tinted lenses were 
unable to completely mask the glare of the red eyes behind them. He was rather 
tall, and his dirty battle cloth was open at the top, revealing well-toned neck and 
shoulder muscles. A large combat knife long enough to rival most shortswords 
hung from his waist. 

He had situated himself atop the black bars of an empty cage, legs carelessly 
crossed, and the tone and quality of his voice suggested he was prone to 

“We had it cornered on the nineteenth floor but lost track of it...S-sorry, 

“You realize what we could’ve had? Those freaks in charge of Eluria 
would’ve paid a fortune to get their filthy hands on a live one.” 

The goggled man, Dix, didn’t even bother looking at the four adventurers 
below him while he spoke. The men and women hunched over in 
disappointment as he raised his head toward the ceiling. 

The stone canopy was shrouded in darkness, giving the room an oppressive 
atmosphere. A few magic-stone lamps illuminated a great many black cages, as 
well as the faces of the numerous demi-humans walking among them. The 
incessant howls and clanging chains all came from inside those cages. 

The man wearing goggles spat at the adventurers’ feet before standing. 

“If only we could find their nest...It’s somewhere in the Colossal Tree 
Labyrinth for sure, so we can’t be far.” 

Grabbing a red spear propped against the wall, the man approached one of 
the cages in the densely packed array. 

The spear’s blade was an odd shape, curved and incredibly sharp. Rather than 
lethal efficiency, this weapon had been designed with the pain of its victims in 

“And none of these bastards’ll say a stinking thing.. .damn it all!” 

The red blade flashed between the bars of the cage. A dark shadow flailed 
inside, howling as the spear plunged into its flesh. 

The weak, almost pleading whimpering turned to high-pitched screams and 
ear-splitting squeals. Chains rattled as a crimson fluid splattered across the floor. 

The man’s face was devoid of emotion as he watched the dark shadow writhe 
in pain before pulling back the spear. 

“Then again, a female vouivre, eh...Now that’s a treasure I’d like to get my 
mitts on.” 

Tapping the weapon’s shaft against his shoulder, the man narrowed his eyes 
behind the goggles. 

“The nineteenth floor, you say? Tell me the details.” 

“Ah, s-sure...Rivira’s adventurers were on a quest to hunt some firebirds 
when we found it. The place was crawling with them.” 

A disturbed adventurer responded to the man fidgeting with the blood- 
covered spear. 

“There was some elf rambling about a monster that talked to her, but nothing 
else. No one took her seriously. I bet the vouivre is still in the Dungeon...if the 
other monsters didn’t do her in already.” 

The man in the goggles listened to his underling deliver the difficult news. 
He considered the matter for a moment and then opened his mouth. 

“So a bunch of people raised a fuss, yet no one claimed the kill...Could be 
that some idiot is trying to hide the monster.” 

The man’s lips curled into a smile before the stunned adventurers, but 
immediately after, he burst into laughter. 

“From what I hear, the vouivre’s got one hell of a pretty face, yeah? Wouldn’t 
surprise me if some adventurer got carried away and did something insane.” 
With a grin, he added, “Monster fetishes are a thing, after all.” 

Knowing how adventurers think, no one would pass up the chance to brag 
about slaying a talking vouivre. Stories about the strange monster should be 
spreading through Orario like wildfire. The man explained his theory. 

“Of course, other monsters could’ve finished it off, the way you said. And 
there’s still a chance it’s wandering around down there. I’ll go have a look 
myself.. .Also, find out who took part in Rivira’s quest—all of them.” 

Orders received, the adventurers gave him a curt nod before leaving as 
quickly as they could. 

After watching them go out of the corner of his eye, the man in the goggles 
turned the other way. 

“And there you have it...Lord Ikelos, may I rely on your cooperation once 

“—Hee-hee, is that how you ask your god for a favor, you arrogant little 

Before the man in goggles was a lone god. 

With eyes and hair of the same cerulean shade, the deity wore mostly black 

clothing over his dark-brown skin. A fake smile was etched upon his graceful 
features, which served as proof of his divinity. 

© Suzuhito Yasuda 

The deity, who resembled a young man, had said nothing during the previous 
exchange so he could better enjoy the spectacle. He sat atop a stone pedestal, 
legs crossed. 

“Gods can see right through our lies. I’d like you to check out any suspicious 
individuals I happen to find.” 

“That sounds absolutely mind-numbing...I’m a god, and you’re sending me 
on an errand?” 

The deity—Ikelos—sneered, eliciting a low chuckle from Dix. 

“I think you’ll find a way to not be too bored, no?” 

“...Guess I got no choice, then.” 

After speaking to his follower, Ikelos put on a grin peculiar to gods starving 
for “entertainment.” 

“You better make me laugh this time as well, Dix.” 

“By your will, My Lord.” 

Two shadows stretched far into the darkness under the magic-stone lamplight. 

Amid the smell of stone and the constant bestial roars echoing in their ears, 
god and man shared the same thin smile, as though they were reflections of each 




© Suzuhito Yasuda 




“There’s a big difference between hearing about it and seeing it with my own 
eyes. It’s a real shock.” 

Lady Hephaistos says this as she scratches at the patch covering her right eye 
while inspecting Wiene. 

Hearthstone Manor’s living room is bathed in morning light. Three deities 
have come to our home: Lord Takemikazuchi, Lord Miach, and Lady 
Hephaistos. Their stunned gazes are focused on the vouivre girl hiding behind 
my back. 

“A monster that doesn’t attack people.. .and is capable of communicating.” 

“This could rewrite our understanding of the mortal world, perhaps even 
change what we once considered to be common sense.” 

“I don’t think we can neatly sweep this under a rug by just calling it 

The gods don troubled expressions as we, Hesda Familia, observe from the 

“So none of you have any experience with this, I take it?” Lady Hestia takes 
a step closer to her friends and asks one more time, but Lady Hephaistos just 
shakes her head from side to side. 

To disturb even the gods...Wiene’s very existence must be extraordinary. 

“If anyone were to have any information...wouldn’t it be the Guild, I 

Their conversation continues until Lady Hephaistos’s suggestion sends chills 
up everyone’s spines. 

Even I react after she brings up the Guild. 

“...You may be right. There is a possibility they know more than we do 

“But do be warned, going to the Guild for information is dangerous.” 

The Guild acts like the governing body of Orario in addition to its role in 
managing all Dungeon-related activity. Chances are good that they’re more 
knowledgeable about the current condition of the Dungeon than our lone familia. 
On the other hand, there’s a good chance they’ll withhold proprietary 
knowledge. Low-ranking employees like Eina and others don’t know about a lot 
of things—for example, the top-secret information about our fight with the Black 

But then again, we’d be in a bad spot if they find out about Wiene. Our 
familia would obviously be in an incredibly dangerous position if word gets out 
that we’re harboring a monster. Especially Wiene, the epitome of Irregulars. In 
the worst-case scenario, she could be taken away for experimentation or who 
knows what... 

With all these frightening ideas running through my head, I can’t help but 
agree with Lord Miach and Lord Takemikazuchi’s assessment that it’s too risky 
to consult the Guild. My goddess crosses her arms, a sour look on her face. 

In the end, Lady Hephaistos says she can’t make any promises, but she’ll 
look into this herself and inform us if she comes across anything important. 

“As for what we do from here...I’d like for Bell and the others to take a trip 
to the Dungeon.” 

After the other deities leave, our goddess faces us as she broaches the topic. 

“It’s painfully obvious that there’s a limit to how much we can learn on the 
surface. The only option now is to expand our investigation into the Dungeon.” 

Six days have passed since I met Wiene. 

Reviewing all we’ve learned over those days, the goddess asks us to return to 
the spot on the nineteenth floor where I found Wiene and search for clues. 

“As Lilly mentioned before, we’re not the only ones investigating talking 
monsters. The situation could change at any moment...If we want to make a 
move, the sooner the better.” 

“...Yeah. We gotta go.” 

Mikoto and Haruhime tense up when Lilly reminds them of her first day 
searching around the city. Welf voices his agreement. 

We’re just standing around right now. At this rate, the situation might get 
away from us. 

Exchanging nods, we decide to expand our search into the Dungeon. 

“Sorry about this, everyone...I want to know what’s happening, too. I’m 
counting on you all.” 

The goddess looks at all of us in turn. 

Remembering the shock of Lady Hephaistos and the other deities after our 
goddess’s earnest intent, I realize all over again that we’re entering unknown 
territory, where even the gods don’t know what’s happening. My skin is 


“...It’s all right. I’ll be back before you know it.” 

Wiene anxiously glances up at me. I say the usual reassuring words and do 
my best to smile. 

“It’s been a while since just the three of us roamed the Dungeon.” 

“That’s because we haven’t been shorthanded recently.” 

I walk out the manor’s front gate with Welf, greatsword over his shoulder, 
and Lilly, backpack strapped behind her. 

The ones heading to the Dungeon are Lilly, Welf, and myself. Mikoto and 
Haruhime are staying behind to take care of Wiene and look after our home. 

It’s our original three-man cell. How nostalgic. I share a smile with my two 
friends who’ve fought alongside me since before they joined my familia. 

“Bear in mind that our destination is the nineteenth floor...Honestly, Lilly is 
concerned about the three of us going on our own. The journey to and from the 
site plus our investigation might take well over one day.” 

“Good point. I don’t want to be away from home any longer than we have to 


Lilly voices her concerns as we head to our home’s closest city avenue, 
Southwest Main Street. 

We made it down to the eighteenth floor the other day, but that was as a five- 
member party. Not to mention Mikoto and Welf had the benefit of Haruhime’s 
Level Boost. 

Having traveled to the safe point a few times already, we’re quite familiar 
with the Dungeon layout as well as how to deal with the monsters that spawn on 
the intervening floors. Getting down there as a three-man party shouldn’t be too 
much of a problem. The only worry is that it might take us a fair bit of time to do 

Without Mikoto and Haruhime, it’s only natural that the danger increases— 
and relying too heavily on Welf ’s magic swords and Lilly’s stink bombs, which 
both have a limited number of uses, would be a pretty terrible plan—so we’ll 
have to be more careful and slow down. 

And a sappier reason is that I don’t want to be away from home for a long 
time, since we left Wiene and the others there. 

Though before I met everybody, I used to go into the Dungeon alone all the 
time, so I’m fortunate to have these worries at all, but... 

As a side note, whenever I visit Rivira, I often hear about solo specialist 
upper-class adventurers who regularly travel to and from the safe point floor all 
alone, especially those who are Level 3 like me. 

In my case, though, I have an overwhelming lack of experience...and the 
middle levels—a place one enters fully prepared to die—had given me a 
complicated kind of trauma. At the very least, I don’t particularly want to go any 
farther into there. 


I know Welf and I have leveled-up since our first attempts to venture so far 
down, but we can’t let our guard down. Not to mention that we want to get to the 
nineteenth floor as quickly as possible. 

I take in the vast blue sky overhead and try to come up with a good idea... 
and then the face of a certain adventurer pops into my mind. 

Of course she could... 

“Is there something on my face?” 

“Ah, n-no!” 

We’ve come to the always busy West Main Street. 

I purposely try to avoid meeting a pair of sky-blue eyes, instead peering at 
the constant flow of horse-drawn carriages and adventurers passing by. 

“Is something wrong, Bell? You’ve been glancing at Lyu ever since you got 

“N-no, nothing’s wrong...” 

We’re in front of The Benevolent Mistress. 

Syr made lunch for me again today, so I’m swinging by to collect it. 

She prepares a meal for me every day, including days we don’t go into the 
Dungeon. On those days she feeds it to the other staff members and asks for 
feedback...or so I hear. Humbly giving my thanks, I receive the lunch basket 
from her, but she points out that my gaze keeps wandering toward the elf 


It seems my thoughts are showing in my behavior. 

Basically, Is it possible to ask Lyu for help on this trip...? Or something like 

Having a former adventurer with amazing skills like hers in our party would 
all but guarantee us reaching our destination in no time. 

But asking her to come just because it would be convenient for us...? I think 
that’s pushing it a bit too far. We couldn’t have won the War Game without her, 
and she’s come to our rescue so many times that taking advantage of her like this 
would be rude. 

I force a smile for Syr and Lyu, trying to gloss things over, but... 

“Mr. Bell, we have nothing to lose, so please ask Miss Lyu to assist us.” 

“Huh? Wait a sec—Lilly?” 

“We cannot afford to be picky about our methods. We have no choice but to 
make this request.” 

.. .However, Lilly tugs at the back of my shirt and whispers her thoughts. 

She’s right. It’s already pretty late in the morning, so I bet other people like 
Ouka or Daphne have already led their parties into the Dungeon. It’s too late to 
ask them to accompany us, but still... 

I turn around in an effort to dissuade her as quietly as possible, but I give up 
as soon as Lilly brings up Wiene. There’s nothing I can say. 

Still indecisive, I face Lyu and Syr again before trying to negotiate. 

“...You are attempting to reach the safe point?” 

“Y-yes.. .Is that...too much to ask.. .after all?” 

Leaving out our true destination on the nineteenth floor, I claim that we’re 
trying to reach Rivira instead. 

At Lyu’s response, my voice and body both get smaller as I watch her 
standing still, holding one of the bar’s trays. 

“Bell, why do you want to go all the way there?” 

“W-well, you see, there’s something we have to do today, kind of like a 

Syr tilts her head, displaying her confusion as I try to sound as convincing as 
possible...but her expression never changes, and her sky-blue eyes unthinkingly 
stare at me. I can’t meet her gaze, so I let mine wander. 

I feel guilty for hiding something in the face of such sincerity. 

Lilly and Welf sigh at my suspicious behavior, or rather my inability to lie. 

“...Mr. Cranell, I must apologize, but I have much work to attend to at the 


Those were the exact words that I expected, the inevitable rejection—when 
out of the blue... 

“Bell Cranell!” 

An assertive voice comes up from behind me. 

All of us spin around to find a beautiful, wild woman with one hand resting 
on her curvy waist. 


My eyes land on Aisha Belka, who’s wearing clothing fit for a dancer. 

Formerly a high-ranking member of Ishtar Familia, she’s a second-tier 
adventurer and a passionate Amazon. She was also one of Haruhime’s few allies 
when she was forced to work as a prostitute. 

She has beautiful, long legs; tanned bronze skin, as displayed by her exposed 
stomach; and most of all, an intense allure emanating from her entire body. 
Every man on the street is craning his neck for a better look at her. 

“Wh-what are you doing here...?” 

“Wanted to check up on that scrawny fox and maybe see your face, so I 
dropped by your home, only to hear that you left for the Dungeon. I was gonna 
head back without any more fuss, but here you are. Aren’t I lucky?” 

As Aisha draws closer, her reply sounds convincing. 

This isn’t the first time that she’s paid us a visit to see if Haruhime is doing 
okay. Welf and Lilly have interacted with her on occasion as well. 

Today didn’t go as she planned, but she happened to bump into us in the end. 

“If you don’t mind my asking, what are you all doing hanging out outside a 

Aisha looks back and forth between our groups and asks a question of her 
own after I quickly introduce her to Lyu and Syr. 

I hesitate a little, but then I explain the situation without saying much about 

“Oh? So you need an escort? I’ll take you up on that.” 


“You’re just going down to the safe point and coming right back up, yes? 
Piece of cake.” 

Everyone is stunned by Aisha’s response, including Welf and Lilly—and so 
are Syr and Lyu. 

“A-are you sure...?” 

“It’s a quest like any other. As long as there’s a reward, I got no reason to say 

no. Plus, I’ve always wanted to try heading into the Dungeon with you.” 

The first part was very matter-of-fact, but she said the second bit with a 
bewitching smile while crossing her arms. 

Her clothes are so revealing they could easily be mistaken for underwear, and 
she’s pushing up her ample cleavage, on par with Lady Hestia’s. I know Aisha’s 
considerably sultry demeanor has set my cheeks on fire. 

...I’m aware that I have trouble interacting with this quintessential Amazon. 

Her bold personality is part of it, but the constant sight of her vibrant dark 
skin along with her provocative cleavage makes me blush furiously. Meanwhile, 
Lilly’s glare and Syr’s wide grin are really scaring me. 

Sweat drips from my forehead...but honestly, having a second-tier adventurer 
like her come with us would be a great help. That way, I wouldn’t have to drag 
Lyu into this. 

Aisha narrows her eyes the moment that thought crosses my mind. 

“But just warning you—I ain’t cheap.” 


Her arms slither around my shoulders like a snake and pull me in close. 

I’m terrified even before I feel Aisha’s soft body pressed up against mine. 
Mostly because she’s licking her lips right in front of my face. 

The scene startles Lilly and Syr, while Welf lets out an exasperated sigh. 

Even Lyu, who hasn’t said a word, frowns. 

“Wh-what’s the reward...?!” 

“Oh, you remember, right? Since the last time I missed out on my chance to 
indulge .” 

Nightmarish memories of being hunted in the Pleasure Quarter flash before 
my eyes. Aisha’s musky perfume and wheat-colored skin bring back the terror I 
endured that night. 

At the carnivorous smile on her lips, all the blood drains from my face, 
turning me pale as a ghost— 

“—Hands off him.” 

Like a sword flashing by, a wooden tray tears through the air with terrifying 

Aisha sidesteps the vertical slash at the last possible moment. 

Finally free, I shift my trembling eyes in the direction of the tray-bearer. A 
cold stare the likes of which I’ve never seen before is emanating from Lyu’s sky- 
blue eyes. 

“Stand back, Amazon. I will not allow you to perform obscene acts on him.” 

The Amazon warrior isn’t fazed by the arctic glare. Instead, she looks excited 
for a fight, lips curling upward. 

“Oh? What’s this? Sayin’ you got dibs on this male?” 

“...Do not misunderstand me. He has already been engaged to his promised 

What is she saying?! 

“Well, isn’t that interesting? I was planning on entrusting him to a little sister 
of mine.” 

“Please refrain from saying such ridiculous nonsense. You will only cause 
trouble for Mr. Cranell.” 

“Fine, I get it, I get it. We’ll have our taste first, and then you and that friend 
of yours can start off by holding his hands like a bunch of elves.” 

“I refuse to trust him to someone of such poor character. I advise you and 
your sister to withdraw.” 

A fierce argument unfolds right in front of my widened eyes. 

Aisha glares down at Lyu with her height advantage, but the elf isn’t backing 
down. I can almost see sparks flying right now. Facts and hypotheticals fly 
between the two women and—I have no idea what’s going on. 

...The fastidious elves might have about as much trouble seeing eye to eye 
with the uninhibited Amazons as they do with dwarves, if their relationship isn’t 
actually worse. 

Thinking this, I start sweating bullets as Lyu’s menacing eyes meet Aisha’s 
provocative grin. 

“Syr, my apologies. I will be absent for half the day. Please inform Mama 


“This woman is dangerous and cannot be left to her own devices. I will 
participate in this quest to protect Mr. Cranell’s chastity. I shall return by 
evening. You have my word.” 

Ch-chastity... ? 

Lyu didn’t take her eyes off Aisha as she spoke. Even Syr is bewildered. 

She’s absolutely serious about protecting me from Aisha’s “evil influence”... 

Either she puts this amount of effort into everything she does, or a strong 
sense of loyalty and courage is motivating her. This is no joke. 

“...Well, it appears we’ve happened to acquire two valuable allies for this 
journey, and that is a good thing.” 

“...Must be tough being a famous adventurer, with people keeping an eye on 

you all the time...” 

Lyu is standing between Aisha and me like a knight. I blankly stare at the two 
of them as Lilly’s and Welf’s comments reach my ears. 

But I think it was the pity in Welf’s voice that stung the most. 


With Lyu’s and Aisha’s pledged support, Syr saw us off as we made our way 
toward the Dungeon. 

They were nice enough to adjust to our tight schedule, and rather than going 
to retrieve their own equipment, the two of them bought weapons and armor at 
the assorted shops on the way to Babel Tower to save time. 

Then, with the assistance of two second-tier adventurers in our temporary 
party, we breezed through the upper levels in no time flat. 


Her voice rips through the air with a ferocity worthy of the large weapon in 
her grip, and she lays waste to several hellhounds in one attack. 

We’ve made it to the rocky cave-like halls of the fourteenth floor. Aisha 
looks right in her element, grinning from ear to ear as the attacker in our 
formation. She makes quick work of any monsters in our path. 

She purchased an unusually large greatsword at a weapon shop before we 
entered the Dungeon. It’s much sharper and heavier than her usual wooden 
sword, but she still swings it around like a feather. No monsters can get close. 
Her handiwork is eliciting some complaints from our longsword user, Welf. 

Aisha was momentarily free after the destruction of Ishtar Familia, but she’s 
already undergone Conversion. 

As for where she belongs now, I once asked her when she was visiting 
Haruhime, but... 

“That’s a secret.” 

She laughed and dropped the subject. 

I’m sure I could find out by perusing the public records on file at the Guild... 

“...Lady Aisha? Have you reached Level Four?” 

“Sure have, eagle eyes!” 

Lilly’s ranged support was completely unnecessary with our overwhelmingly 
powerful front line, so her naturally superior vision allowed her to pick up on 

some telltale signs and led her to ask. Aisha affirms it without a second thought. 

She went from Level 3 to Level 4. In other words, a level-up—reaching a 
higher plane. 

I got the same impression as Lilly when her move turned out to be so much 
faster than when we fought, but...I can’t hide my surprise after hearing it for 
myself. Aisha looks my way for a moment before charging into another pack of 
monsters and tearing them to shreds. 

“It’s because I had to deal with some rough things. I shut myself up in the 
Dungeon for a while to toughen up a bit.” 

Apparently, she’s been on more than a few of her own adventures since our 
battle in the Pleasure Quarter. 

She was already at the very peak of Level 3 adventurers back when she led 
the Berbera. It’s already been a month since that fight, so the prospect of her 
leveling up isn’t actually that strange. 

I can feel it when Aisha grins back at me with lust for battle: She’s moved up. 

Combining ground-shattering kicks with slashes of her greatsword, she 
smashes in the heads of monster after monster. She flows through the battlefield 
like a lethal, bladed torrent that leaves gruesome fragments in its wake. 

The loose fabric of her revealing outfit shifts along with her hair as the 
Amazon’s momentum guides her away from spurts of blood. Not a drop touches 
her during the dance of death. 

“Antianeira...I see. So this is her.” 

Lyu whispers Aisha’s title to herself from her spot a few steps back from the 
front line. At almost the same moment, the Dungeon wall cracks open behind the 
Amazon. I don’t even have time to count the creatures pouring out before Lyu 
cuts them all down with her two shorts words in the blink of an eye. 

“Heh, not bad.” 

“You, too.” 

Aisha pays Lyu a genuine compliment after watching her wipe out the horde. 

Instead of purchasing weapons on our way here, Lyu bought a battle cloth 
resembling traveler’s garb. Combining it with her hooded robe, she’s hiding her 
identity as usual. Dressing the same way she did during the War Game would 
only attract unwanted attention, so she’s settled into a plain outfit. The only 
weapons she has on her are the two shortswords she apparently carries at all 

Aisha might have caught on to who she is. 

But she doesn’t say anything. 

She must’ve considered it a minor detail in light of the current battle and only 
hacks her way through the waves of monsters alongside the hooded warrior from 
the War Game. 


u | 55 

The devastating power of our front line blazes a path through the Dungeon. 

Welf and I, who are on standby in the middle ranks, suddenly come under 
attack from monsters emerging from an adjacent passageway. 

It’s a swarm of rabbit monsters, al-miraj. Welf engages the first wave, slicing 
down several with a swing of his greatsword. I’m slow to react beside him, and 
they launch a flood of nature weapons—stone tomahawks—right at me. 

I knock each of the incoming tomahawks away with the Hestia Knife and 
Ushiwakamaru-Nishiki. The disarmed al-miraj give in to their monster instincts 
and charge directly at us, the horns on their heads leading the way. 

Weaving in and out of their attacks, I block one head-on, knock it off balance, 
and line up the counterstrike— 

«_| 55 

My body slows down just before making contact. 


“Mr. Bell!” 

Something about seeing my reflection in its big red eyes causes me to 

In fact, I’ve come to a complete stop. Welf’s and Lilly’s yells ring in my ears 
as the al-miraj’s red irises narrow. It jumps directly for my breastplate. 

It hits me dead center, and the impact knocks me off balance. 


Landing flat on my back, more al-miraj converge on me. 

This is ba —/ 

Just as I try to raise a blade that will never make it in time—a wind passes 
over me. 


A hooded robe flutters; four monsters succumb to flashes of silver light. 

More accurately, they crumble into ash moments later, their magic stones 

The shadow that saved my life makes quick work of the remaining monsters. 

“...Th-thanks, Lyu.” 

Dropping back from the front lines, Lyu wiped out all the enemies in an 


She offers me her hand, which I take, staggering to my feet. 

“Seriously, that was pathetic. What a letdown, Bell Cranell.” 

The battle over, Aisha walks up to us, tapping the blunt edge of her 
greatsword against her shoulder with extreme disappointment. After all, I’m 
Level 3, and a middle-level monster just got the best of me. It is a letdown. 

The censuring look in her eyes says, You are a man who defeated me in 

There’s no way I can respond after that embarrassment. 

“Mr. Cranell, that was not like you.” 

Lyu watches me from beneath her hood as she approaches. 

“Has something happened?” 

u » 

Her tone is soft, as if trying to protect my feelings, but all I can do is stare at 
the floor. 

Spending so much time with Wiene has affected me more than I thought. 

Will other monsters we encounter start talking, the way she did? 

Are they all capable of the same thoughts and feelings that we are? Can they 
all cry? 

I haven’t done anything since we came into the Dungeon, letting everyone 
else deal with the monsters. 

This has never happened before. 

Welf and Lilly silently watch me with knowing expressions. 

I can ’t keep going like this... 

It won’t end well. 

I have to flip the switch. This is just wasting Lyu’s and Aisha’s time. 

I tell myself that over and over while looking at my clenched fist. 

The party presses forward again after I say a quick apology. 

But even so... 

I can’t get Wiene’s face out of my head, and there’s no silencing the doubt in 
my heart. 

Bell’s party arrived at the eighteenth floor. 

Thanks in large part to the exploits of Lyu and Aisha—and to the fact that 

other adventurers had already exterminated the floor boss on the seventeenth 
floor, Goliath—it took them only three hours. 

They passed beneath the “afternoon” light shining down from the crystals far 
above. The brightest of them all was a mum-shaped formation that grew out 
from the ceiling’s center like an upside-down blossom. The adventurers formed a 
loose line as they journeyed toward Rivira, the settlement that had been built on 
a rocky island in the middle of the lake on the west side of the floor. 

As always, it was bustling with upper-class adventurers looking to rest and 
restock in the relay town. 

“—So when are the boys coming back?” 

“How should Lilly know? Boys will be boys, and there are things that only 
they can attend to, yes?” 

Aisha spoke up amid the tents filled with weapons and items for sale and 
sparkling crystals lining the street. 

She turned around at a particularly large crystal column at a corner. Lilly 
casually answered while adjusting the straps of her bulging backpack, as the 
Amazon glanced at the heavily armored adventurers walking by. 

Only Lilly, Aisha, and Lyu were at the street corner. 

“You played me good. Never thought the two of them would leave you 
behind and head off on their own.” 

Bell and Welf had excused themselves by saying, “We’ll sell off some drop 
items and be right back,” and left the group. 

The girls hadn’t caught a single glimpse of the pair since then. 

“You said you had business on this floor? Are we not allowed to know?” 

“Miss Aisha, what are you talking about? Lilly doesn’t understand.” 

Refusing to give in, Lilly kept up the facade with a satisfied smile. 

“Cheeky runt,” Aisha muttered through a mirthless grin. 

Beside them, a long sigh escaped Lyu’s hood. 

“Should we have said something to Lyu and Aisha before we left...?” 

“You know as well as I do we can’t have them with us while we look around. 
Let Li’l E handle it.” 

Welf and I walk shoulder to shoulder through the labyrinth of trees. 

Lyu and Aisha got us to the safe point, but we came down to the nineteenth 

floor, the Colossal Tree Labyrinth, on our own. The two of us set foot onto the 
floor where I met Wiene. 

“Don’t forget, those two are adventurers, too. They agreed to this ‘quest,’ so 
there’s no need to tell them anything else.” 

Adventurers need to understand only what their mission is and how to carry it 
out—nothing more, nothing less. Unnecessary details just get in the way. Welf 
flashes a grin as he explains this unwritten rule among adventurers. 

I still feel bad for leaving Lyu and Aisha in the dark...but it’s just as Welf 
says. Our top priority is keeping Wiene a secret. We had no choice but to split 

Somehow, I manage to smile back and change my focus to the task at hand. 

“I know we just got here and all...but this level is completely different from 
what we’ve seen so far.” 

On high alert, Welf makes his passing comment as we head through the 
particularly wide passageway. 

Tree bark covers every bit of the Dungeon walls here, making it look and feel 
as though we’re exploring the inside of the giant tree. As it occurs to me that the 
route is as complex as a mess of intertwining branches itself, we spot a narrow 
path at least ten meders above our heads. A long series of bumpy tree roots come 
together there, forming a staircase. There’s something around every turn that 
goes to show the nineteenth floor is much bigger than I thought. 

I’m used to bright spots on the ceiling providing light, but not here. Instead, 
the darkness is kept at bay by bioluminescent moss growing thickly along the 
ceiling, walls, and floor, sparkling like stars in a night sky. Their beautiful blue 
radiance is so fascinating that I have to remind myself I’m in the Dungeon. 

Welf is right: This floor is completely different from any other area we’ve 

I’m used to the many crystals and various biomes of the Under Resort, but 
the true meaning of the word uncharted is striking me anew. 

“I bet Miach Familia’s going to start sending us down here on quests a lot 
more from now on.” 


All the plants in here have distinctive smells, including some sweet, 
flowerlike aromas with potential to beguile adventurers. 

There’s a far greater variety of flora in the Colossal Tree Labyrinth than just 
trees and moss. White flowers are blooming from the crease where wall meets 
ceiling overhead. A cluster of giant mushrooms comes into view after we round 

a corner. A lot of these are the main ingredients for potions and other items. It’s 
amazing. We could take some back with us right now. 

Strangely colored grasses in various shades, a wall covered in thorny vines, 
small golden flowers that blossom where the path forks, blue liquid dripping 
from the ceiling to form a puddle on the floor...There are so many rarities 
around us that chemists would love to get their hands on. The things they wish 
for literally grow on trees down here. 

“Bell, I’ll lead the way. This is a good chance for me to get some excelia.” 

Still as alert as ever, Welf has been nice enough to keep talking to me like 
we’re chatting back at home. 

I’m sure he’s trying to keep my spirits high, since I can’t put up a decent fight 
right now. 

Having never been here before, both of us are really on edge. We’re beyond 
the safe point of the eighteenth floor. Many people call the thirteenth floor the 
“First Line” because it’s the start of the Cave Labyrinth. Even though it’s still 
part of the middle levels, you’d be better off considering everything beyond as a 
completely different world. 

Not only do adventurers have to contend with the fearsome potential of 
bugbears and mad beetles and the ranged attacks of gun libellulas and firebirds, 
but monsters in this area are particularly good at inflicting Status effects. Having 
a large supply of antidotes helps, but possessing the Advanced Ability Immunity 
is considered to be the key to clearing floors in the Colossal Tree Labyrinth. 

The middle levels end at the twenty-third floor. Advancing to the twenty- 
fourth floor requires a Status above Level 2 as well as a party you can trust...I 
wonder if our two-man cell, with me at Level 3 and Welf at Level 2, is strong 
enough for the nineteenth floor. If we don’t take everything head-on and avoid 
battle as much as possible, I think we should do okay. 

Lilly equipped me with a dagger-size Crozzo Magic Sword and a couple of 
Malboro stink bombs in case things get dicey. 

I think the main source of my anxiety is that we’re not used to this floor yet. 

“Tsk.. .mad beetles and gun libellulas.” 

“They’re blocking the way forward...Let’s go!” 

A swarm of mad beetles blocks our advance while a few of the dragonfly 
monsters known as gun libellulas zip around through the air. Welf’s black robe 
flies out behind him as he charges toward the group of insect monsters, our first 
encounter on the nineteenth floor. 

He’s wearing Lilly’s Goliath Robe over his usual workman’s jacket. 

It’s a protective item capable of repelling everything from monster claws to 
flames. Lilly insisted Welf take it with him when she found out we’d be moving 
ahead as a two-man cell. 

Its performance is great in the Colossal Tree Labyrinth. Not only does it repel 
the mad beetles’ hooked pincers, but it even deflects the ranged attacks from the 
gun libellulas’ spear-like abdomens. 

With hardly a scratch on him thanks to the robe, Welf drives into the mad 
beetles with a complicated expression. 

...1 can ’t afford to hesitate! 

I clench my fist while watching Welf make headway against the swarm. 

If I become a burden, we’ll end up in a situation we can’t recover from. Welf 
can fight alone for only so long before his equipment and items can’t take any 

Silencing my unresolved doubts, I launch several Firebolts in quick 
succession and shoot down the gun libellula flying above us, sweeping the skies 

The Hestia Knife pulses with violet light, as if responding to the latest Status 
I received from my goddess. I drive the blade into every creature that comes into 
range, and their dying cries fill the passageway as Welf and I advance. 

Then, a short while after deviating from the main path leading to the next 

“We getting close?” 

“Yes.. .1 found Wiene around here.” 

Careful not to let my guard down, I’ve been checking the simple map stuffed 
into a pouch on my belt over and over, holding it up to the light to confirm where 
we are until I recognize our position. 

We’re in a tree-lined path where many passageways meet. The ceiling is high 
overhead, and there’s a large hill in the distance covered in tree roots. From here, 
it almost looks like the base of a mountain. 

I’d bet that’s how Wiene hurt her leg, falling down that hill. 

“Didn’t see anything all that useful on the way here...” 

“Wish I knew what 'useful’ meant...” Welf adds with a sigh as we make our 
way toward the steep incline. 

We come to a stop in front of a lone tree surrounded by thick underbrush. 

It’s the place where Wiene hid after hurting her leg—and the place we first 

.. .Should’ve known it wouldn’t he that easy. 

No matter how many leaves we push aside, no clues present themselves. 

I check our location again; we’re on the west side of the map. There’s a 
pantry farther west. It’s a good distance away, but if Wiene came from that 
direction and fell down the slope, that would mean she was born somewhere 
over there. 

We might need to press even farther in ...Just as that thought crosses my mind 

...An adventurer? 

—a humanoid figure appears from another passageway. 

A hooded robe shrouds their tall frame. The person must be wearing chest 
armor, because their torso is much thicker than their lower body. Their height is 
about the same as Welf’s. While I can’t really tell their race or gender thanks to 
the cloak, for some reason, I get the impression they’re female. 

The hooded figure seems to be searching for something, their head turning 
this way and that. 

Following the same path that Welf and I took, the stranger approaches. 

Welf and I, having chosen a suspicious place to stop, exchange abrupt 
glances and immediately pretend like we’ve been collecting raw ingredients for 
an item. 

After a bit, we stand up. For the moment, we head back the way we came, 
passing by the hooded figure moving in the opposite direction. 

“—You...smell like my kind.” 

In that instant... 

...a penetratingly cold voice enters my ear as the robed figure’s head swivels 
toward us as we pass. 


Chills running up our spines, Welf and I leap backward. 

Every fiber of my being screams at me to put some distance between us, and 
my body quickly responds. 

Feet firmly planted on the ground, the figure slowly turns in our direction, 
shoulders squared. 

“...What was that?” 

The words that brushed my ears in that moment were clumsily formed; 
however, the pressure emanating from the figure increased tenfold. 

Welf whispers to himself in shock beside me while my heart races. 

The stranger has fixed an unmoving stare on us. 

Within the depths of the hood, the narrow silhouette of a feminine face 

But those blue eyes, zeroing in on Welf and me like those of a bird of prey, 
call to mind the ocean or perhaps the sky. 

“The ones who kidnapped my comrades—was it you?” 

“ _ ?!” 

They exude bloodlust beyond reason. 

It’s incredibly ferocious, like that of an animal. 

Like that of a monster. 

An aura that mere people could never hope to replicate: an instinctual urge to 

Those blue irises under the hood shift—becoming vertical slits. 

—No way. 

The pronunciation of a child, a hostile gaze, and, most of all, an extreme case 
of deja vu—Wiene’s face flashes through my mind. 

Welf and I struggle against our shock while speculating about the true 
identity of the stranger. 

“...No, it can’t be. You don’t smell like blood.” 

We’re frozen in place. But as soon as the wave of hostility hits us, the figure’s 
high-bridged nose twitches slightly. The killing aura suddenly vanishes. 

The slit pupils return to normal. Now the beautiful eyes reflect calm 
rationality while studying us. 

“Perhaps you are the ones that Fels mentioned?” 


“What the hell are you talking about?!” 

I can only mumble in confusion as Welf pushes through his own 
disorientation to deliver an angry shout. 

I can’t discern what the stranger’s statement is supposed to mean, but they 
said what sounded like a person’s name. 

There’s something beguiling about the crystal-clear tone and rhythm of that 
voice. Regardless, I’m totally lost. 

Being this speechless isn’t just pathetic; it’s painful. I can’t even think. This 
turn of events has shocked me so badly that my throat has gone bone dry. 

« 55 

The mysterious person—no, “she” stays silent. 

This is awkward. Monsters are howling somewhere off in the distance, but 
my ears hardly register the sound. It’s like we’re in our own little bubble deep in 
the Dungeon. 

There are about five meders between us. She’s facing this way with her back 
to the hill and not budging. 

Time grinds to a complete stop. After what feels like an eternity, she opens 
her mouth to speak again. 

“I have a question for you two. Can we all coexist?” 


What does that have to do with anything? Her question came from so far out 
of the blue that words abandon us. 

“Do you think we can hold each other’s hands?” 

“What are you...?” 

“Your kind kills us. And we kill your kind in turn...Is this our destiny? Is it impossible for us to 
understand each other?” 

The questions continue unabated, but there’s a common thread through all of 
them: a refusal to give up hope. 

The blue eyes peering out from underneath the hood are half-lidded and 

“I...want to bathe in the sunlight. Instead of this closed, dark hell, I want to spread my wings in 
the world of light.” 

She looks toward the ceiling, the hem of the robe swishing around her feet. 

Her hood shifts just enough for me to catch a glimpse of her face. Like 
Wiene’s, it’s stunningly human. 

“There’s something...different about you two...Maybe I can hope, just a little.” 

After that, she crouches low—and then she flies off. 

UU | | 5555 

Still facing forward, she arcs through the air away from us. 

Even an adventurer blessed with a Status couldn’t possibly imitate this. Light 
as a bird, she clears the hill in the blink of an eye and is gone a moment later. 

Welf and I are in shock...Only then do we notice that several golden feathers 
have fallen from beneath her robe. They slowly spiral to the floor where she 
once stood. 

“You gotta be kidding me...There’s no way...She’s...” 

Welf whispers in spite of himself as though lost in a daydream. 

Standing motionless next to him, I can’t agree more. 

“The same as...Wiene...” 

I can’t give voice to anything more than that. 

After our shocking meeting. 

Welf and I stand there for a short while, but it isn’t long before a herd of 
monsters finds us. We haven’t had a chance to collect our thoughts, but we need 
to start moving again. 

We face the monsters and shake them off before retracing our steps back to 
the main route that will lead us out. Both of us agree that we’re too dazed to 
collect any more information. The truth is, during the attack, things got a little 
dicey thanks to my inability to focus. 

Neither of us speaks on the way back. 

We still haven’t been able to get over the shock of what happened. We’re 
afraid to bring it up—like if we talk now, it’ll shatter some weird equilibrium. 

With stony faces, we travel through the labyrinth. 

« 55 

One way or another, we manage to break past every monster we encounter 
and reach the passageway connecting to the eighteenth floor. 

A party of five adventurers appears on the path in front of us. A male human 
wearing goggles and carrying a peculiar red spear catches my eye. 

It’s not particularly strange to see our fellow adventurers, though something 
in my memory is pulling at me. Then I suddenly realize: 

The four demi-humans behind the goggled adventurer are the same men and 
women who chased after Wiene, and the ones who I had managed to slip by with 
my acting. 

I hide my face as quickly as I can. Welf must’ve noticed something was up, 
because he subtly changes his path, shielding me from their line of sight. 

Then, once we pass each other, I get a strange sense that the man wearing 
goggles is watching me. 

« 55 

Moving as little as possible, I glance at them out of the corner of my eye. 
Sure enough, all of them are staring at us. 

“Hestia Familia ...Little Rookie, eh?” 

“Yeah...that’s him, all right. That punk was recruited for Rivira’s quest!” 

“Was he now?” said the goggled man with a sneer as the boy disappeared up 
the tunnel leading to the eighteenth floor. 

“What do you think he was doing, sneaking around down here with hardly 
anyone else with him?” 

“...Yo, Dix, you can’t mean...?” 

“Yeah, something’s off. It’s time for our god to get serious and do some 
probing, don’t you think?” 

After returning to the safe point in one piece, we rendezvous with Lilly and the 

Aisha starts complaining about us going off on our own, but when we don’t 
respond, she notices our odd behavior and decides to not criticize us any further. 
Lyu also remains silent, not asking any questions, either. 

While I feel guilty about what we did, I’m too rattled to be concerned about it 
right now. We head for the surface right away. 

“Don’t worry about a reward. Let’s leave it as a favor you owe me,” Aisha 
says with a smile before parting ways with us. 

I doubt she’d ever admit to it, but I’m really grateful for her thoughtfulness. 

“Mr. Cranell, please consult me should you find yourself in any hardship. I 
am not very capable, but I will do what I can.” 

With those considerate words, Lyu returns to her workplace. 

u » 

I wind my way through the city streets alone. 

As soon as we exit Babel Tower, I go off on my own without Lilly or Welf. 

Sometimes I need to be by myself to get my thoughts in order. 

It’s still early evening. The sun might be on its way down in the west, but the 
sky above me is still mostly blue. Bringing Lyu and Aisha along turned our fact¬ 
finding mission into a day trip. 

My feet take me around the city, away from the main street crowd and noise. 

“Ohhh? Is it my lucky day or what? Hey there, Little Rookie.” 

After idly walking about, just as I start thinking about finally heading home, I 

hear it. 

Along my route back to Hearthstone Manor, on Southwest Main Street, a 
certain deity calls out to me. 

I don’t recognize him...It’s probably the first time we’ve spoken. 

He has deep-blue eyes and hair, as well as darkly tanned skin. He’s of 
average height, and his clothes are mostly black. I think about how he reminds 
me of a god—or more precisely, has a god’s frivolous smile on his face—and he 
sociably approaches. 

After he calls me by my title, I come to a stop and readjust my posture. 

“Um.. .Is there something I can do for you?” 

“Hee-hee, no need to be so guarded—though I guess that’s impossible, huh? 
We gods do warrant caution, after all, right?” 

Ever since I received my first level-up, unfamiliar deities have made passes 
at me, and if not a pass then something else. Anyway, since then, the number of 
messes I’ve gotten into in this town has increased dramatically. I can’t even 
count how many at this point. 

It’s mde, but I slouch slightly in reluctance while the god laughs again. “Hee- 
hee! The name’s Ikelos. Good meeting you.” 

“Lord...Ikelos? So, what do you need from—?” 

“Just listen. Those arrogant kids of mine are pushing me around at the 

After instructing me to listen, he starts listing complaints about his followers 
while continuously circling around me, sometimes peering at my face, other 
times patting my shoulder like we’ve known each other forever. Lord Ikelos’s 
behavior has gone past excessive friendliness to just mockery, leaving me 
absolutely bewildered. 

Confronted with this incomprehensible conversation, I suddenly recall Lady 
Hestia’s advice: If some weird god seems like they’re going to catch you, hurry 
up and run away! I start wondering whether it would be better to forgo etiquette 
in a situation like this while sweat rolls down my face and— 

“Know anything about a talking vouivre?” 

Lord Ikelos comes up from behind me and whispers those words without any 
warning. It feels like something has my heart in a death grip. 

“I hear she’s got a daaamn fine face...Came from the nineteenth floor 
apparently. Maaan, I’d love to get just one look.” 

He’s trying to get information out of me, I realize. 

Lord Ikelos’s syrupy voice fills my ears, along with the sound of my rapidly 
increasing pulse. 

It feels like every vein in my body is quivering, and my palms get clammy. 

Unable to answer, I sluggishly turn to face him as though all my joints have 
msted over. 

His lips quirk upward, a little too close for comfort. 

Those dark-blue eyes sharpen as if they can see into my heart. 

“Sooo if you happen to know—” 


Anew voice interrupts while I stand like a frozen statue. 

This newcomer cuts off Lord Ikelos in midsentence. 

“L-Lord Hermes...?” 

“Well, well. What a coincidence, meeting you here.” 

Lord Ikelos and I turn toward the speaker: Lord Hermes sporting his usual 
feathered hat and dandy’s smile. 

He raises a hand at us as he walks closer. 

“Bell, you can go now.” 


“A deity is giving you trouble, right? I don’t need the whole story to notice 

Lord Hermes chuckles at my stunned silence before shifting his attention 
away from me. 

As though we had changed places, he casts a sideways glance at the ever- 
grinning Lord Ikelos. 

“Besides, Ikelos and I need to have a little chat.” 

Running his finger along the brim of his hat, Hermes puts on a thin smile. 

“Move along, Bell.” 

“S-sorry.. .Excuse me.” 

At Lord Hermes’s insistence, I don’t even say a proper farewell as I turn my 
back to them. 

I quicken my pace without so much as a glance in Lord Ikelos’s direction. 

“What gives, Hermes? Couldn’t you see I was in the middle of talking with 
the Little Rookie?” 

“Well, I just couldn’t stand to watch a god sink his poisonous fangs into such 
a sweet child, now could I?” 

“Hee-hee, what a terrible thing to say.” 

Hermes and Ikelos exchanged quips without making direct eye contact after 
Bell left. 

The two then left the main avenue and exited into a small plaza furnished 
with a water fountain, as though they had planned this all along. There wasn’t a 
single person around, making their conversation feel like a clandestine meeting. 

“I paid your home a visit, only to find it empty.. .It took quite a bit of effort to 
track you down.” 

“Ah, my bad, my bad. The place just didn’t feel like home anymore, so I 
guess I moved.” 

“It might be a good idea to give the Guild a heads-up when you do that, 

Hermes and Ikelos conversed smoothly. Both seemed to know a great deal 
about the other, hinting at a long relationship. 

At any rate, both gods appeared more interested in probing each other for 
information rather than catching up on old times. 

“So? What’s this ‘chat’ we need to have, Hermes?” 

“Oh, nothing major. There’s something I want to ask you...A little bird told 
me that Ikelos Familia was involved in an Orario smuggling ring.” 

“Hey, hey, where’d you hear that? How can you be sure it’s legit?” 

“Let me see.. .1 think it was Elurian royalty?” 

“...Hee-hee. A ‘little’ bird, you say? You’ve been venturing out pretty far to 
dig up dirt on this.” 

Ikelos seemed to quickly realize Hermes’s information was too good. His 
grin deepened. 

“Am I a suspect, Hermes?” 

“As much as it pains me to investigate an old friend from our days back in 
the heavenly realm.. .Ikelos, in the past your familia was on the list of candidates 
aiming to join the Evils.” 

“Ugh, how many times do I have to tell you those charges were bullshit? At 
the very least, I never claimed to be an evil god.” 

Agitated by the accusation, Ikelos deftly denied it and evaded his question. 

All the while, Hermes kept a constant eye on him from beneath the brim of 
his hat, his characteristic smile still on his lips. 

“I also have some interesting news.” 

“Oh? Do tell.” 

“Monsters, normal and otherwise, are being taken out of Orario and sold 
around the world. It’s almost like someone’s interested in spreading chaos.” 

It was at that very moment... 

Ikelos’s dark-blue eyes opened wide as Hermes struck straight to the heart of 
the matter. The edges of his mouth seemed about to split open with his grin. 

“Hee! Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee...!! Are you saying that’s what I want, 
Hermes? That I have the dream of beasts—to strew nightmares across the mortal 
realm?! Now that’s interesting!!” 

Ikelos burst into laughter as if the idea thrilled him to no end. 

Hermes stayed quiet, watching the other god clutch his stomach in the throes 
of mirth. 

Once the echoes had faded into the darkening sky, Ikelos straightened with a 
smile on his face. 

“Sorry to say it, but that’s got nothing to do with me. I didn’t give those 
orders. My brats are the ones going wild.” 

Ikelos laid it out plain and simple, uninterested in hiding anything. 

“I gotta tell you, though, there’s way fewer idiots in my familia these days; 
just a lot more arrogant wise guys. They don’t show the divine any respect 
whatsoever. Use me to run some stupid errands.” 

« 55 

“But...everything they do is ridiculous crap. It’s hilarious.” 

Only a deity who was desperately trying to contain their bliss would show a 
smile like his. 

From a god’s perspective, it was men’s folly that made them interesting—that 
made a front-row seat to the show so enticing. 

“It’s the god’s responsibility to rein in his familia.” 

“You can’t seriously believe that, Hermes. The brats may be able to put up 
with hardship, but they can’t resist pleasure. Are we gods not the same? I can 
relate, painfully so. And that’s why,” Ikelos continued, “as long as they keep me 
entertained, I won’t get in their way.” 

Ikelos leaned in close to Hermes’s face and declared his opinion point-blank. 

“You can smash my head in if you like. Give me a one-way trip back to the 
upper world. But that’s not gonna stop my brats now, will it? It might give ’em a 
little trouble, but it’s only a matter of time before they sign up with someone 

“I figured.” 

“Ehh, have a look for yourself. Use all the little brats of yours hiding around 
here to give me and mine a once-over. I couldn’t care less. Have at it. More 
interesting that way.” 

At the risk of mining himself and his followers—perhaps even looking 
forward to the demise of his own familia—Ikelos let those words hang in the air. 
Thin smile still on his face, the god left the small plaza. 

Hermes watched him go and sighed as soon as Ikelos was out of sight. 

“My, my. Nothing nastier than a god desperate for some entertainment.” 
“Look who’s talking.” 

Hermes’s followers heckled their god from their hiding places around him. 

The last rays of sunlight that still reached over the city wall illuminated Hestia 
Familia’s home. 

Four people were currently inside while Bell’s party was out gathering 
information: Mikoto, Haruhime, Wiene, and the goddess Hestia. After asking 
Hephaistos for the day off earlier in the morning, the deity awaited Bell’s return 
along with her followers. 

Each of the women stayed busy. 

Hestia spent the day poring over her collection of books in search of 
information about everything from monsters to Orario’s history. 

Meanwhile, Mikoto patrolled the passageways, ever vigilant. 

Taking care of Wiene fell to Haruhime. 

“Haruhime, found you!” 

“Hee-hee, indeed you have.” 

Wiene dived into a shadow cast by one of the inner walls and wrapped her 
arms around Haruhime in her maid’s attire. 

The two were playing hide-and-seek. It was one of the games that Bell and 
Haruhime had taught Wiene when the two of them were in charge of looking 
after her. 

Today, after making Wiene promise to never go outside and only play in the 
inner garden, the two girls took turns. 

“Now you’re ‘it,’ Haruhime!” 

“Yes. I am going to count now. 

“Ooone, twooo,” Haruhime called as she turned to face the wall of the inner 

Wiene quietly snuck away, running with a grin on her face. 

Robe swaying at her feet, she looked for a suitable hiding place. 

.../ wonder when Bell will come home. 

Right as she was about to crouch behind a planter full of flowers... 

Wiene’s expression clouded over as thoughts of the absent Bell crossed her 

He had always been right by her side, until now. Haruhime was with her, as 
usual, but it just wasn’t the same without him. 

That twinge of loneliness was making her anxious. 

In a dark world where everyone and everything tried to hurt her, that boy’s 
smile had become the beacon of light that saved her from isolation. 

Like a child yearning for a parent’s warmth, the young vouivre girl couldn’t 
help but long for him. 

u » 

Wiene glanced up to the third floor of the manor before her gaze fell on the 
renart, who was still facing the wall. 

After a moment’s hesitation, she decided to break her promise and leave the 
inner garden. 

The urge to visit Bell’s room on the third floor drew her through the 
passageways like a magnet. 

She found her way to an unlocked door. Creak. The hinges groaned as Wiene 
pushed it open and cautiously peeked inside. 

The room’s owner nowhere to be found, the girl quietly made her way toward 
the pile of folded blankets on top of his bed. 

Wrapping one around her shoulders, she slowly rubbed her cheek against it. 

“Bell’s... smell...” 

Taking in as much as she could with one long whiff, Wiene buried her face in 
the sheets. 

She curled up into a ball as her mind filled with memories of the boy who 
had always slept right next to her. 

Without warning— 

People approached along the hallway. 

Four in all. 

Proceeding from the other end of the long passageway, their footsteps entered 
the room right next door, one not in use. 

Thinking it a little strange, Wiene felt her heart skip a beat, believing she’d 
get a lecture if discovered. She held her breath in an effort to escape detection— 

“Another monster, not just Wiene?” 

—Voices from the other room reached her ears. 

Amber eyes went wide. 

Silver-blue hair rustled. 

Ears, sharper and longer that an elf’s, twitched back and forth. They 
originally allowed her to detect intruders from far away in the vast Dungeon, but 
now they allowed her to pick up the details of the discussion on the other side of 
the wall. 

Wiene soundlessly sat up in bed before she realized what she was doing. 

She quietly placed her ear to the wall. 

“Are you sure, Welf?” 

“Absolutely. It was at the same place Bell met Wiene on the nineteenth 

Welf nodded. His face stayed eerily still despite Hestia’s surprise. 

Welf and Lilly had come directly home after Bell went off on his own. Hestia 
and Mikoto had convinced them to meet secretly on the third floor. 

To make sure Wiene—and Haruhime, who had grown close to her—didn’t 

“We talked. It said that we 'smelled like her kind’...It was probably talking 
about Wiene.” 

“Another being similar to Lady Wiene...I never thought there could be 

Mikoto couldn’t hide her shock as Welf went into detail about their 
encounter. As she fell silent, so did Lilly next to her 

“...Welf, what was your impression of it?” Hestia asked. 

“At the very least, it seemed to be more experienced than Wiene. Its 
pronunciation was a bit odd, but it hid itself with a robe, pretended to be an 
adventurer...That, and I think it knew something.” 

A small noise escaped Hestia’s throat at Welf’s answer. Mikoto gulped as 

The atmosphere suddenly became much heavier. Lilly, who had been silent 
up to that point, opened her mouth to speak. 

“Lilly thinks we should stop harboring Miss Wiene.” 


All eyes turned to Lilly. 

The first one to recover was Mikoto. 

“Lady Lilly, what are you saying?!” 

“Lilly will be blunt. We are on the cusp of a very serious situation. An 
Irregular that not even the gods can comprehend, other groups on the prowl for 
information about talking monsters...Now that we’ve discovered other monsters 
able to speak, we can no longer afford to wait.” 

Her point was that these Irregulars were at the heart of a major disturbance, 
and they were getting sucked in. 

Using information she had gathered at different bars and other hubs over the 
past week, Lilly painted an objective picture of the situation. 

“However, if we stop protecting her...then what will happen to Lady Wiene? 
Should we abandon her, she’ll...!” 

“...It may be difficult, but there’s a chance for her outside the city wall. She’s 
a vouivre. Familias outside Orario and monsters living on the surface would 
pose little threat to her.” 

Born in the middle levels, she hailed from the most powerful type of 
monsters: dragons. 

Lilly maintained a neutral expression and explained that the vouivre girl’s 
potential strength would be all the protection she needed. 

“She can live out her life hidden in the Deep Forest Seoro.” 

“Lady Lilly...!!” 

Mikoto, ever loyal to her friend Haruhime, raised her eyebrows in anger. 

Lilly watched her ally’s impassioned plea coldly. 

“Then tell me this: What will happen if that girl stays here?” 

« | 99 

“Is it possible to keep her hidden from everyone indefinitely just as things are 
now? Once certain things are set in motion, the situation won’t allow the status 
quo to continue. At present, Hermes Familia is actively moving at someone’s or 
something’s request.” 

Lilly was so devoid of emotion that her face reminded Mikoto of traditional 
masks from her homeland in the Far East. 

“Will people believe that this completely unrestrained monster has been 
tamed? Not likely. Our familia has no officially recognized tamers registered 
with the Guild. What’s worse, anyone who sees her beauty will suspect 
something else is taking place.” 

u » 

“Should other deities catch wind of the situation, they will surely descend on 
us like wolves to watch the slaughter. Our familia is on thin ice as it is. Should 
this come to pass, Lilly anticipates nothing but more difficulty paying off our 


She explained with an uncharacteristically long lecture—still in a deadpan, 
matter-of-fact tone. 

The overwhelming force of her argument left Mikoto with nothing to say in 

Neither Hestia nor Welf had anything to add, standing with their mouths 
closed in the oppressive atmosphere. It was just as Lilly said. Right now, they 
were trapped in a maze with no exit. 

“The girl is, in a figurative sense, a bomb. Even if all is fine now, there is no 
doubt she will put our familia in danger sooner or later...Mr. Bell is too 
kindhearted to see reason. It is up to us to make the decision to protect him, even 
if he hates us for it.” 

Lilly lowered her head. She had to hide her contorting face from her allies 
and will her voice to remain steady as she formed her next words. 

“She cannot stay with us.. .She is.. .a monster.” 

The prum weighed the familia’s future against the girl and stated her 
conclusion in no uncertain terms. 

Her declaration reached the other side of the wall. 

“...It’s still too early to think that way, Supporter. You should calm down.” 

“...Lilly is... sorry.” 

Hestia stepped in to mitigate the situation. 

She first turned to Lilly, who was speaking out of concern for the familia and 
Bell’s safety. 

The prum fell to her knees and squeezed out an apology. Welf and Mikoto 
stood quietly, tight-lipped. 

Among the motionless group, the first one to notice was Mikoto. 

A sound coming from the next room—something moving. 

The room’s suffocating atmosphere made it difficult for her to connect the 
dots, almost fatally so. 

Tap, tap, tap. Thumping in quick succession. As soon as it clicked, she 
mshed to the door and jumped into the passageway. 

Frantically scanning the hall, she couldn’t see anyone. 

Welf and the others followed her, just as shocked. 

“It couldn’t be...” 

Heart racing and nerves wound tight—Mikoto realized she wasn’t in peak 

Despite activating her Skill many times, its hampered range couldn’t detect 
anything in their vicinity. 


Wiene ran. 

She dashed through the corridor, down the stairs, out the door. 

The words she had overheard during the secret meeting. 

—It is up to us to make the decision to protect him. 

—She cannot stay with us. 

—She is.. .a monster. 

The prum girl’s voice haunted her like a curse, stabbing at her heart. 

Despite being a monster, she also possessed a heart sensitive to pain. Each 
syllable of Lilly’s words cut deep into her, just like those terrifying swords 
through her skin. 

I can ’t be together with everyone...? I can ’t be...with Bell? 

Her beautiful silver-blue hair fluttered behind her. The garnet jewel on her 
forehead pulsed as if screaming into the sky. 

Translucent tears fell from her amber eyes. 

Bell. Bell! Where’s Bell? 

She wanted him to say it. 

That it wasn’t true. 

She longed to hear those words just one more time. 

“It’ll be okay. ” 

She yearned to see his flustered but kind smile, to feel his arms around her. 
She wanted him to hold her and run his fingers through her hair. 

To deny it all. 


Wiene desperately searched for the boy through teary eyes. 

That one desire to see him drove her to flee from the only haven she’d ever 

Frightened by the presence of people at every turn, she doubled back many 
times through the backstreets and hid her face beneath her robe’s hood. 

She rushed headlong into the unknown on a frantic search for the bright smile 

that had burned its way into her memory. 

“Wiene’s not here?!” yelled Bell the moment he heard. 

It was just before dusk. The boy’s mind had been racing nonstop since his 
encounter with the god Ikelos. After he hurried home, his fears had come to 
fruition, as if to mock him. 

Every member of the familia had convened in the front passageway, ready to 
depart at a moment’s notice. 

Bell froze like a statue. Haruhime threw herself into a deep bow in apology. 

“I have no excuse! It was because she left my sight...!” 

“I’ve searched with my Skill, but I’m not getting anything...” 

Tears flowed down Haruhime’s cheeks. Mikoto stood next to her, 
downtrodden and frowning. 

Her Skill, Yatano Black Crow, allowed her to sense nearby monsters that she 
had encountered before—but Wiene was not in the manor. 

At the news that the ace in the hole provided by Mikoto’s Status was no use, 
Bell could feel the blood draining from his face. 

All thoughts of Ikelos were gone from his mind. 

« |» 

After explaining their secret meeting that had ended abruptly only a few 
minutes earlier, Lilly gritted her teeth and clenched her small hand into a fist. 

“—We’ll search!! Mikoto, come with me!!” Bell took off without missing a 

“Yes!” Mikoto set off after him as she responded. 

“We’re coming, too!” 

“I-I as well!” 

“She can’t have gotten far! Spread out and find her!” 

Welf’s, Haruhime’s, and Hestia’s voices echoed through the entrance. Lilly, 
however, was out the door without a word. 

Leaving their home completely empty, all of Hestia Familia charged out into 
the night to pursue the vouivre girl. 

Nightlife had completely enveloped the city. 

After twilight descended, the streets grew more crowded every moment. 
Adventurers back from the Dungeon and everyday citizens looking to relax after 
a hard day’s work made their way to the bars. 

With the evening rush well under way, each establishment had its doors wide 
open to invite customers inside. The aroma of meat grilling over charcoal and 
pungent brandy wafted out onto the streets as bards delighted the masses with 
beautiful melodies from their harps and lively flute performances. 

It was a feast of entertainment for the nose and ears. 

Even the quieter corners of the city were coming to life. 

U | 55 

Wiene watched it all from beneath her hood as she navigated one such street. 

For her, seeing so many new things alongside the sheer number of humans 
and demi-humans in the area was overwhelming. Yet curiosity was the furthest 
thing from her mind. The music from behind unseen corners, the constant horse- 
carriage traffic, even the innocent laughter of children playing tag in the street 
sent shots of adrenaline through her veins. The street’s stone surface was cold 
beneath her bare feet. 

Hiding herself entirely with the robe, she was in constant fear that any one of 
these people would pull a sword on her at any time. She stayed out of sight, 
keeping to the edge of the streets. 


Amber eyes sifted through the crowd from deep within her hood, searching 
for the boy’s white hair. 

Compared to the main thoroughfares, this street was rather narrow. Her gaze 
first passed over the throng, then went to the alleyways, and finally shifted all 
the way to the residential area at the end. 

Then, as she was scanning her immediate vicinity... 

...she saw it happen. 

— Ah. 

A horse-drawn cart came to a stop in front of the store at the corner. 

She saw something sway as the horse’s whinny filled her ears. 

A tall pile of boxes was about to collapse like a house of toy blocks. 

One of the restraints must have come loose; she couldn’t tell. But that didn’t 
change the fact that the load was going to fall. One of the children playing in the 
street, a completely unaware chienthrope, was directly in its path. 

Wiene’s eyes flared open. 

The others around her who noticed watched with bated breath, many about to 
shout a warning. 

Several wooden boxes were about to come down on top of the boy. 

— Hurt. 

That would surely bring him pain. 

A lot of pain. 

Enough to make the child cry. Just like what all those claws and blades had 
done to her. 

No sooner had that thought passed through her mind than her body moved. 

u | » 

Thud! Wiene kicked off the ground and shot toward the boy like an arrow. 

She rushed to the youth’s side so quickly she could have teleported to the 

When she saw the expression of horror on the boy’s face as he became 
suddenly aware of his precarious situation, she saw herself in front of the 
firebird’s raging flames. Memories of the boy who had saved her flashed before 
her eyes. 

—I have to help. 

That thought set off a chain reaction. 

Wiene’s body changed. 

Something grew from her back. 

Disturbing fleshy sounds erupted from beneath her robe, and her light-blue 
skin ripped open along with it—and a wing extended. 


A deafening crash drowned out the child’s whisper as the boxes came 
tumbling down. 

Several of them broke open as they struck the stone pavement. 

Once the splintering echoes filling the street had faded, frightened demi- 
human onlookers who hadn’t budged began to yell, drawing even more attention. 

The broken cartons and their contents lay strewn all over the street. Beer 
bottles and other trash rolled through the scene as the crowd spotted a child 
huddled in fear beneath a figure expanding like a predator’s widening maw. 

Large enough to swallow a man whole. 

A single wing, with a light-blue frame and ash-gray skin. 

The distinctive wing of the king of monsters—a dragon. 

The street that had been bustling just moments ago fell silent. 

Wiene held her wing in a protective arc and looked down at her feet. 

The boy didn’t have a scratch thanks to her shield. Immense relief flooded 
through her veins as she made eye contact with the scared child and moved her 

“Are you all right?” 



Wiene’s voice was lost in the boy’s scream. 

All the terrified boy could see were piercing amber eyes and a monstrous 
wing that did not belong on a person’s body. 

The panicked demi-human child jumped to his feet and ran, leaving Wiene in 
stunned confusion. 



Shrieks tore through the air one after the other. 

The child’s scream was the spark that ignited the chaos in the quiet street. 

Like the retreating tide, the throng tried to put as much distance between 
Wiene and themselves as possible. Even the horse still attached to the cart took 
off at full speed. Human mothers pulled their children away; a young werewolf 
shielded his unconscious lover with his body. A pudgy prum merchant fell to the 
ground in shock. 

A cacophony of footfalls accompanied a chorus of rising screams. The 
onlookers were on the verge of panic. 

The twilit street corner became engulfed in a vortex of terror. 

Wiene, at a complete loss for words, stood at the center of this massive 
semicircle of people. 

“Aharpy—no, a siren!” 

“What’s it doing here?!” 

The nearby lower-class adventurers drew their weapons, flashing silver. 

Wiene gasped and recoiled in fear at the sharp metal surrounding her while 
the eyes trained on her filled with anger and fear. 

The last rays of red sunlight illuminated the mysterious monster wearing a 
torn robe. 

The only parts of the monster’s face visible to the bystanders were the two 
sharp amber eyes lurking in the darkness beneath its hood and her jewel’s 
crimson, bloody glow. Without knowing what she was, they saw only a 
horrifying three-eyed monster. 

The crowd’s terror escalated to hate and disgust directed at the cornered one¬ 
winged monster. 


An instant later, an elf woman threw a stone. 


It hit Wiene square in the head, and the hood did nothing to stop the blow. 

That was the trigger. 

The panic and fury reached a crescendo. Enraged bystanders picked up 
projectiles at their feet and flung them at her. 

The monster trembled in fright as a rain of stones and rocks descended upon 


“Begone, monster!!” 

“This is our home! ” 

“Go back to your filthy Dungeon!” 

Missiles arced through the air as the ones pelting the small monster laced 
their words with hatred. 

“The hell are you doing? Stop!” “Don’t make it angry!” Despite being lower 
class, the adventurers in the crowd knew what winged monsters could do and 
desperately tried to intervene. However, the mob couldn’t be stopped. An 
avalanche of angry insults poured onto the monster that dared to set foot in their 
territory. Hatred flooded toward their age-old enemy. 


“Whoa. Damn.” 

Elsewhere, a few deities noticed the commotion. 

Climbing nearby buildings for a better view, they watched the scene unfold. 

One grimaced, while another was concerned for his safety. The last grinned 
while taking in the spectacle. 

A miniature version of the eternal struggle between men and monsters of the 
mortal realm was playing out right before their eyes. 

“0-ow...That hurts!” 

The besieged monster’s soft cry went unheard among the mob’s relentless 

Although her newly sprouted wing could protect her from the stones, it could 
do nothing to shield her from the intense loathing. 

Her heart wept, and the incessant vitriol of their words gouged deep into her 

Tears surfaced in her eyes as she shrank in on herself. 


“A monster, here?! ” 

“Yeah, just a few blocks over!” 

The instant he heard those words... 

Bell launched himself off the stone pavement and tore through the streets. 

“Sir Bell!” 

He and Mikoto had been searching as a team up to that point, but he soon left 
her behind. 

Wind whistled by his ears, and his eyes teared up. “Faster!!” he yelled at 

himself, driving his legs as hard as he could. 


As nightfall quickly descended over the city streets, Bell’s heart pounded 
behind his ribs; blood burned in his veins. 

He sprinted through the streets, following the directions he had heard, as well 
as the increasing commotion, toward the girl’s location. 



There she was, protecting herself from a hail of stones with a large wing he 
had never seen before. 

In Orario’s seventh district, on a corner of the west-northwest edge of the city 
far from Central Park, Wiene was alone, trapped in the center of a storm of 
antipathy strong enough to intimidate even the boy himself. 

“Master Bell!” 


Haruhime and Hestia arrived at the scene at almost the same moment, closely 
followed by Welf and a winded Mikoto. They stood still for only a few 

As for Bell, the sight of tears falling from beneath her hood set his spirit 

— She ’s crying. 

—Wiene is crying for help! 

He charged forward. 

“Hold up, Bell!” 

Welf called out to the boy weaving his way through the mob. 

Bell was planning on protecting the monster—in front of this crowd, in front 
of deities. 

There would be no going back if he made it to her. He would become just as 
hated and feared as the fantastical girl. 

Even so, he didn’t heed his allies’ pleas. 

He wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t abandon her. 

Bell closed in, just a few steps away from the tearful Wiene. 


A shadow made it through the mob just before the boy. 


Paying no heed to the stones, the small, robed figure rushed to Wiene’s side. 

It was a beautiful young elf, long golden hair running down her back. 

No one had expected to see a child-size demi-human burst onto the scene, 
and the crowd stayed their hands in surprise. Now that there were no painful 
stones raining down on them, the mysterious 120-celch-tall figure used the 
reprieve to grab Wiene’s hand. 

Members of Hestia Familia were just as shocked as the rest of the crowd to 
see her guide the monster toward an adjacent alleyway. Bell was no different, 
eyes going wide as the elf girl met his gaze—with chestnut-colored eyes. 
Everything clicked. 


She had disguised herself with her magic skill, Cinder Ella. 

The prum’s agility allowed her to reach the vouivre girl before anyone else. 

As she dragged the flabbergasted girl behind her, the veiled Lilly yelled 
directly at Bell: 

“To the underground room!!” 

Leaving him with that message, Lilly and Wiene disappeared into the alley’s 
dark shadows. 

Bell, who had cleared the mob, had an epiphany while the crowd was having 
a fit trying to process what just happened. 

Now I get it! 

Remembering where they were, Bell understood the true meaning of Lilly’s 

He sent Hestia a look over his shoulder, and she confirmed her understanding 
with a strong nod. 

“That’s what she meant...!” Welf said with a smile as he worked it out, too. 

“Let’s get going!” 

“A-and where are we going to?” 

Lilly had purposely omitted key pieces of information from her message to 
prevent others from finding their rendezvous point, which meant Haruhime was 
in the dark. 

Bell and the others left the confused throng behind, departing the scene as 
quickly as possible. 

“To our hidden home!” 

The sun has completely set, and now a pale-blue moon hovers above the city in 

the night sky. 

I can tell that much from the silver light filtering between cracks in the 

I take my eyes off the shoddy ceiling and look around at the goddess, Welf, 
and everyone else gathered here in the narrow underground room. 

We’re in Hestia Familia’s former home, a chamber hidden under a church. 

We came to this secret underground area per Lilly’s instructions when she 
had Wiene in tow. 

The church itself was destroyed by Apollo Familia during the lead-up to the 
War Game, and we were forced to move...but compared to the wreckage 
upstairs, the basement still resembles what it once was. 

“That was some good thinking, Supporter, using this room as a hiding place.” 

“Lilly heard about it from Mr. Welf, when he came back here to retrieve a 
drop item...” 

Welf and I came back here a while ago to retrieve the money and drop items, 
like Goliath’s Hide, that were still in here. It’s a good thing we didn’t bother 
putting the debris back over the entrance when we left, because the path came in 
handy. Thoughts of that day flit through my mind as I listen to the hushed 
conversation of Lilly and the goddess. 

There’s no way anyone could live here, but it’s more than good enough to 
serve as a meeting place in an emergency. There’s a pile of rubble directly 
overhead, so I guess this is now our hidden base. 

I wonder what’s going on outside...I bet the Guild has gotten involved by 

But we decided to stay here until the dust settles. 

“Sob, hie...sob...!” 

Soft weeping echoes throughout the underground room. 

The source is Wiene, who is currently latched onto me. 

Her new wing is folded up on top of her back, but it’s still big enough to 
cover half her body. 

Apparently, it sprouted when she tried to protect an unfamiliar child. 

The atmosphere is heavy. Everyone—from Lilly and Welf leaning against the 
wall to Mikoto and Haruhime lingering in the corner and the goddess sitting on 
the dusty bed—looks sullen. Wiene and I sit in the middle on the floor. 

.. .The reality of our situation has been made all too clear today. 

Wiene’s nature as a monster. 

As well as what Lilly and the goddess had warned us about. 

The aura of animosity around monsters and men, the overwhelming hatred. 

People can’t let monsters exist. 

Their fangs, their claws, and the wings that grant them flight, all inspire fear 
and make people want to avoid them at all costs. 

On the other hand, that reaction originates from a time when the surface races 
could do little to resist their invasions during the Ancient Times—a latent fear 
that holds to this day. 

Monsters are the enemy. 

That undeniable truth has struck all of us hard today. 


Wiene looks up at me as everyone else stares at the floor. 

Small hands gripping my shirt, her light-blue cheeks streaked with tears, the 
girl struggles to string words together with trembling lips. 

“Can I.. .not be with Bell?” 

I can hear her clinging to faint hope in her voice. 

But I can’t say anything. 

I want to say it’ll be okay. 

I’ve said those few words so many times—only now they won’t come out. 

The truth is too much. Wiene looks at the pathetic expression on my face, her 
own contorting in sadness. 

All I can do is hold her. 

On the verge of tears myself, I hold her tiny body as close as I can. 

People and monsters aren’t meant to coexist. 

One look at the ominous dragon wing on her back tells me as much. 


The curtain of night fell, shrouding the city in darkness. 

Deep in a back alley, far from the noisy main streets... 

All was quiet around the ruins of a church that had collapsed on itself. A 
goddess’s statue, reduced to pieces in front of the rubble, lay peacefully silent. 

An owl peered at the debris, its silhouette illuminated by the tranquil 

Vertical patterns ran through its white feathers. Alight on an iron guardrail on 
the roof of a nearby building, it curled its talons around the top rung. 

Just as one of its eyes gleamed in the night, it spread its wings and descended 

from its perch. 

Crossing beneath the ocean of stars that dotted the night sky, the bird 
suddenly descended and latched onto an outstretched arm—its master’s. 

“So it was no use after all...” 

A black-robed figure standing atop another roof retrieved the owl—its 
familiar—while muttering quietly to itself. 

Its gloves were covered with intricate designs. A blue crystal embedded 
among them glowed with the same light as the owl’s eye. 

A long sigh sounded beneath the dark fabric that completely concealed its 
wearer’s true identity. 

“I admit I had hope for them.. .but that day is still too far off.” 

The owl closed both of its eyes as if sympathizing with its master’s words. 

The black shadow stared off toward the north, where its familiar had flown in 
from, and spotted the church ruin. 

“We cannot delay any longer.” 

Its gaze traveled toward the moon. 

“The rest is up to you, Ouranos.” 

Then, it whispered to the white marble pillars of the Pantheon below its feet 
—Guild Headquarters. 



“A winged monster?” 

Freya repeated the news. 

“Yes, My Lady. It is said to have appeared during the early evening hours.” 

“Ah. I thought the city seemed much noisier than usual...So that’s what 

Freya seemed satisfied with the report of her boaz follower, Ottar. 

Countless stars twinkled in the darkened sky. In the middle of the night, 
Freya sat in an ornate chair on the highest floor of Babel Tower. Ottar patiently 
waited at her side. 

A glass of wine in one hand, she asked him a question: 

“What is the damage to the city?” 

“Beyond a few isolated bouts of panic, there has been none. Someone took 
the monster away before it attacked any citizens.” 

“Someone, you say.. .Any word from the Guild?” 

“None, My Lady. As they are currently gathering information, it is highly 
unlikely they will contact us at this time.” 

Out of everything taking place in the city, Ottar made sure only the most 
important information reached his goddess’s ears. 

However, Freya wasn’t the least bit interested in the rest of her follower’s 
polite and concise report. 

At least, not at the moment. 

“Shall I order a search?” 

“Well.. .that may be a good idea if the situation escalates, but don’t bother for 
now. Should worse come to worst, we can pay Hermes a visit. I’m sure he is 
more up-to-date on these developments than we are.” 

Ah-choo! A sneeze sounded somewhere around the base of Babel, but it was 
impossible for Freya and Ottar to hear it. 

The Goddess of Beauty sat back in her chair, substantial breasts shifting 

beneath her revealing black nightgown. 

“If this is the last we hear of it, then that’s all it amounts to. The Guild will 
contact us if something happens. That will mean they have work for us to do.” 

Freya Familia’s assault and complete eradication of Ishtar Familia had 
resulted in a penalty from the Guild. Now Freya had no choice but to listen to 
the powerful organization’s demands for a little while longer. 

While it was well within her ability to reject the penalty by force, it was 
necessary to maintain the image that the Guild was in control of Orario. Jealous 
goddesses weren’t shy about voicing their opinions. Besides, dealing with a 
perturbed Loki, who was her uneasy ally, was more trouble than it was worth. 

Freya wasn’t about to let anyone hold her back, but she also had no interest in 
becoming an arrogant ruler like Ishtar. 

“They may use us again, so please bear with it.” 

“By your will, My Lady.” 

Offering a gentle apology to her followers, who would be pressed into service 
should the Guild call, the goddess smiled. 

Then she swirled the wine before bringing the glass to her lips. 

“I wonder if this will be entertaining.” 

She whispered under her breath, a trace of expectation in her voice. 

“A humanoid.. .monster...?” 

Aiz asked for clarification after hearing the news. 

“Yep, yep! Word has it that it showed up in the western block.” 

“Not a large-category monster...?” 

“Doesn’t sound like it. The few lower-class adventurers who saw it called it a 
harpy or a siren. Probably doesn’t have anything to do with what happened 
during the Monsterphilia, though.” 

The Amazonian twins Tiona and Tione took turns answering Aiz’s questions 
while the blond human girl tilted her head in confusion. 

Chirping birds sang outside the windows bathed in morning light. Aiz’s 
friends told her what had happened the previous night as they strolled through 
the narrow hallways of Loki Familia’s home. 

Apparently, it was all the lower-rank adventurers in the familia were talking 

“I heard there was panic in the streets last night. Guild employees are all over 
the place asking people what went down.” 

“...Does Finn know?” 

“Of course. He’s asking anyone who’s free to join the investigation. I think 
he has his own theory.” 

Aiz turned to Tione after hearing what Tiona had to say. 

“Hmm.” The human girl raised her eyes to the ceiling. 

Their general had given the order despite their familia having little 
connection to the incident itself. That meant his love of the city and its citizens 
was strong enough that he was compelled to get involved. 

Most likely, it upset him to know that a monster was lurking somewhere in 
the city, terrorizing the townspeople. 

As an adventurer who called Orario home, Aiz took this news to heart. 

“What should we do if we find this monster?” 

“Finn said that capturing it alive would be best, but...” 

The younger Amazon paused, interlocking her fingers behind her head. Tione 
finished her sentence. 

“If it’s endangering lives—kill it on the spot.” 

Long blond hair flowing down her back, Aiz reached for the hilt of the saber 
hanging from her waist. 


She nodded. 

The Guild was in utter chaos. 

Reports had come in that an unidentified winged monster had suddenly 
appeared in Orario’s seventh district and attempted to attack a young boy the 
previous night. Citizens flooded the Guild in droves, demanding to know what 
had caused such a lapse in security. Some employees fielded questions on the 
front lines while others worked tirelessly to gather detailed information. 

Their first priority was to discover how a monster had been allowed out of 
the Dungeon and into the city. Not to mention that a certain adventurer had 
reported seeing a barbarian in an underground tunnel close to an orphanage in 
Daedalus Street just days prior. 

After everything that had happened at the Monsterphilia, their dignity as a 
governing body was on the line. 

What in the world was going on? Guild employees had to find an answer. 

“Ughhh. I just pulled an all-nighter, too!!” 

“We’re in a state of emergency. There’s no point in complaining.” 

The half-elf Eina Tulle was among the Guild employees putting in serious 

Along with her friend and tearful coworker, Misha Frot, she was constantly 
on the move. 

Relaying information from the reception counter to the head offices and 
visiting the scene of the disturbance to interview witnesses were just the tip of 
the iceberg. Work piled up faster than it could be completed. All the while, 
grinning deities got their kicks from the pandemonium and even went as far as 
providing false tips to make the show more interesting. The Guild employees 
were forced to authenticate each one before pursuing any leads. 

“But, but, but.. .it just showed up out of nowhere. All the tamed monsters are 
still in their cages, right?” 

“Yes. Ganesha Familia has confirmed that all monsters are accounted for.” 

Misha posed her question, practically bouncing around behind the half-elf as 
the two traveled through one of the Guild’s back passageways. Eina answered 
with a nod. 

The Guild kept strict tabs on all tamers living in Orario, but Ganesha Familia 
was the only organization allowed to keep live monsters in the city to help with 
training for the Monsterphilia. 

They also conducted many experiments on captive monsters and tested 
theories inside the walls of their expansive home in the name of “improving 
efficiency in the Dungeon.” 

“Don’t forget that all tamed monsters are fitted with tracking plates. They’d 
know the instant one of them escaped.” 

These plates were magic items designed to attach to a monster’s body, no 
matter its shape, and constantly broadcast its location to a receiver. A broken 
plate would immediately set off the receiver’s alarm, alerting Ganesha Familia 
to the situation. If one of their captives escaped, the familia would be the first to 

The creature sighted in the seventh district was said to resemble a human 
with wings. Witnesses described it as a harpy or siren. 

None of them mentioned seeing a tracking plate on its body. 

What bothers me is the reports saying the monster was wearing a robe.. .If it 
was trying to hide itself, that means it’s self-aware... 

That thought made Eina’s blood run cold. 

She rubbed her upper arms while the two continued their conversation. 


“Chief? Is something wrong?” 

Eina and Misha stepped into the front office and were halfway to their desks 
when their animal-person boss spoke up. 

The slender chienthrope man wore glasses similar to Eina’s, along with a 
troubled expression...though perhaps “apologetic” would be a more apt term. He 
gave her another assignment. 

“The boss wants to speak with you. It’s urgent, so go to his office right 


Eina froze on the spot. 

“Oh no...” whispered Misha in a hollow voice and forced a weak smile. 

—Did I.. .do something wrong? 

Eina pushed her glasses back up her nose, dread in her veins. 

“...Excuse me, sir.” 

After ascending to the top floor of Guild Headquarters, Eina knocked on an 
oak door. 

“Get in here,” came a grouchy command from inside. Grasping both handles 
of the double doors, Eina pulled them open and went inside. 

The first thing she saw in the spacious room was a massive bookcase that 
covered an entire wall. Then her eyes fell to the ornate rug on the floor. 
Everything in this room, from the antique jars and paintings on the walls to the 
velvet upholstered sofa and alabaster magic-stone lamps, was of the highest 
quality. Deities residing in Orario were known for their love of luxury, but even 
they might feel a little underdressed in this chamber. 

Eina made a quick bow before walking to the middle of the room. Struggling 
to keep her nerves under control, she approached the one in charge. 

He was sitting in an elegantly designed chair, partially hidden behind the 
mountains of paperwork on his desk. 

“You’re late, Eina Tulle.” 

Looking up from his half-finished document, the man glared at Eina with 
green eyes. 

His pointed ears identified him as an elf. However, the rest of his form lacked 
the beauty and refinement of his kin. 

His suit, much higher quality than the average Guild employee’s, was under 
immense pressure to contain his gut. Saying that he had a spare tire for a belly 

would be an understatement, as his overall figure was difficult to describe. One 
receptionist had ironically referred to his stout build as orc-like, but she wasn’t 
far off the mark. All his limbs were short and pudgy, and he had an impressively 
flabby set of jowls. 

With high-quality garments adorning his body, he resembled a merchant 
basking in a lifetime of riches. 

This was the head of the Guild, Royman Mardeel. 

As the one with the right to make the final call on the Guild’s decisions, he 
had direct control over Orario’s day-to-day affairs. 

“Do you realize how much time has passed since I summoned you? You must 
think very highly of yourself to keep a man like me waiting.” 

“My apologies...” 

Despite his tirade, Eina chose to remain humble rather than retaliate. 

Elves were known for their long life spans, and Royman was no different, 
having served at the Guild for over a century. His lifestyle had changed to one of 
extravagance and debauchery once he reached his current position, resulting in 
his obese figure. 

His nickname was “the Guild’s Pig.” 

Every other elf in Orario despised him, preferring to pretend he didn’t exist. 

They saw him as a shameless glutton who had forgotten the pride of his race. 
His lust for money, plus his burgeoning waistline, had triggered his fall from 
grace and prompted harsh criticism. 

Being so thoroughly despised and yet so powerful, not even his inborn elfish 
respect for kin could prevent his arrogance. Only before the gods and goddesses 
of Orario did he ever show humility. 

And Eina was only a half-elf. 

She had a feeling thoughts of her “impurity” were crossing his mind at this 
very moment. 

Well, I knew this would happen from the moment he summoned me, but... 

Eina wasn’t fond of Royman. 

She was sure Guild employees who didn’t have issues with him were in the 

But the fact remained that, no matter how much he spoiled himself, he held 

Working at the Guild for over 100 years wasn’t just for show. While his 
lavish tastes might have rubbed some people the wrong way, he made many 
contributions to the Guild on the whole. 

If he hadn’t, those around him—especially the Guild’s “true leader”—would 
never have granted him permission to rise so far in the first place. 

He must be exhausted... 

Everything that bothered her about him, all the complaints eating away at her 
even now, could be attributed to the stress of being at the mercy of the deities’ 
every whim...Thinking about it in those terms made it possible to sympathize 
with him. 

Eina repeated that to herself over and over, clinging to her faith that everyone 
was good deep down. She maintained perfect posture in his presence. 

“Hmph, so you’re the one using her feminine wiles to ensnare adventurers. 
Oh yes, I know. You used that body of yours to sweet-talk your way into the laps 
of two upper-class adventurers, the ones making money for our city. Your 
promiscuity is causing the rest of us a lot of problems.” 

Royman’s eyes traced the curves firmly held in place by her suit, and Eina 
felt naked under his intense stare. She wanted to flinch, but she suppressed the 
knee-jerk reaction and held her ground. 

This was an attempt to get under her skin. 

In his case, it wasn’t so much sexual harassment as an insult. She could put 
up with that. 

“...That’s a misunderstanding, sir. Nothing that you have insinuated has 
taken place.” 

“Shut your mouth! Use what little elvish blood you have to feel proper 

Royman didn’t appreciate being contradicted about the incident a few days 
ago involving the dwarf Dormul and the elf Luvis, and his face flushed red as he 

Eina swallowed a sigh—and Royman’s eyes flashed, glaring at her. 

“But worst of all, you’ve been keeping information about Bell Cranell from 
us, haven’t you?” 


He didn’t miss a thing. 

Eina hadn’t reported on Bell’s Advanced Ability, Luck, or on his magic 
attack, Firebolt—the first of its kind that didn’t require a trigger spell. The latter 
had already been revealed during the War Game, but it was his astounding rate 
of growth that had propelled the Guild to investigate. More than likely, Royman 
was trying to force her to divulge any information she had. To make matters 
worse, Eina had never submitted Bell’s level-up model. This was a document 

detailing how he had leveled up and was, at that very moment, still buried deep 
within her desk. A scolding like this was inevitable, but it was too late to worry 
about it now. 

She had, however, submitted reports along the guidelines set in place to 
protect adventurers under her counsel like Bell and their familias...Royman 
must have thought she’d left a few things out after seeing the reports. 

Once again, Eina had to prevent her shoulders from flinching under the 
pressure of Royman’s astute observation. 

“You’re deliberately withholding information to keep him from becoming 
some god’s new toy, aren’t you?” 

“N-no, it’s not like that...!” 

“Do not lie to me! You’ve sided with adventurers ever since the day you got 
here, have you not? As his adviser, failing to divulge the secret to Bell Cranell’s 
growth is costing us far more than you can imagine!” 

Slamming his fist onto the desk and grunting like a pig, Royman maintained 
his verbal assault. Eina could only try to bear the storm of criticism and wait for 
it to pass. 

Royman did eventually calm down. 

Forehead and saggy chin soaked with sweat, Royman took a deep breath. 

“...As to why you’re here.” 

Eina tensed again as the leader of the Guild wiped his face on a cloth and 
reached for something on his desk. 

“See to it this reaches Hestia Familia ...Give it to Bell Cranell.” 


He thrust a sealed letter out to her from between two towering piles of 

Stunned, Eina reached for the document with trembling hands only after 
Royman’s gaze became too intense to bear. 

“Um, sir, what is...?” 

Sealed with the Guild’s official stamp, it appeared to be some sort of 

Perhaps a quest? 

Royman spoke up, answering Eina’s question before she could ask. 

“I should tell you that it’s no quest but a mission.” 

« | 55 

Eina’s eyes widened in that moment. 

“A secret one at that. Hestia Familia is the only group allowed to know, and 

no Guild personnel have clearance. Take extra care when you give it to him...I 
don’t think I have to say it, but you are forbidden to pursue this matter any 

A mission. 

A direct order from the Guild that no one could refuse. All familias and 
adventurers residing in Orario were required to obey it. 

What’s more, this one was top secret. Eina couldn’t understand why Bell, an 
adventurer under her counsel, would be tasked with something this important. 

“You are his adviser. This is your job.” 

Royman delivering the order himself would attract too much attention, given 
his position. 

He explained the situation as he reclined back in his chair before an 
astonished Eina. 

“Give it to him, clear? I won’t allow you to say no.” 

“S-sir, what is upper management thinking—?” 

“An underling like you doesn’t need to know. Now get out of here. I’m 

Royman spat out his retort. 

Then he unleashed another verbal barrage, reminding Eina—so many times 
she couldn’t get his voice out of her head—to make sure that the goddess Hestia 
also saw the mission. With nothing more to say, Royman demanded that she 
leave his office. 

A secret mission.. .But why... ? 

Closing the doors behind her, Eina stood in the middle of the passageway. 

Her emerald-green eyes quivered as she looked at the seal on the document in 
her hand. 

Upper management’s decision? But in that case, why would Royman see to it 
personally... ? Was it his preference? 

No. She shook her head once she reached that conclusion. 

What if he was ordered to—? 

—It couldn’t be. 

A gut feeling shook her to the very core. 

The organization known as the Guild had a true “leader” that outranked upper 

Something was happening behind closed doors. 

Suddenly anxious, Eina felt her heart lurch in her chest. 


We made it back home during the night. 

Somehow, we managed to keep Wiene and her new wing out of sight along 
the way. 

Night might be over, but there’s nothing we can do to stave off the stifling 
gloom descending on the manor. Everyone—except for Lilly, who forced herself 
to go back out into the city to gather information—has stayed inside ever since 
we returned. We’re lying low, staying as far away as possible from the 
commotion in the streets. 

Except for one thing. 

I’ve been summoned to Guild Headquarters. Just me. 

“I’m sorry for asking you to come here on such short notice.” 

“I-it’s fine.” 

We’re in the consultation box. 

Eina is standing right in front of me, and it takes every ounce of willpower I 
have to keep my body from shaking. 

A messenger from the Guild arrived with the summons, complete with Eina’s 
signature, at around noon. The letter said it was urgent, so I hurried to the Guild 
as fast as I could. 

My nerves won’t calm down. 

Why’d it have to be today of all days? 

Am I a suspect on their list for what happened last night? 

Then again, Eina sent me the message. She’s my adviser, so I doubt she’d be 
the one to contact me if that is what’s happening. 

Wiene did finally fall asleep after a long night before I left, but I’m still 
worried about her. 

Neither Eina nor I take a seat in the soundproof room. She seems unusually 
stiff as we stand face-to-face. 

“...This is for you.” 


Suddenly even more nervous, I glance down at the sealed document in her 
outstretched hand. 

“Miss Eina, what...?” 

Not sure what to think, I take it from her. She pauses for a long moment 
before telling me. 

“It’s a secret mission. I was instructed to give it to you personally.” 

Well, that’s...surprising. 

A mission from the Guild? A secret one, at that? 

It’s a direct order from the top. Usually they involve taking care of an 
Irregular in the Dungeon or exterminating a particularly strong monster, or 
maybe dealing with something outside the city wall. Sure, Hestia Familia has 
been in the spotlight recently, but we barely qualify as average. Why would we 
be chosen for such a mission? 

If something is so important that it needs to be done in secret, then wouldn’t 
one of Orario’s strongest familias or adventurers get the call...? 

I look down at the paper in my hands in disbelief. 

“May I.. .open it here?” 

“Yes. But don’t show it to me...I’m not allowed to know.” 

Our conversation is stilted and awkward. 

I slowly pull back the seal as Eina watches, her mouth slightly agape. 

Hands moving at the speed of molasses thanks to my nerves, I slowly unroll 
the piece of parchment. 

“Each member of the familia, including the vouivre girl, is hereby ordered to 
proceed to the Dungeon’s twentieth floor.” 

« 55 

Time freezes. 

My body goes ice cold. I can’t even feel my hands and feet anymore. 

The simple Koine letters, those swashes of ink dancing across the page, 
almost triggered a panic attack. 

“Please make sure Goddess Hestia sees this as well.. .Bell? What’s wrong?” 

I hear sounds, not words. 

I can’t even blink, reading the message over and over as I struggle to breathe. 
The letters keep going in and out of focus. 

But how... ? Since when —? 

So many questions flare up in my head that none of them can finish before 
the next one begins. 

“Vouivre girl.” That’s Wiene for sure. Someone knows that Hestia Familia is 
protecting her? 

The Guild knows everything? 

Is this a threat? 

If that’s true — 

What’s the point of this mission? 

What is the Guild trying to do? 

How can I figure this out with my brain going in every direction at once? 
“Bell! Bell?!” 

Eina calls my name again and again as I start coming back to myself. 

Her voice pulls my gaze away from the parchment. I stare up at her, white as 
a ghost. 

“Miss Eina, what does the Guild—?” 

My throat stops moving; the words are stuck. 

I can’t ask. 

I can’t ask her what the Guild knows. 

If they’re friend or foe. 

I don’t know who I can trust anymore. 

I can almost hear Eina’s face twisting. 

Is it possible that even she—? 

— No, that can’t be true! 

I shake my head free of those thoughts before they get out of control. 

This person would never investigate me. She’s not watching my reaction 
looking for clues. 

Eina is just an employee at the very bottom of the Guild’s hierarchy. 

She said it herself: She wasn’t “allowed to know.” 

I can’t let this situation make me doubt someone who’s always been there for 

That’s it. This right here is — 

A mission assigned by the Guild’s higher-ups. 

I gulp down the air in my throat. 

A powerful force is at work, and we’re about to get swept up in its wake. 

“—Please, Bell, talk to me.” 


Eina takes a step closer as I struggle with our predicament. 

I raise my head to meet her imploring, straightforward gaze. 

“If something is troubling you, please tell me. You have my word I will not 
tell a soul. I can’t just sit back and watch you be in pain.” 

Her eyes quiver as she bears her heart. 

“Even if I fail as an adviser in the eyes of the Guild, I want to do everything I 
can to help adventurers like you.” 

My eyes are trembling, too. 

“This is all I can do, to listen to what you have to say. So please—” 

—Trust me. 

Her plea cuts deep. 

She doesn’t know anything. 

But if I tell her what’s going on right now, if I give in to her kindness, then 
she’ll get dragged into this mess, too. She’ll be stuck in this dark quandary 
because of me. 

I.. .1 can’t let that happen. 

“—It’s.. .nothing.. .Please don’t worry.” 

It took everything I had to form those words. 

Eina hunches over as if collapsing on the inside. She looks despondent. 

I can’t meet her eyes. 

Even staring at the floor at her feet, I can tell she’s looking away. 

A barrier stands between us. I can almost hear it rising. 

Leaving Eina behind, I make a quick exit from the box as if to flee. 

“A mission...” 

Resisting the invisible force pulling me back toward the Guild, I return home. 

Not wasting any time, I go straight to the living room where everyone is 
waiting. Welf whispers to himself in disbelief with the parchment in his hands. 

“So they know? Because of what happened yesterday?” 

“It’s too sudden for that. The vouivre girl...Miss Wiene kept her face and 
body well hidden, and yet they know what type of monster she is...The only 
explanation is that they’ve known for some time.” 

Wrinkles form on Welf’s brow as he forces himself to remain calm while 
listening to Lilly’s terse explanation. Mikoto and Haruhime are standing like 
statues off to the side. The goddess is reading the document herself right now, 
deep in thought and silent as the grave. Wiene isn’t here. 

No one in the room is sitting down. 

As we exchange glances, I see I’m not the only one thrown for a loop. 

“Lilly is more concerned about what this mission entails...” 

She takes the document from our goddess and reads it herself. 

I’m not used to seeing so much uncertainty on her face as her chestnut- 
colored eyes work their way across the page. 

“Lilly can’t understand what the Guild is trying to accomplish. This is not a 
warrant for our arrest, nor is it a demand to surrender Miss Wiene into their 
custody.. .Why send us to the Dungeon?” 

In addition to the mission document decorated with a vine-like pattern, 
there’s another sheet with detailed instructions. 

Written in red ink, there’s a big circle on a map of the twentieth floor. Our 
destination is in the deepest part of the floor, way off the main route. 

It even tells us what time to leave: 

Tonight at midnight, when it’s darkest out. 

“So the Guild doesn’t intend to arrest us...?” 

“For the time being, at least.” 

“We are to escort Lady Wiene back into the Dungeon...Whatever for?” 

“Beats me. Maybe she’s part of a plan to start something in the Dungeon... 
and we’re making a delivery?” 

Lilly answers Mikoto’s question, prompting Haruhime and Welf to share their 

Welf takes the documents from Lilly while everyone is talking, his frown 
deepening by the second as he reads through the mission a second time. 

“Can we even make it there? Us? Down to the twentieth floor? We’re only 
going to get one crack at this.” 

“...Continuous use of Miss Haruhime’s magic will provide us with the 
strength of two Level Threes, including Mr. Bell, and one Level Two. The 
twentieth floor is still in the Dungeon’s middle levels, so our party should be 
okay—theoretically. The problem is our frightening lack of experience on that 

Adventurers usually take their time on each floor, learning the lay of the land 
and how to deal with monsters before pressing forward, for safety reasons. 

But we have to skip all that and go straight to the heart of the twentieth floor, 
a place we’ve never been...One thing’s for sure: We’ll be venturing directly into 
the “unknown.” 

As Lilly pointed out in her answer to Welf’s question, we have to endure the 
uncertainty and fear that accompany a new area, unfamiliar surroundings, and 
new monsters. 

“...What’s our course of action?” 

After our discussion comes to a stop— 

—Mikoto’s voice fills the quiet living room. 

“I don’t think we have any choice but to go...” 

“This is a mission. We don’t have the right to refuse.” 

Welf and Lilly speak up, sounding weighed down by the circumstances. 

The Guild, in charge of everything that happens in Orario, is aware of what 
we’ve been doing. That alone puts us between a rock and a hard place. If we try 
to resist—for example, make an attempt to flee the city—they’d shut us down 
before we could even get past the wall. 

All they have to do to destroy Hestia Familia is tell the world that we’ve 
been harboring a monster in our home. 

What’s going to happen to Wiene...? 

There’s no point in guessing without knowing what the Guild is trying to 
accomplish. I understand that. 

I know that we don’t have a choice, just as Lilly pointed out. 

It’s just—I can’t help but wonder what will happen if we do manage to pull 
this off...That’s the one thing I can’t stop worrying about. 

Then again...I doubt the Guild would send us to the twentieth floor without 
knowing something that we don’t. 

There’s the Dungeon, where Wiene was born. 

And that monster, the one that called the vouivre girl “one of its kind.” 

I have no clue how this mission will play out. 

But there’s one thing I do know: It’s entirely possible that the Guild knows 
something important about Wiene and has a plan for her. 

Our path will become clear once we figure out what that is. 

Adventurers.. .No, explorers ? 

At some point long ago in the Ancient Times, insanely brave people who 
ventured into the Dungeon, coming face-to-face with the “unknown,” started 
being called adventurers. 

Now we, too, are entering the Dungeon to make a new discovery. There’s no 
choice but to follow in our forebears’ footsteps. 

« 55 

All of us look to our goddess, Lady Hestia. 

She hasn’t said a word all this time. Returning our gazes, she slowly nods, 
telling us to go. 

We nod, accepting her divine will. It’s official. We’ll do the mission. 

“Everyone, I’m so sorry...This is all my fault.” 

After a few heavy moments... 

Although I can’t look at my friends, I apologize to them. 

I know rescuing Wiene was the right decision. I won’t let myself think 

otherwise. She’s still hiding here, and I know in my heart protecting her was the 
right decision. 

However, as a member of this familia, as their leader, I have to apologize. 

They have to bear this weight on their shoulders now because of me. Lilly 
warned us this could happen, and she hit the nail right on the head. 

I put everyone in danger. 

That’s exactly what a leader is supposed to avoid. I failed. 

I guess I wasn’t cut out for this position, after all. 

It’s that endless guilt that’s preventing me from looking everyone in the eyes. 

My trembling hands form fists on their own. 

“Master Bell.” 

Just then... 

Haruhime, who was standing close by, reaches out to hold my hand even 
though my eyes are still glued to the floor. 

“I beg of you. Please do not regret coming to Lady Wiene’s aid.” 

My head snaps up with a start. She’s pleading to me with her eyes. 

Taking my fist in both hands, she lifts it to chest height and squeezes. 

“I would not be here today were it not for my rescue by you and Miss Mikoto 
—thanks to everyone, I am happy once again. Lady Wiene is no different. We 
rescued her, so that’s why...!” 

Her dazzling green eyes glisten with tears; her voice overflows with passion. 

Her message is clear: Don’t deny the good things that have happened, no 
matter how dire our situation is now. 

I feel my eyes widening as the first tears fall from hers. 

A few heartbeats pass until Haruhime realizes she’s still holding my hand and 
jumps, blushing on the spot. 

Lilly walks up behind Haruhime with a half-lidded glare and gives her fox 
tail a hard yank. 

“Wha—!” she squeals. 

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for.” 

I break out in a cold sweat as Haruhime disappears from my line of sight and 
Welf speaks up. 

“This is what familias do, right? Support one another,” he says. “Or have you 
already forgotten what I put you and Hestia through during Rakia’s invasion?” 

He shrugs, grinning at his own lighthearted comment. 

“Stir up all the trouble you want. I’ve got no room to complain.” 


I can’t say another word. Suddenly, I see Mikoto smiling at me. 

“We appear to be in the same boat.” 

She says this with the conviction of a Far Eastern warrior adhering to a strong 
sense of justice. 

Her violet eyes soften in a tender expression, too. I meet her gaze for a few 
moments before glancing over at Lilly. 

Haruhime is next to her, whimpering and stroking her tail. As for the prum, 
she’s also wearing a relaxed smile. 

“Lilly will go anywhere with you, Mr. Bell. She is, after all, your supporter.” 

The whole familia is smiling at me. 

My trembling fists start to relax in the calming warmth. 


Rather than apologize... 

I tell them I’m grateful. 

« 55 

Hestia watched her familia’s conversation from a step outside their circle, 
unable to contain the smile growing on her lips as their bonds strengthened right 
before her eyes. 

It was short-lived, however. Her gaze once again fell onto the mission 

Her eyes first skimmed the characters spelling out the order to go to the 
twentieth floor. Then they passed over the vine-like patterns that covered the 

The shapes looked like a mere decoration at first glance, but they were much 

The design was a second message hiding in plain sight, written in characters 
that Hestia knew very well—hieroglyphs. 

Come to the fourth block of the city’s seventh district once your 


That was the divine scripture’s message. 

Hestia heard that when Bell received the parchment from Eina, she told him 
to make sure that his goddess saw the document as well. 

One purpose of this mission was to separate her from her familia before 

making contact. 

The goddess narrowed her blue eyes. 

Could it be the one pulling the strings behind the scenes is...? 

Hestia tensed as she reread the message that was intended for her alone. 


I ascend a flight of stairs cast in red light by the setting sun. 

Looking out the window, the sun has almost disappeared. The whole sky is 
burning crimson in the early evening twilight. As for me, I’m putting one foot in 
front of the other, ascending one step at a time. 

We decided to accept tonight’s mission after a long discussion, and everyone 
has gone their separate ways to prepare. 

Lilly went into the city to replenish our stock of items for the middle levels. 
Welf collected all our armor and weapons before shutting himself up in his 
workshop to make sure everything is in peak condition. Mikoto and Haruhime 
were put in charge of preparing food and water for the journey and left a little 
while ago. Even the goddess said she had something to take care of and went 
out. With Welf in his shop, the only ones inside the manor are me...and Wiene. 

I reach the third floor of our home and walk straight down the passageway. 

Arriving outside my own door, I quietly push it open. 

The girl with bluish-white skin is lying on my bed in the corner of the room. 

She’s still wearing the same robe as yesterday, and her cheeks are streaked 
with tears as she lies curled up into a little ball like a child. 

It’s just as Haruhime and Mikoto, who’s been using her Skill nonstop, told 
me. She cried herself to sleep and hasn’t set foot out of this room since. 

Almost as if she’s afraid of the outside world. 

« 55 

I walk up to the bed, careful not to make a sound. 

Doing my best not to disturb her, I take a seat next to Wiene. 

It’s quiet in here. Time flows peacefully, uninterrupted by the noise and 
commotion outside, and she’s far away from those who wish to hurt her. Only 
her quiet breathing reaches my ears. 

Given that we’re nearing summer, it’s still warm during the evening hours. 
But I don’t want to open a window. It would only disturb this space, interrupt our 
time together. 

This might be my room, but her scent is mixing with mine. 

It’s been only one week, but so much has happened. Her smell triggers so 
many memories that I see flashes of them every time I close my eyes. 

« 55 

There were a lot of problems. 

I’m pretty sure I cried out every day. 

Even so, I wouldn’t trade this past week for anything. 

My lips curl into a smile of warm reminiscence. 

I reach out with my left hand and gently stroke Wiene’s hair. 

The silver-blue strands are firm and yet smooth as silk. 

It feels so foreign to me as I softly run my fingers through it, just as I have 
every day since we brought her here. 

“...Ah, umm.” 

Her blue eyelashes flutter as her eyelids twitch. 

Her amber irises slowly peek out from underneath. They flit around in a 
groggy daze until they find me. A smile blooms on her lips. 


“It’s me...Sorry to wake you.” 

She lightly shakes her head at my apology, saying it’s okay. 

Her wing, folded up over the torn robe on her back, moves right along with it. 
Keeping her head on the pillow, she takes my hand from her hair and places it 
on her cheek. 

Her skin is chilly, like a crisp breeze. 

Still not fully awake, the vouivre girl looks at me happily. 

“Wiene, I have something important to tell you, so please listen.” 


She slowly sits up. 

We make eye contact, sitting side by side on top of the bedsheet. 

Our shadows stretch across the room, two silhouettes facing each other. 

“Yes. Together with Haruhime.” 

I tell Wiene about the decision we made with the goddess. 

Of course, I leave out a few details. 

I explain to her that all of us are going to the place where she was born. 
That’s the story. 

« 55 

“...You don’t want to go?” I ask as she droops her head. 

I can’t blame her for reacting this way. I haven’t told her anything about why 
we’re going into the Dungeon. This has to come as a surprise. 

The idea can’t be easy for Wiene to swallow. After all, the Dungeon is filled 
with scary things that tried to kill her. 

The problem now is how to convince her to go. I rack my brain for ideas, 

“No, no...I’ll go.” 

She didn’t look up, but Wiene couldn’t have made herself any clearer. 

I’m still struggling with disbelief when she raises her head. 

“Bell...Haruhime. Everyone is trying to help me, aren’t they?” 

My eyes go wide. 

The red jewel in front of my eyes twinkles in the last of the sunlight. 
“Everyone has always helped me before.” 


“It’s scary.. .but not if Bell and everyone else is with me.” 

The last sliver of sun sinks behind Wiene’s head, but I can tell her whole 
body is trembling. 

The innocent, outlandish girl who only wants to be kind is putting on a brave 

She’s trusting us. 

“Sorry for crying so much.. .Thank you for protecting me.” 

Teardrops threaten to spill forth from her glistening amber eyes, but still she 
smiles from ear to ear. 

Then she leans forward a little before burying her face in my chest. 

“I love...Bell.” 

...No matter what. 

I must protect this girl. 

No matter what is waiting for us, I will protect Wiene. 

I won’t let her be alone. I won’t let her die. 

I swear on my soul. 

Now it’s my turn to hold back tears. Keeping my tear ducts in check, I wrap 
my arms around her. 

Making sure to include her trembling dragon wing, I pull her into a big hug. 

I hear light sobs from under my chin. 

The sun has set; the last of its rays coming in through the window cast my 
room in a golden red light. 

“Ahumanoid monster...That’s the one.” 

Dix adjusted his goggles; the corner of his mouth curled into a sneer. 

“Don’t remember anything about wings, though...The beast didn’t have any 
when you guys saw it, did it?” 

“That’s right. Just arms and legs like a person. Then again, vouivres are 
supposed to have snake bodies with wings anyway...” 

“True that.. .A beast is a beast whether it’s got claws or wings.” 

Thump, thump. Dix tapped the shaft of his red spear against his shoulder 
while listening to his underlings. 

They were in a dark room with no windows. Surrounded by the iron bars of 
cages, the men talked among themselves without fear of being overheard. 

“But you know all this went down on the day that god of ours went to pay 
him a visit.. .Is this what they call a Blessing? Perhaps our Lord isn’t as stupid as 
we thought.” 

The praise for their absent temperamental deity rang hollow. 

Dix chuckled at the thought. 

“You thinking what I’m thinking, Dix?” 


His mind was made up. 

His red eyes narrowed behind the smoky quartz lenses of his goggles. 

“Keep an eye on Hestia Familia.” 

Dusk fell over Orario before finally shifting to night. 

The city was far from asleep. The exception was Central Park, which was 
filled with a tranquil silence. 

Hardly a soul passed through the area directly beneath Babel Tower. Lights 
from restaurants and bars formed a ring around the park, but few sounds reached 
the base of the white tower. 

It was near midnight. The clocks would mark the beginning of a new day at 
any moment. 

Bell led his familia to Babel Tower’s west entrance. 

He, Welf, and Mikoto wore salamander-wool cloaks over their armor. Lilly 
and Haruhime were equipped with Goliath Robes. Lastly, Wiene donned 
salamander wool as well but also had a slightly customized backpack strapped to 
her shoulders. The backpack had a hole in the inside lining to hide Wiene’s wing 
and disguise her as an ordinary supporter to any passersby. 

The vouivre kept looking over her shoulder at this strange apparatus hanging 
off her back as she walked. The party of adventurers surrounding her carried all 
sorts of weapons, and they strode forward with purpose. Their arsenal included a 
large shield, spare weapons of every kind, and even magic swords. The party had 
never looked so complete, and it was all thanks to Welf’s hard work. 

Pre-mission nerves were beginning to set in. Haruhime, Mikoto, and Lilly 
looked particularly anxious. 

u » 

“Something wrong, Bell?” 

The party stood in front of Babel’s open doors, partially illuminated by the 
light pouring out from inside, when Bell suddenly turned around. 

Greatsword over his shoulder, Welf called out to him as the boy scanned their 

We ’re being watched ... 

And there was more than one observer. 

Bell could feel their gazes originating from somewhere around the deserted 
park. They weren’t all that close, but they were definitely there, spread out all 

Either the Guild had dispatched people to keep watch on them, or— 

Bell’s stomach churned as that thought dredged up memories of Ikelos’s 
unnerving smile in the back of his mind. 

Turning around, his gaze fell on the girl hiding her true identity beneath a 
robe: Wiene. 


Anxious amber eyes peered up at him from deep underneath her hood. 

Bell took several light breaths, the two staring at each other in silence. 

Setting aside his own concerns, he smiled to put her at ease as much as 

“It’s all right.” 

Placing his hand on top of her hood, Bell mentally prepared himself for what 
lay ahead. 

“—It’s time.” 

Snap. Lilly made the announcement as she closed the lid on her broken 
pocket watch. 

All eyes gathered on Bell. He nodded. 

“Goddess, we’re going in.” 

“Right. Just make sure everyone comes back.” 

Hestia had wanted to see them off and came this far to do so. Bell said a 
quick good-bye. 

The deity gazed at her followers, waiting for a moment before turning to Bell 
and opening her mouth to speak. 


“Yes, Goddess?” 

“...No, it’s nothing.” 

See you when you get back, Hestia conveyed with her eyes, tilting her head to 
the side. The boy nodded again before entering Babel. 

Their mission had officially begun. 

The party set off for the twentieth floor. 



mm § 

' wf nr 4 iu<j 

fS®,# / 

7 Wn 



The white crystals covering the ceiling overhead go dark and bathe the entire 
floor in blackness. 

Blue crystals scattered about the forest and ponds start to glow in their place, 
producing a “nightfall” completely different from the surface. 

We’re on the Dungeon’s eighteenth floor, the Under Resort. 

“Night” falls on the safe point the moment we arrive. 

We traveled through the upper levels and middle levels at high speed while 
making sure to keep Wiene out of harm’s way. I think we pulled it off only 
because we used magic and items like there was no tomorrow. Then again, part 
of it could be due to our familiarity with the floors down to the eighteenth and 
knowing the quickest routes. It also helped that Goliath wasn’t there. 

We went straight north from the southern tunnel to the seventeenth floor, 
heading directly toward the massive tree in the center. 

Many magic-stone lamps sparkle from atop the island in the middle of the 
lake off to our left, but we ignore them. A quick stop in Rivira isn’t part of the 
plan. We’re going straight down to the twentieth. 

A few isolated encounters with small groups of monsters are all the resistance 
we find. We breeze to the middle ground and find the gateway to the nineteenth 
floor among the roots of the Central Tree. 

“Now for the hard part.” 

“Indeed. I passed through here once for the quest on the day we met Lady 
Wiene, but...” 

Wiene inclines her head toward Welf and Mikoto’s conversation. 

We can’t help but smile as we take our first and only planned rest. 

I doubt we’ll get a chance to catch our breath the rest of the way. Finding a 
secluded spot close to the entrance, we all try to replenish the energy we 
expended getting down here so quickly. 

The enormous tree’s roots surround us like a horseshoe, and we’re hidden 

safely in a hollow in its trunk. Thankfully, no one is going into or coming out of 
the nineteenth floor, since it’s “night” down here. 

Because hellhounds are no longer a threat, Welf, Mikoto, and I remove our 
salamander-wool cloaks. I feel lighter already. 

Not only that, the cool night breeze feels amazing. 

“Lilly, about the stink bombs...” 

“Yes, our supply is limited. Lilly would like to save as many as possible for 
our return journey. Of course, they’re an option in an emergency, but...” 

Lilly answers my question while dropping her backpack down on the grass. 

Our party will be in even worse shape on the return trip, so saving as many 
Malboro stink bombs as possible makes sense. I also understand that it’s 
impossible to avoid every battle. 

Lilly’s backpack is so full of weapons and items that it’s practically bursting 
at the seams. The pieces of equipment that didn’t fit inside clatter against one 
another as she riffles through the pack to make sure everything is in order. I 
watch her out of the corner of my eye, but the trip home is the last thing on my 
mind. It’s the mission that’s important right now. 

“Sir Welf, how many magic swords are in our possession...?” 

“Three. Li’l E, don’t go wasting yours, all right?” 

“Lilly knows already!” 

Welf answers Mikoto’s question before shooting a quick warning in Lilly’s 

Our party brought along three Crozzo Magic Swords. Two of them are the 
size of daggers and are meant to help protect the rear of our formation. Welf has 
the third one, a much larger weapon strapped to his back alongside his 
greatsword. Welf makes magic swords in advance to help out during our regular 
trips to the Dungeon. This time, we brought every single one he had. 

Without a magic user to balance our party, I hope we can compensate for our 
lack of firepower with these... 

.. .But when push comes to shove... 

It all comes down to an adventurer’s strengths, what each of us can do. 

Weapons and items lend us their power, that’s all. We’re going to need quick 
wits and teamwork to make it through the truly difficult situations. 

The bowels of this merciless Dungeon are going to test our mettle as a party. 

I don’t know what’s going to happen...but I can’t forget where my trust 

“We should probably get moving.” 

I talk to the group after about thirty minutes of rest. 

As I down the last of the potion in my hand, we walk to the tunnel entrance 
as one. 

Tree roots carpet the tunnel floor, forming a stairwell. A single moss-covered 
path reveals itself to us as soon as we reach the bottom. This is the Colossal Tree 

“Lady Haruhime, if you will.” 


Haruhime begins casting at Mikoto’s behest. 

It’s important that no one else sees her use sorcery. We split up to keep an eye 
on the path in front and behind as Haruhime’s beautiful voice echoes around us. 

“—Uchide no Kozuchi.” 

Sorcery is a kind of magic that only renarts can use—this one allows 
Haruhime to trigger her Level Boost skill. 

A hammer appears out of swirling magic energy, coming down on top of 
Welf at the head of our formation and enveloping him in light. 

“Good to go!” Welf says as he pumps his fist; sparkles glisten around his 

“So pretty...You’re amazing, Haruhime!” 

“N-not at all.. .This is the most I can do to contribute.. A” 

Wiene has never seen Haruhime’s Magic before, and the spell’s glow 
twinkles in her eyes. 

Haruhime constantly casting Level Boost is our key to progressing deeper 
into the Colossal Tree Labyrinth. Being on the front lines, Welf must constantly 
engage monsters in combat. The stronger he is, the better our chances. 

We’ve done some experimenting with Uchide no Kozuchi and learned it can 
last for fifteen minutes—as long as Haruhime puts enough Mind into it. After the 
spell runs its course, she’ll have to cast it again. We need to be constantly aware 
of the remaining time and rely on Haruhime to maintain the effect. 

“Drink a magic potion while you’ve got the chance,” Welf insists. Haruhime 
responds immediately, saying, “Yes, right away!” Uchide no Kozuchi requires a 
lot of energy, so it’s better to be on the safe side. 

Bringing the vial to her lips, Haruhime downs half the potion. 

“Good, now we should be all set—Huh? Hey, Li’l E? What are you doing?” 

“Just in case.” 

Welf turns around to face us, raring to go, when he spots Lilly standing next 
to the Dungeon wall. Scrape, scrape. 

Using one hand, she is sliding a small knife under the moss growing on its 

This plant—often called Lamp Moss—is the only source of light on this 
floor. Is she collecting some? 

“Lady Lilly, are you...? Surely you aren’t planning to sell that on the 

“Are you so concerned with our familia’s finances that you must take 
measures even at times like this?” 

“Of course not! Lilly knows there is a time and a place!!” 

The combination of Mikoto’s groan of disbelief and Haruhime’s genuine 
surprise draws a snappish retort from Lilly, her face suddenly bright red. 

Well, I’ve heard that Lamp Moss sells for about the same price as the crystals 
from the eighteenth floor, but... 

I want to believe that Lilly has something else in mind. 

“There’s no pleasing some people...Lilly’s finished. Let’s go.” 

Gathering the Lamp Moss in a small pouch and pulling the drawstring shut, 
Lilly tucks it into her robe. 

Welf and I nod to each other as she stands up. It’s time to press on. 


“Miss Wiene, please stay in formation. You don’t need to worry about Mr. 

Lilly gives Wiene a sharp warning from a different part of our formation, 
though her voice is dampened by the moss and tree bark covering the walls 
around us. 

Welf and I lead the formation, a simple column with no middle rank, where 
Lilly, Haruhime, and Wiene bring up the rear. Mikoto is at the tail end. 

Normally, Mikoto would be occupying the middle, but this floor is filled with 
monsters we’ve never encountered before. Yatano Black Crow won’t fully 
protect us from those monsters, so she’s in the back to respond to ambushes as 
quickly as possible. That way, Lilly can immediately provide her with whatever 
weapon she needs. Although Mikoto prefers to fight with a katana, she’s just as 
good with a bow and arrow. Her ability to adjust to any situation and any 
position has often proved invaluable. 

Lilly and Haruhime serve as our middle ranks in the formation, providing 
support with fresh weapons and items as necessary and, of course, Haruhime’s 
Level Boost. Despite nominally being the weakest among us, they are the party’s 
core. With Wiene between them, I can’t allow any attacks to get through. 

As the only Level 3 adventurers, Welf and I have the most difficult job— 
engaging monsters head-on or breaking past them. 

All this is to protect the one at the very center of our party: Wiene. 


“I know.” 

Welf whispers to me, the lights surrounding him catching the corner of my 
eye. I keep my gaze trained on the path and nod. 

Several enemies are already lurking in the darkness ahead of us. I bet we’ve 
got only ten seconds or so before they show themselves, so I tighten my grip on 
the Hestia Knife and Ushiwakamaru-Nishiki. 

...Focus on what’s important. No matter what shows up, I will protect Wiene. 

A quick glance over my shoulder and I make eye contact with her. Her 
anxiety is written all over her face. 

—What if the monsters we encounter start talking just like her? 

—What if they possess the same feelings we do and can shed tears just like 

I tamp down those questions with the determination coursing through my 
mind. Those excuses that once held me back are gone. 

My heart is set; my eyes are focused. I am determined. 

Ready for battle, our party ventures deeper into the expansive wooden 

Clouds passed in front of the moon high in the night sky. 

Hestia looked up at the lines of gray clouds traveling across the heavens as 
she crossed the city streets. Her familia had just ventured into the Dungeon, their 
mission under way. 

The date might have changed, but the few people still in the bars and 
restaurants along Northwest Main Street—Adventurers Way—were still loud 
enough to be heard. Hestia traveled among flickering pockets of light around the 
magic-stone lamps, catching bits and pieces of their conversations as she passed 


“Fourth block of the seventh district.” That was the address on the document 
that detailed her familia’s mission and where she was supposed to wait. 

In truth, the place she once called home, the “hidden room under the church,” 

was in the same neighborhood. 

Simply put, it was inside a poor residential area. 

« 55 

Hestia arrived at the location and examined her surroundings. 

With no streetlamps, the clouds in the sky hampered what little moonlight 
reached the dim alleyway. Hardly a sound came from the houses that lined the 
narrow street, almost as if no one lived there. The only identification she could 
find was a sign that read Fourth Block nailed to a wooden stake at the corner. 

Everything about this dark street gave her the sense that something was about 
to appear. 

—And she was right. 

“.. .1 suppose it would be foolish to ask where you came from?” 

A ripple passed through the darkness on the other side of the street as a figure 
silently entered her line of sight. 

The mysterious, human-shaped shadow was swathed entirely in black. 

The figure came to a stop about five meders away from Hestia, midnight- 
colored gloves creaking at its sides as the person flexed their fingers. 

Hestia forced herself to smile at this person’s unexpected arrival and slightly 
unnerving aura. The corners of her mouth curled upward. 

“It is an honor to make your acquaintance, Goddess Hestia. Thank you for 
traveling all this way.” 

“The pleasure’s all mine. So, mind telling me who you are?” 

The black-robed figure’s voice was so indistinctive that it was impossible to 
discern the gender of its owner. 

Was the cloak that masked his or her identity a way to counter deities, who 
could see through the lies of those who lived in the mortal realm? 

Hestia’s eyes narrowed as she carefully observed this newcomer. There was 
nothing to suggest anything about their identity as she pressed for answers. 

“You don’t strike me as a Guild employee. So why would you drag me all the 
way out here—” 

Hestia held up the mission document in one hand as she spoke, waving it 
from side to side before words suddenly left her. 

She froze in stunned silence. 

Divine eyes quivering, she peered deep into the darkness under the figure’s 

“Are you really one of our children...a human? Something tells me you 


“...My, my. No disguise can truly fool a deity.” 

The robe shifted as if its wearer was laughing drily at Hestia’s dumbfounded 

The hooded figure’s leisurely demeanor was in stark contrast to the trembling 
goddess’s forced calm. 

“What in the world are you...?” 

“I would be more than happy to answer that and any other questions you 
have. However...” 

The hooded figure raised its gaze to a spot well behind Hestia, the top of a 
nearby building. 

“’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation while being targeted .” 

Hestia’s eyes flew open. With those words, the hooded figure spread both 
arms slightly. 

“I suggest a change of scenery.” 

Thick black fumes poured from the robe’s sleeves a heartbeat later. 

“—Asmoke screen!” 

Miach leaned in for a closer look. 

He was on the roof of a building overlooking the fourth block of Orario’s 
seventh district. At the handsome deity’s side was an equally surprised 
chienthrope, Nahza, her longbow set and arrow nocked, who also watched in 

Hestia had requested their “protection” only a few hours earlier during the 
previous day’s evening. The goddess came to Miach and his followers after her 
own children were assigned their mission. She told him that the same message 
had summoned her to that spot. 

Since Hestia had personally come to his home on her own, Miach accepted 
her request. He told his followers that it was a mission from the Guild but kept 
the information about talking monsters a secret from them. 

Nahza, Daphne, and Cassandra had taken up positions around the appointed 
meeting place and watched over Hestia from afar. If the goddess ever appeared 
to be in danger, Nahza would use her Sniper skills to eliminate the threat. She 
had been standing by, ready to loose an arrow at the first hint of suspicious 


Nahza, eyes trembling, was stunned that the mysterious hooded figure was 
able to sense her. 

The ever-expanding cloud obscured Hestia in a matter of moments and 
blocked the entire alley from view. Miach watched the smoke screen—no, the 
black fog—inundate the area from his perch on the roof. 

He could also see the other deities who had answered Hestia’s call for help— 
Hephaistos, and Takemikazuchi with his familia—dart out from their hiding 
places...However, the alley was empty by the time the haze lifted. 

The hooded figure and Hestia were gone. 

“Lord Miach!” 

“.. .They saw right through our plan.” 

Miach donned a sour expression as Nahza raised her head toward him from 
her kneeling position on the rooftop. 

With Hestia gone, regret overwhelmed him. 

“O-ooooh! That was the ghost! The ghost, Daphne...!” 

“Ghost? The heck is that?” 

“A black shadow that patrols the halls of the Guild Headquarters in the dead 
of night...! The spirit of an adventurer killed by a monster long ago, unable to 
pass on...!!” 

“Let me guess, another dream of yours? Like I’m going to believe that.” 

“N-no, it’s nooot! I didn’t dream it! My old adviser at the Guild, Misha, told 
me about it...!” 

“Quiet down, you two!” 

The bickering of Miach Familia’s new additions irritated Nahza, who was 
well within earshot. 

Miach took a deep breath before issuing orders to his followers. 

“We’re going. Staying here any longer would be pointless. For starters, we 
need to meet up with Hephaistos and the others.” 

Nahza, Daphne, and Cassandra nodded before taking their leave. 

Miach was about to join them, but he cast his gaze over the deserted alley 
once more and watched the last of the fog evaporate. 


More clouds rolled in overhead, completely blocking the moon from view. 



Welf roared as he brought his greatsword down on top of the mad beetle, 

cleaving it in two. 

No sooner did the bug monster fall in a spray of blood than a new monster 
trampled the corpse to take its place in the front line. 

It was a fierce battle. 

Bell’s party encountered a mob of particularly aggressive monsters in a room 
located along the main route through the nineteenth floor. 



In addition to mad beetles, Welf sliced into waves of bugbears on the ground 
as several gun libellulas swarmed overhead. 

A monster fell with each swing of his greatsword: instant kills. 

There were no exceptions. Haruhime’s Level Boost gave Welf Level 3 
strength and speed, allowing him to send enemies flying with ease. His thick 
blade tore through their bodies with no room for resistance. Filling the dual role 
of attacker and wall, the High Smith single-handedly stopped the horde in its 


Meanwhile, Bell engaged the monsters at an even faster pace, leaving a trail 
of corpses behind him. 

Arcs of violet and crimson light cut through the air and vanished. With 
movements surpassing those of a normal attacker, more on par with finishers, 
Bell fought side by side with Welf to reduce their enemies one by one. 

After sending a bugbear flying with a single spinning kick, Bell unleashed an 
electrifying inferno into the air. 


The gun libellulas unfortunate enough to be directly in the spell’s line of fire 
were incinerated on the spot. Others in the area of effect caught fire from the 
intense heat and crashed to the ground. 

The surviving aerial enemies came around for another pass. 

Bang! Bang! The monsters launched a volley of the metal projectiles that 
grew naturally inside their bodies. 

Bell dodged the first round before using his Swift-Strike Magic to 
counterattack. Although he kept an eye on Welf’s battle with the mad beetles and 
bugbears, Bell prioritized the dragonfly monsters because of their long-distance 

Lilly, Haruhime, and Wiene crouched down in a tight circle behind Welf and 
Bell, who stood on the front line. Lilly’s and Haruhime’s Goliath Robes 

deflected every one of the missiles but did little to protect them from the 
impacts. Gritting their teeth, the two desperately held their ground to avoid 
getting knocked down. 

Their party had never experienced simultaneous ground and air attacks of this 
magnitude on previous levels in the Dungeon. 

Mikoto stood farther behind them, providing cover fire with a bow. Her main 
objective might have been to protect the supporters, but she also found time to 
assist Bell and Welf from the rear ranks. 

...Wiene! They’re going after her! 

The metallic rounds descended on them like rain. However, it was easy to see 
that most were aimed in Wiene’s direction. 

Cold sweat rolled down Bell’s face. 

Monsters, not much different from Wiene, pursued her with the same 
murderous intention as people above. It wasn’t just the howling bugbears that 
had her in their sights, but the mad beetles’ and gun libellulas’ insect-like, 
multifaceted eyes were clearly focused on the vouivre girl. 

The gun libellulas launched another volley. Wiene’s amber eyes trembled as 
she watched from beneath Haruhime’s embrace the missiles intended to kill zip 
toward her. 

Bell flipped through the air, landing in front of her like a knight to the rescue, 
and knocked down each of the projectiles with his knives. 

“Miss Mikoto, how many are there?” 

Assisting the front lines with her handheld bow gun, Lilly called out when 
she realized the enemy numbers weren’t diminishing. 

Mikoto responded with an equally panicked yell after puncturing a mad 
beetle’s head with an arrow. 

“Seventeen, no nineteen—it’s still rising!!” 

Now that Mikoto had fought these monsters, Yatano Black Crow told her that 
their relentless foes were about to receive reinforcements. 

Sure enough, more of the creatures poured through the entrance on the other 
side of the room. 

“Ngh...I’m using it!!” 

Lilly watched as Bell and Welf took down monster after monster without 
making a dent before she reached to her belt and withdrew a golden dagger—a 
magic sword. 

The two young men immediately jumped away as soon as her voice reached 
their ears. Her path clear, Lilly brought the blade straight down with all her 

might. A stream of energy burst from its tip. 

The electrical blast cut a straight line across the battlefield toward the 
entrance on the opposite side of the room. Every fiend in its way burst into 
crackling flame, bringing the fight to a swift end. 

A boom exploded within the room a second later as though the intense blast 
of energy had collided with a wall farther down the passageway. 

u | » 

Crack! Not even a moment later— 

The yellow blade shattered. 

Several hours had passed since they set foot on the nineteenth floor. The 
monsters they’d encountered were so strong that the group had been forced to 
use the magic weapon several times just to keep going forward. 

It had reached its limit. Golden shards fell from Lilly’s grasp. 

“It gave out...Guess we relied on it a bit too much.” 

“But just now...!” 

“I know. We needed it.. .but it just wasn’t strong enough.” 

Several emotions crossed Welf’s face as he looked at the remains of his 
handiwork and stopped Lilly’s counterargument by raising his hand. 

While it was true that Crozzo Magic Swords were extremely powerful, the 
blades themselves were actually rather frail. 

“This is my problem,” Welf bluntly stated, caught between his skills as a 
magic-sword maker and his pride as a smith. 

At any rate, the battle was finally over. 

“Bell, is everyone okay?” 

“Yep, I’m fine. Didn’t get hurt.” 

“But currently there are only two of Welf’s magic swords remaining...Lady 
Lilly, what is our location?” 

“We have pressed past more than half of this area. The twentieth floor is 

Wiene bounded up to Bell, her salamander-wool cloak flapping behind her 
like a flag on a windy day, with a big smile on her face. At the same time, 
Mikoto approached Lilly for an update on their location. 

Pulling out a map of the floor, Lilly pointed to a spot about three-fourths of 
the way down the main route. One of their three magic swords was gone, and 
they had consumed far more potions and magic potions than expected. However, 
the rest of their weapons were still intact and in good working order. Leaving 
their item situation aside, the party remained on track. 

The group paused for only a moment to share the update before moving on to 
their next task. 

Lilly instructed everyone to gather the loot scattered about the battlefield. 

“Again, please don’t leave behind a single magic stone. Bad things will 
happen should a monster find and eat one. Take any drop items that will fit.. .As 
for the larger ones, we have no choice but to throw them into thicker grass.” 


“I’ll help, too.” 

Lilly issued the orders to make sure that their secret mission remained a 
secret by covering their tracks. The fighters and Wiene helped the supporters 
finish the job before pressing forward. 

“I’m just gonna put this out there. I know that the monsters here are stronger 
and there’s a higher encounter rate, but.. .Bell and I didn’t run into this many last 
time. Or is it just my imagination?” 

“That’s probably because there aren’t as many other adventurers. More than 
likely, there’s nothing else to distract the monsters from us.” 

Consecutive battles were unavoidable, but the numbers were staggering. Lilly 
tried to offer an answer to Welf’s doubts. 

There were many reasons—one being that suspicious adventurers often 
flocked to this floor—but very few parties passed through during the night and 
early morning hours. Even adventurers who used Rivira as a base camp 
preferred to avoid operating during this time of day. Lilly explained how hungry 
monsters would gather from far and wide when prey was scarce. 

U 55 

“Lady Wiene?” 

“This place is.. .familiar.. .but scary.. .and cold.” 

The vouivre timidly wrapped her arms around her body as she scanned the 
Colossal Tree Labyrinth. 

Haruhime wasn’t faring much better, fox ears and tail visibly shaking. Even 
so, seeing Wiene so afraid was worse. Putting on a brave face, she reached out 
and held the girl’s hand. 

Bell glanced at the girls in the center of the formation before resuming his 
constant vigil. Mikoto, who had slain the many types of monsters they had 
encountered thus far, never forgot to activate her Skill periodically as they 
advanced. Lilly and Welf were just as quiet as the rest of the party, inspecting the 
walls around them as if the bark might crack open at any second to reveal 
another wave of monsters. 

The ceilings inside this sylvan domain were surprisingly high, and small 
hollows dotted the walls. While birds or small animals might have called these 
alcoves home on the surface, they were the perfect places for monsters to stage 
an ambush. Clusters of plants indigenous to these floors popped up all over the 
place, fascinating the adventurers who passed through. 

Bizarre mushrooms with red and blue spots, grasses with golden thistles 
sprouting like cotton, and an astounding amount of vines hanging off the walls 
like snakes filled the passageways. Bell caught a glimpse of a dead-end room 
with beds of silver flowers, and it was so beautiful that he would have loved to 
paint the scene if he had the talent. 

Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the next encounter. These 
moments of peace were just the calm before the storm, so they stayed in tight 
formation and gained as much ground as possible. 

...We’re still being watched. And... 

There were more of them. 

Bell studied the surrounding fauna, his head on a swivel, as goose bumps 
broke out along his skin. 

Had the unknown watchers from aboveground followed them this far? 

There were more of them here on the nineteenth floor. Of that he was certain. 

The hollow alcoves above his head, the treelike network of branching paths, 
the dark spaces behind massive leaves—Bell’s gaze traveled from one suspicious 
spot to another, seaching for any movement in the shadows. While he saw 
nothing, he knew their observers were concealing their presence somewhere 

Just who were they? What were they trying to do? 

The ominous air made Bell’s heart beat a little harder. 

His shallow breaths quickening and dread saturating his veins, Bell knew he 
had no choice but to keep pressing forward. 

He tightened his grip on the Hestia Knife in his right hand. 


Without warning— 

An unexpected obstacle halted the party’s considerable progress. 

It completely blocked their path. Confusion ran rampant through the group at 
the very sight of it. 

They came to a stop in front of a motionless wall of mushrooms. 

“No way forward...” 

“A-are we going the right way?” 

“Hey, Li’l E, what gives?” 

“P-please wait a moment. This shouldn’t...” 

Stretching from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, a colony of gigantic 
mushrooms sealed off the route. 

A silent barrier of red- and blue-polka-dotted mushrooms stood in their way. 

Mikoto and Haruhime voiced their disappointment at reaching a dead end. 
Lilly defended herself from Welf’s frustration as she pulled out the map and 
opened it for a closer look. 

“This is... weird.” 

Welf sniffed and grumbled under his breath. 

An inexplicable feeling of recognition overtook Bell upon hearing those 

And he realized immediately why those warning bells were ringing in his 

However, this was more than a sense that something was off or baseless deja 

It was the knowledge of the lessons drilled into his head by a certain half-elf 
“older sister” of his. 

If you think you’re in trouble — it’s already too late. 

Many of the gigantic mushrooms making up the colony opened slits that 
looked remarkably like eyes beneath their large umbrellas. 

u >> 

Dropping the act, the mushrooms of many sizes revealed their dark-purple 
bodies at once and moved as a unit. 

“It’s not a wall—they’re dark fungi!!” 

A wave of cold fear swept through the party as Lilly screamed loud enough to 
injure her throat. 

Dark fungi. 

The mushroom-like monsters had evaded Mikoto’s Skill due to the fact that 
she had zero experience dealing with them. These monsters preferred to wait for 
prey to come to them, hiding among the gigantic fungi that naturally clustered 
together inside the Dungeon. 

Just as infamous as the many species of insect monsters inhabiting the 
Colossal Tree Labyrinth, these creatures produced enormous clouds of 
poisonous gas. 


The mushroom caps swelled right before their eyes. 

Their clouds of toxic spores made the purple moths’ poisonous pollen in the 
upper levels look like child’s play. It was potent enough to inflict Status ailments 
on contact and could even bring large-category monsters to their knees with little 

A series of explosions rang out a second later as the fiends expelled their gas. 

It was too late for Lilly and the others to get out of range as the purple clouds 
flooded into their path. 

In the same instant— 


—Bell made his move. 

As the only one equipped with Eina’s lessons, it was up to him to keep the 
venomous clouds at bay. 

Nine bursts of electrifying flames burned through the cloud. As waves of 
extreme heat surged through the dense mass of spores like a tsunami, the Swift- 
Strike Magic slammed into the colony of dark fungi directly behind it. 

The purple clouds that threatened to engulf the party went up in smoke. 

^ ^ r*j r^j r^j | ^ 

Susceptible to fire, the mushroom monsters writhed in pain as they perished 
in the flames. 

The conflagration engulfed fungus after fungus, and even the actual gigantic 
mushrooms ignited to become towering torches in the passageway. 

Bell’s quick reaction bought Lilly and the others time to escape the edges of 
the poisonous gas cloud even as bits of the spore cloud burned in midair—but 
the Dungeon wouldn’t allow them to escape so easily. 

A dark shadow suddenly appeared on the other side of the inferno, and a 
colossal boar burst through a moment later. 

“Abattle boar?!” 

Nearly two meders tall, this was truly a large-category monster. 

The wall of flames parted in its wake as the monster charged through with 
sheer brute strength. Its eyes locked on the adventurers, and its fur bristled. 

It wasn’t alone, merely leading the charge of its peers. It roared at the top of 
its lungs as a swarm of bugbears and other monsters followed it through the 

“Damn it!!” 

Welf planted his foot on the ground and charged back into the poisonous 
purple haze. 

Casting aside his greatsword, he grabbed the large shield hanging from 
Lilly’s backpack on the way. 

He held it directly into the boar’s path to protect his friends. 



The silver shield, forged by his own hands, collided with the monstrous boar. 

Only with the strength granted to him by Haruhime’s Level Boost did Welf, 
twinkling lights still hovering around his body, manage to stay on his feet and 
absorb a blow that would have sent many upper-class adventurers skyward. 
Digging in his heels, he lost only a few steps’ worth of ground before bringing 
the monster to a complete stop. 

That was when Mikoto rushed into action. 


Jumping clear over Welf’s head, she drew Chizan, one half of a set of twin 
daggers that she always kept on her person, and drove it into the monster’s neck 
from above. 

It was a clean strike, sending a gush of blood into the air, but it was not 
enough to behead the battle boar. Mikoto carved several more slashes into its 
hulking body as she spun through the air. The monster collapsed to the ground at 
the same moment the blood-spattered girl landed at its side. 


Bell dashed by the boar’s body and straight into the oncoming rush behind it. 

He brandished his double knives—a flash of violet light slashed through a 
bugbear’s neck, sending its head tumbling through the air, as a crimson streak 
rode the momentum to strike another monster down in the same moment. Bell’s 
trademark agility caught the oncoming horde by surprise; they were powerless 
before him as he drew them into the fray. 

He tore into the bugbears, slaughtering them one by one as Welf and Mikoto 
arrived with bigger blades, greatsword and katana; the three of them joined 
forces to take care of the rest. 

“Haa, haa...!” 

Bell slew the last monster as the combat came to an end. 

The three humans struggled to catch their breath, faces illuminated by the 
burning mushrooms. 

Haruhime gawked at the piles of corpses surrounding them and was about to 
msh to her companions’ aid when Lilly grabbed hold of her wrist. “It’s not safe 
yet,” said the prum, her eyes following the last wispy trails of poisonous spore 


“Sorry, but could a guy get an antidote...?” 

“Y-yes, right away!” 

Welf groaned as he staggered his way back to the supporters, skin glistening 
with sweat. 

Haruhime quickly retrieved a vial of green liquid and handed it to him. 
Inhaling the toxic spores inside the purple cloud had poisoned Welf. He downed 
the concoction in one gulp. 

“Seriously, Bell roasted most of them, and I still got hit...Guess this means 
upper-class adventurers can’t just blindly charge in and hope for the best.” 

“Consider yourself lucky. There are worse cases of poisoning, and those take 
much longer to recover from...” 

Lilly continued by explaining how the unlucky ones would have died on the 
spot and rummaged through her backpack as Welf’s breathing returned to 
normal. Pulling out a few items, she turned to the others. 

“Mr. Bell, Miss Mikoto, how are you feeling...?” 

“It hurts, but I can stand up...” 

“Everything feels heavy, no energy.” 

Mikoto and Bell returned to the supporters, their faces off-color. 

Unlike Welf, the two of them both possessed the Advanced Ability Immunity. 
However, it wasn’t effective enough to completely nullify the poison yet, and 
they became painfully aware of the dark-fungus spore cloud’s potency. 

Sharp claws and fangs weren’t the only things adventurers had to worry 
about in the Colossal Tree Labyrinth. 

“Lady Wiene.. .You look perfectly normal.” 

“...? I’m fine.” 

Being a type of dragon and born in the middle levels, Wiene must have been 
born with a high resistance to Status ailments. All the adventurers were looking 
at her with concern, but she couldn’t understand why. 

Lilly sighed before instructing Haruhime to drink an antidote, just to be on 
the safe side, and then followed suit. 

“Lady Mikoto, Master Bell, what will you do...?” 

“Conservation is of the utmost importance. Sir Bell and I will share one.” 

Living in poverty as a member of Takemikazuchi Familia for so long had 
taught her to scrimp and save whenever possible. Mikoto didn’t give it a second 
thought when answering Haruhime’s question. 

Bell took the antidote—stamped with Miach Familia’s emblem—from 

Haruhime and said, “I-in that case...” After drinking half of it, he handed the 
bottle to Mikoto. 

Her heart skipped a beat. With the half-empty vessel in her hands, the 
realization that Bell had just drunk from it shot through her like lightning. She 
stared at it for a moment before her face became bright red. Only then did it hit 
Haruhime, fox ears standing up straight as she quickly covered her eyes. 

“One, two, and...” Mikoto whispered to herself, cheeks still flushed, before 
drinking the rest. 

Even Bell started blushing. A cunning strategy .. .Lilly thought to herself, fists 
clenching as she watched with jealousy in her eyes. 

u » 

Then, once everyone had recovered... 

Wiene’s ears started twitching. 

“I hear.. .something.” 

“You do?” 

Wiene turned, her elfish tapered ears guiding her. 

Their surroundings were quiet. Bell followed the girl’s gaze down the path 
from which they had come. There was nothing out of the ordinary. 

Welf and the others started to wonder if something was wrong with Wiene 


“I hear it as well...” 

Bell and Mikoto definitely sensed it. 

A strange sound. 

One that they hadn’t yet encountered during their time on this floor. 

Wiene possessed enhanced monster senses, far superior to the adventurers’. 
Fear flashed across her face—an omen of what was to come. The vouivre girl 
took a step back. 

“Are those wings? No, not quite...” 

It wasn’t the telltale signs of other adventurers locked in combat, nor was it a 
monster’s howl. 

The unusual sound reached Lilly’s ears. She, too, thought it was the flapping 
wings of a bird at first, but it was too metallic. A bead of sweat rolled down her 
neck. She adjusted the straps of her backpack as Welf lifted his greatsword into a 
defensive position. 

The peculiar noise grew louder. 

Something was approaching along the path. 

The entire party took a few steps back as the ominous tension became too 
much to bear. 

When their nerves had been wound tighter than a bowstring—the sound’s 
source revealed itself. 

“Are those...bees...?” 

Haruhime asked her question in a shaky voice as black shadows began to 
appear at the very edge of her vision. 

Their insect-like bodies were covered in thick black plates resembling armor. 
Angular and menacing, each shadow was as tall as an adult human. Pincers 
shaped like scissors jutted from their jaws, but the adventurers were more 
concerned about the other end—a poisonous stinger shaped like a pike. 

“.. .Deadly hornets.” 

Bell turned pale as he said the species’s name. 

They normally appeared on the twenty-second floor and below as one of the 
monsters that prevented third-tier and second-tier adventurers from advancing 
into the deep levels. 

Its fearsome pincers were one thing, but the deadly hornet’s stinger was 
powerful enough to pierce heavy armor and even kill Level 2 adventurers in one 
thrust. Those who survived its sting usually succumbed to blood loss soon after. 
With armor strong enough to deflect attacks that didn’t land just right, they were 
like killer ants with wings. 

Killer ants were known as “novice killers” in the Dungeon’s upper levels; in 
the same vein, deadly hornets had a nickname of their own: “upper-class killer 

Each of the lethal monsters was equipped with four wings, two on each side. 
More and more shadows emerged, their number surpassing twenty. 


Welf’s scream was the signal. 

The whole party turned their backs on the deadly hornets and took off as fast 
as their legs could carry them. 

“Hornets—really, really big hornets!! And too many to count!” 

“Please stay focused, Lady Haruhime!!” 

“Bell, I’m scared!” 

“So ami!!” 

Racing past what was left of the gigantic poisonous mushroom colony, the 
party sprinted down the middle of the wide main path. 

The screams of the terrified adventurers joined the near-deafening buzz of 

their deadly insectile pursuers as they fled. Many had painful memories 
involving bees, such as a grandfather drawing off a swarm to help him escape or 
the searing pain in her tail when she had been stung at her family’s home, but 
nothing compared to this very moment. 

If the hornets caught up, they would be impaled before those massive pincers 
devoured them. 

Bell’s party raced across the wooden ground, their bodies soaked with sweat. 

“Why do deadly hornets have to show up now of all times?!” 

“This ain’t a time for questions, Li’l E! Run for your life!!” 


Lilly screamed, lamenting the Irregular that had ascended several floors to 
meet them. Welf howled back, greatsword resting on his shoulder. 

The supporters were the slowest members of the party, and the others had no 
choice but to keep the same pace. Lilly and Haruhime were going as fast as they 
absolutely could. 

“...I’ll slow them down with Magic!” 

“No, Bell! It won’t work!” 

The insects were too fast. A ranged attack would never land against monsters 
that could move so freely. 

In this wide and cavernous passageway, taking down any one of the 
extremely agile deadly hornets with Lirebolt while on the run would be next to 
impossible. What was worse was that magic swords weren’t an option because 
there was too much space overhead, nearly ten meders. They could easily dodge 
the blast. 

But above all else, there were too many. 

Welf yelled out that it would be like trying to empty an ocean with a bucket. 

“And we do not have time for that...!” 

((| » 

Mikoto screamed as she saw something farther down the passageway. Bell’s 
head whipped around, his eyes going wide. 

Dark shadows shaped like mad beetles slid over the walls up ahead, right in 
their path. Mikoto and Bell sped up, their faces contorted in desperation. 

It was up to them to eliminate the obstacles and clear the way for the rest of 
the party. 

“Hah! Haa, haa...!” 

Run. Run. Run. 

Their formation was in shambles. Welf was in the back, furiously pumping 

his arms and legs. 

The supporters raced past the corpses Mikoto and Bell left in their wake, 
sprinting deeper and deeper into the Dungeon. 

Their lungs burned as their ragged breaths echoed through the hall. Their 
pursuers were gaining; the swarm wasn’t going to let them escape. 

“Lilly, what’s up ahead?” 

“This is a straight path to the twentieth floor! Should be almost there...!” 

Bell slipped under a bugbear’s claws, his counterattack slicing the creature in 
half as Lilly’s desperate, almost pleading voice reached his ears. 

The party ran through the curving path and, just as Lilly had predicted, they 
spotted a large hollow alcove at the other end. 

It was the entrance to the next floor. 

Their goal suddenly in sight, everyone’s eyes flashed as they dashed toward 
the hole with even more vigor. 



u _ » 

Crack! Crack! 

The sounds were coming from their destination as well as the walls on both 
sides of the path. A mere fifty meders stood between them and the entrance, but 
ominous cracks spread out like spiderwebs. Their environment was crumbling 
before their very eyes. 

The party fell into stunned silence as a massive horde of monsters was born 
simultaneously in the passageway. 

A monster party. 

The most underhanded of all Dungeon gimmicks. 

Mikoto reflexively triggered Yatano Black Crow. Forty-four enemies. 

Mad beetles, bugbears, gun libellulas, dark fungi, battle boars—a nightmarish 
parade was advancing toward them. 

They were trapped in a pincer attack from ahead and behind. The Dungeon 
had bared its fangs yet again, sending the adventurers into the deepest pits of 


Wiene’s face froze in fear, the deadly appendages reflected in her eyes. 

The rest of the party wasn’t faring much better, terror threatening to overtake 

That’s when— 


Welf didn’t let it happen. 

He screamed at his allies, ordering them forward just as they started to slow 

Bell, Mikoto, and the rest decided to put their faith in the voice urging them 
from behind. 

Kicking at the ground, they sped up. 

Right into the jaws of the ferocious beasts roaring in their path. 


Welf sheathed his greatsword and jumped into the air. 

With a clear view over his allies’ heads, he grabbed a longsword’s hilt with 
his right hand—removing the magic weapon from the other sheath strapped to 
his shoulder. 

He brought the crimson blade down in one swift motion. 


Roaring flames. 

The magic sword came to life in response to its creator’s call with a burning 
howl of its own. 

Torrents of flames crashed into the monsters barring their path. Even their 
dying howls of agony couldn’t escape the inferno. 

The rest of the party watched in awe, their eyes opening as wide as they 

Their path had been transformed into a smoldering gorge. 

The Dungeon itself seemed to scream out in pain, the magic sword’s 
overwhelming power incinerating the walls and ceiling and every plant in its 

Bell led the party straight into the charred wasteland at full speed. Enduring 
the heat and holding their breath to avoid burning their throats, they raced 
through the passageway’s charred remains. 

At the same time, a crick! sounded from the magic sword. 

Releasing that much energy at once took its toll on the weapon. Cracks 
appeared along the blade, now close to its limit. 

“Come on, buddy, hang in there...!” 

Welf called out to the sword in his hand, fearing the worst. 

Even as it started disintegrating, the magic sword continued to glow as if to 

reassure its wielder that it would fight to the end. 


The swarm of deadly hornets closed in. 

There was almost no space left between them. The closest ones flapped their 
wings at a frantic pace, the echoes reaching a crescendo as if building suspense 
before the kill. 

Their prey was in range—the fleeing adventurers right in front of them. They 
raised their stingers. 


In that moment, Mikoto leaped off the ground. 

The farthest ahead, she dove the final four meders and landed inside the hole. 

Bell, Lilly, Haruhime, and Wiene were right behind her, jumping through the 
threshold one after another. 

As his companions bounded down the stairwell composed of tree roots, Welf 
made it inside. 

“Of course you’d follow! Take this...!” 

The deadly hornets didn’t hesitate. They swarmed into the hole en masse, 
determined to catch their prey. 

Welf twisted his body mid-leap to face the tenacious monsters, lips creased 
into a grin. 

His unblinking eyes on the deadly hornets, he gripped the magic sword with 
both hands and lifted it high above his head. 

Flight was meaningless. 

In this narrow tunnel, no amount of agility could save them in this 
constrained space. 

For the second time, Welf roared along with his weapon. 


A massive fireball engulfed everything in its path. 

Every deadly hornet began glowing like hot steel in a forge. 


The swarm of lethal insects, having been drawn into the connecting tunnel, 
were vaporized into nothingness. 

At about the same time, the magic sword let out a high-pitched ring and 


This was no apology but gratitude. 

Welf smiled at the hilt still in his grasp as he performed its last rites. 

The shards gave off one last crimson sparkle as if offering their own farewell. 

Then, the explosion launched Welf, Bell, and the rest of the party into the air, 
as if to hurl them out of the wooden cavern. 


Torrents of wind carried them down the stairwell. 

Light appeared at the end of the tunnel, causing one boy to experience a 
serious case of deja vu. Suddenly, the adventurers flew through the exit. 

Thud! Thump, thump! Thud, wham! Dull impacts rang out one after another. 

“The twentieth floor...” 

“Finally, we made it...” 

“W-we.. .we’re here...” 

“Hurry up and get off Lilly!!” 

“Ooph, oh...” 


Mikoto tried to regain her bearings; Welf smiled through his bumps and 
bruises; Bell was filled with relief and Lilly with anger while Haruhime and 
Wiene shook their heads in pain. 

The party slowly untangled themselves after landing in a big pile. And an 
unexplored labyrinth filled with looming trees spread out before them. 

It all happened so fast. 

She remembered speaking to someone wearing a black robe before a black 
fog enveloped them. After she coughed a few times, some kind of fabric had 
been slipped over her head, muffling any noise. 

After that, there was just steady swaying like she was being carried, and then 
she was here. 

“.. .Was that some sort of magic just now?” 

“Nothing that impressive. Just a simple magic item and a shortcut, Goddess 

The cool air inside the stone passageway chilled her skin. 

Hestia trudged along behind the black robe’s shadow through the man-made 

The tunnel itself was rather cramped, barely wide enough for three people to 

stand side by side, along with a low ceiling. While she couldn’t tell what 
material the walls were built from in the dim light, she could see the seamless 
surface was engraved with many patterns. Without any windows or doors to 
speak of, Hestia was certain this was a secret passage of some sort. 

Well, I sure got outplayed. . .Hestia thought to herself. From the moment her 
“guide” told her to follow, she had done so without complaint. Taking the 
immaculate planning and execution of her captor into account, she knew it was 
useless for a powerless goddess like her to resist. 

She still spoke with her usual casual tone, but both knew who was really in 

“Very few individuals are aware of this shortcut. It’s possible to count on one 
hand the number who have used it.” 

It went without saying that the black-robed figure lighting the way with a 
portable magic-stone lamp had their back to Hestia while speaking. 

Her guide seemed confident that the goddess wouldn’t try to escape. Either 
that or knew that Hestia could be easily caught if she did make a break for it. 
Probably both. 

Hestia held in a sigh, frowning slightly at the mysterious figure. Whoever it 
was, they didn’t seem to have any interest in hurting her. So she focused on the 
passing walls instead. 

“A shortcut, you say...” 

If her captor had been telling the truth, she must have been carried into this 
“shortcut”...That meant the entrance was extremely close to their meeting point 
in the fourth block. 

Visualizing a map of the city, Hestia thought about where the main streets 
and landmarks were to get a general idea of her current location. Then she asked 
another question: 

“Is this a shortcut for your master to use to escape in an emergency?” 

u » 

Hestia was confident in her theory, but the black-robed figure’s response was 
only silence. 

Except she got the funny feeling this person was smiling beneath that hood. 

Not planning to answer me, I see...That’s fine. If my guess was right, then 

She would learn everything she wanted to know. 

Her captor’s master would tell her. 

Hestia didn’t pry and kept up. 

“Oh? A dead end?” 

They reached the end of the tunnel a little while later. 

Hestia raised a suspicious eyebrow as the black-robed figure reached out to 
the wall and ran a hand across the grooves carved into the surface. 

u _ >> 

As soon as a few words like an incantation came from beneath the hood, the 
wall started sliding away with a low rumble. 

Did whoever this is say “Open sesame ”... ? Hestia jokingly thought to herself 
as the hidden door opened, disappearing into the adjacent wall to let them pass. 

It connected to a chamber shrouded in darkness. 

u >> 

Hestia followed the robed figure up a small flight of stairs and into a stone 

She looked around the room as details emerged from the gloom. 

The floor was covered with large slabs. The ceiling was high overhead, its 
shadows seeming to hover in the air around her. The stones that composed the 
walls were showing their age. Perhaps it was once a temple, built in the Ancient 
Times and long forgotten. 

Disregarding the “shortcut,” there was only one other entrance to the 
chamber. It was located at the top of a stone stairwell, signaling to Hestia that 
they were underground. 

Then her gaze fell toward the middle of the chamber. 

“He” was present, sitting on an altar among four lit torches that provided the 
only source of light. 


The guide led Hestia to the front of the altar. She turned to face the deity, 
looking him square in the eyes. 

© Suzuhito Yasuda 

The majestic yet wizened god sat on his throne—a large stone structure fit for 
a king. Over two meders tall when standing, he exuded an intensity, a presence, 
and a divine authority that were in a league of their own, unmatched by other 
deities. Heralded as a “Supreme God” while residing in the heavens, he was one 
of the truly influential deities. 

White hair and a similarly colored beard spilled from beneath the hood of his 
robe. His robust arms were propped on the throne’s armrests—a god immovable. 
He simply existed in that spot, surveying the chamber like a ruler and a statue at 
the same time. 

A towering, unyielding king, the true leader of the Guild lifted his chin to 
look down on Hestia. 

“It’s been a long time, Hestia.” 

“Yeah, Ouranos...I haven’t seen you in, what, over a thousand years?” 

There was no joy in this reunion. Ouranos maintained his calm expression 
and aimed his booming voice toward the young goddess. 

Hestia wasn’t the least bit intimidated by his overwhelming presence and 
addressed him like an acquaintance from days long past. 

The goddess had only recently arrived in the mortal realm as a participant. 
She didn’t know much about Ouranos—especially over the last thousand years 
—other than he was often referred to as the “Father of Orario.” 

She did know a few basics, such as the fact that he was part of the first group 
to descend to this world, one of the gods who brought an end to the Ancient 
Times and settled in Orario. 

He had worked together with the mortal children to plug the “Great Hole” in 
the ground that constantly spewed monsters—helping to build the “lid” that 
turned the Labyrinth City into the first line of defense. 

With his familia eventually becoming the Guild, he oversaw both the city and 
the Dungeon. However, he realized that someone with that much power must 
maintain a constant stance of neutrality. Therefore, he bestowed his followers 
with political power rather than Faina. 

The last thing Hestia knew about Ouranos was that he spent his days beneath 
Guild Headquarters, offering constant “prayers” to the Dungeon. 

These prayers—powered by his immense divine authority—kept the 
Dungeon in check. It was his will that prevented hordes of monsters from 
reaching the surface and plunging the world back into the original state from the 
Ancient Times. That was how it was explained. 

Given Ouranos’s presence here, Hestia reasoned that she must be in the 

Chamber of Prayers beneath Guild Headquarters. 

The two deities observed each other with the same shade of blue eyes, 
directly under Orario’s governing facilities. 

“This ends my role here, Ouranos.” 

“You have done well, Fels.” 

Behind Hestia came the sound of fabric shifting. 

Then the person called Fels started to take his leave. 

“Well then, I shall excuse myself. I’ll be late if I don’t set off soon.” 

With those words, Fels returned to the hidden door. 

“Please make yourself at home, Goddess Hestia.” 

Fels said a final good-bye before disappearing into the darkness. 

Hestia watched until the figure vanished, and then she returned her attention 
to the god before her. 

“I have a lot of questions, Ouranos. Mind if I get some answers first?” 

“I’ll allow it.” 

Hestia had known Ouranos was the one who ordered the mission the moment 
she saw the hieroglyph message on the document. 

While she didn’t know how it would happen, she had had a feeling that the 
two of them would meet face-to-face at some point. 

“Was this mission only your idea?” 

“It was indeed. No Guild employees have been informed.” 

“Are Bell and the others safe?” 

“They’re in the Dungeon. There are no guarantees.” 

Hestia’s first order of business was to ensure her followers were safe. She 
frowned at the god dodging her question, but her shoulders relaxed. 

I can still let him have it after I find out everything he has to say, she 
promised herself before she reined herself in. 

“Such an elaborate scheme...What’s with the roundabout process?” 

“It was necessary to take expedited measures to ensure our meeting remains 
absolutely secret. I was prepared for you and your followers to be wary.” 

Most likely, Ouranos didn’t want anyone else to know that he had summoned 
Hestia to the Chamber of Prayers. This forceful method was probably chosen as 
the least risky course of action. 

Hestia felt that they were being tested at the same time. 

Ouranos knew from early on that Hestia and her familia were harboring 

Everything that had transpired up to today, including the mission, happened 

under his watchful gaze. 

He saw their decisions, their reactions. 

It was all to determine whether or not she was worthy of an audience with the 

“Am I correct in assuming that you’ve called me here because of the vouivre 
girl—because of Wiene?” 

Hestia changed her course of questioning. 

The large, wizened god looked down at her from atop his altar. 

“Just what is she? Do you know something, Ouranos?” 

u » 

“What is happening in the Dungeon right now? What are you hiding?” 

Ouranos remained silent as Hestia piled on more questions. 

Her voice reverberated around the dark chamber. Before her last words faded, 
Hestia asked the most important question yet. 

“What is your will?” 

Crackle! Sparks burst from one of the torches. 

Ouranos slowly opened his mouth, his majestic form illuminated on all sides 
by the flames. 

Eyes as blue as the midday sky locked onto Hestia. 

“I shall inform you, Hestia, of our secret...” 


The clash of swords echoed through the labyrinth. 

Slashes and their answering counterstrokes. A cutting edge stopped in mid¬ 
swing, met by a blade and a burst of red sparks. 

A shield immediately blocked the subsequent reprisal. The warrior wielding 
the weapons felt the impact. Waves of pain shot through its arm, and it let out a 
bloodcurdling roar through its pulsating throat. 

The deep, beastly roar filled the passageway and shook the battle party to the 

The Dungeon, twentieth floor. 

Bell’s party had made good progress, pressing even deeper into this floor 
they were seeing for the first time. 

Not much different from the nineteenth, this level of the Colossal Tree 
Labyrinth was overflowing with plant life. Its walls covered in tree bark, the 

twentieth floor was a green maze that dazzled adventurers who traveled through 
its halls. Their faces were illuminated by the steady, dreamlike blue glow 
emanating from the moss-covered walls. 

Lilly guided the party through the halls using her map. The monsters they 
encountered were similar to the ones upstairs, with mad beetles and dark fungi, 
among others. Mikoto’s Skill, Yatano Black Crow, kept them safe from 
ambushes, while Bell and Welf knew how to deal with them on the front lines. 
The group’s efficiency had improved, making their journey much safer and 
faster than before. 

However, a new enemy had appeared. 

It was currently crossing blades with Bell and Welf. 


“00! OOOOOGH!” 

The lizard warrior howled as it charged the party on two powerful legs. 

A blade’s flash catching their eye, the two young men blocked it at the same 

“These things are pretty damn good!” 

Welf growled to himself, not taking his eyes away from the red-scaled 
monsters called lizardmen. 

Standing upright and wielding weapons in both arms, the two monsters 
attacked much like adventurers would. About 170 celch tall, they could look 
Welf in the eyes. Bell had fought against many creatures in the Dungeon, but this 
was the first time he felt as though he was engaging other adventurers in battle. 

Mainly because these two monsters attacked with swords. 

Their clawed fingers were wrapped around sword hilts and shield grips. 

“Flowers as nature weapons...?” 

The two lizardmen were carrying “landforms”—naturally occurring weapons 
that the Dungeon supplied. 

These metallic flowers grew straight from the Dungeon walls. Removing the 
stem from the flower resulted in a round shield measuring fifty celch in diameter. 
What’s more, each of the petals could be individually plucked from the flower, 
becoming daggers as wide as swords and worthy of the nickname “cutters.” 

The nature weapons they had encountered up to this point included tree- 
stump clubs and stone tomahawks, but this was the first piece of equipment that 
provided monsters with the offensive and defensive support equivalent to an 
adventurer’s sword and shield. Welf parried a cutter away from his body as a 
lizardman blocked Bell’s knife with its round shield. 


The two adventurers were forced to simultaneously deal with the tenacious 
lizardman assault and the ranged attacks of a gun libellula mob coming from 
behind. The monsters used powerful side sweeps, quick downward slashes, and 
sudden forward thrusts to overwhelm them. The blows shattered the floor 
beneath them, and the two humans’ limbs trembled under the strain of receiving 
the attacks. 

Their technique might have relied mostly on power, but it was unmistakably 

“Monsters with sword skills...Well, guess what?!” 

Welf yelled back at his unusually skilled foes. 

The tables turned as soon as Mikoto and Lilly finished wiping out the gun 
libellulas with a slew of arrows. 

Welf blocked the lizardman’s following strike and, with a well-timed twist of 
his blade, sent the creature’s flower-petal dagger flying. He exploited the second 
it took for the disarmed lizardman to regain its balance, raising his greatsword 
high into the air. 

Surprised realization passed over the monster’s face as it lifted its shield up to 
defend. Welf smirked at the useless gesture. 

He then used every muscle in his body to bring down an overarching slash 
that cut straight through the shield and plunged into the monster’s body. 


Welf’s sword tore right through its magic stone. The lizardman crumbled into 
ash before the halves of its shield hit the ground. 

As the remaining lizardman reacted to seeing its companion slain, Bell 
kicked off the ground with the speed of a rabbit. 


A crimson arc carved straight through the creature’s midsection as the boy 
slid by, holding Ushiwakamaru-Nishiki in a backhand grip. 

The blade tore red scales off its body as it bit deep into its flesh. 

The creature staggered for a moment with a massive gash in its torso before 
loudly collapsing to the ground behind Bell. 

“That was a real surprise at first, but they’re really rough around the edges. 
Those weren’t techniques.” 

“Bear in mind that if monsters like that appear in greater numbers...the way 
forward will become much more arduous.” 

Welf returned his greatsword to his shoulder, scoffing at the fallen monsters 

like a seasoned veteran, while Mikoto exchanged an empty arrow quiver for her 
katana. Lilly and the supporters quickly set to work, collecting magic stones 
from the battlefield. 

“I wonder if any of them live long enough to learn how to do more than just 

“While Lilly can’t guarantee there aren’ wouldn’t make sense, Mr. Welf. 
Once it was identified, the Guild would immediately issue a bounty for such a 
monster and send exterminators to eliminate it.” 

Bell listened to his allies’ conversation and thought about the look of 
insatiable bloodlust in the lizardmen’s eyes. The battle over, he led his party 
deeper into the Dungeon. 

“Lilly.. .how far do we have to go?” 

“According to the map, our destination is close. Please turn right up ahead.” 

They had diverted from the main route quite a while ago. 

Lilly’s eyes never left the red circle over a room close to a pantry in the back 
corner of this floor, their mission’s destination, as she spoke. 

Every party member could sense their anxiety increasing with every step. 

Backpacks over their shoulders, Lilly and Haruhime desperately tried to hide 
their exhaustion and keep their nerves under control. 

Even Welf, who always lightened the mood with a few jokes, was unusually 

Mikoto’s Mind was little more than fumes after triggering her Skill so many 
times. She took out a Dual Potion, drank the whole thing, and silently wiped her 

Bell led the group at the front, holding idle thoughts at bay while keeping his 
eyes and ears wide open. He glanced back over his shoulder. 

Wiene looked up, her trembling amber eyes meeting his almost as if on cue. 
They seemed to exchange thoughts and feelings in that long moment. 

The inside of the girl’s hood was glowing red with the light of the red jewel 
in her forehead. 

The party encountered several more groups of monsters after that. 

The path required them to climb over a series of thick, matted tree roots, up a 
hill, and through a thicket of lush plant life. 

Until finally... 

“We’re here...” 

They had arrived at their mission’s destination. 

The room was a long rectangle about ten meders wide, and the ceiling was 

just as tall. Tree bark covered the walls and canopy, just like every room they 
had passed by on the way, and it was all carpeted with Lamp Moss. 

Green grass and an assortment of small white rings came together to form a 
flower bed growing out of the floor like a patchwork garden. 

However, they were not what the party noticed first. 


Maybe because the pantry was nearby, but the deep-green quartz that 
resembled emeralds stuck out from the floor, walls, and ceiling in every 
direction. The verdant light of the rock formations reminded Bell of the quest 
that he and Lilly once undertook at Nahza’s request. For others like Haruhime, 
this was their first time seeing quartz in every size and shape like this with their 
own eyes. The sight took their breath away. The largest cluster was situated at 
the other end of the room, directly facing the party—and covering the wall 
almost like a miniature iceberg. 

Other rooms located close to pantries had the same manner of quartz 

“I’m glad to hear this is it, but...” 

“There’s nothing to see and no one here...” 

The group came to a stop at the entryway, Welf scanning the chamber as 
Mikoto frowned. 

There were no monsters waiting to greet them, let alone a party of people. 
Everyone agreed that the quartz was beautiful, but nothing special enough to 
designate this room as their mission’s destination. 

Bell and his party stood in the room’s only entrance. 

Of course, a way to go even deeper into the Dungeon from that spot didn’t 
appear to exist. 

“Lady Lilly, are you certain our location is accurate...?” 

“I am absolutely sure. This...has to be correct.” 

Lilly again examined her map, along with the one provided with the mission 
document, as an uneasy Haruhime asked for confirmation. 

Bell paused in front of the tranquil room, the moss’s blue light mixing with 
the quartz’s green in front of his eyes. He set foot inside. 

The room was brighter than the path they had taken thanks to the quartz. The 
party followed Bell, staying in a tight cluster in case a monster came out of the 
Dungeon walls. They also kept their eyes open for a clue as to why their mission 
had brought them here. 

But it was all for naught. 

“There really is.. .nothing...” 

“Dammit, Guild, what did you want us to do?” 

At a loss for an explanation, they returned to the entrance. 

Welf voiced the frustration everyone was feeling and massaged his neck. 
Haruhime’s Level Boost was nearing its time limit, so the motes of light 
hovering over his body were vanishing as they spoke. 

The fatigue they had been hiding, the exhaustion from relentlessly pressing 
forward through the Dungeon, had reached a breaking point and weighed heavily 
on everyone’s shoulders. Meanwhile, the white flowers at their feet gently 
swayed back and forth. 

—Now that I think about it, the ones watching us... 

Bell raised his head from his spot in the middle of the party. 

All the gazes he had sensed after they entered Babel Tower, which had only 
increased once they arrived on the nineteenth floor, had vanished. 

There was no mistake. Whoever had been observing them was gone. 

Bell racked his brain, trying to figure out what it could mean, when— 

u _ » 


Wiene’s pointed ears twitched again. 

“I hear...” 

“Huh?” Everyone’s attention suddenly focused on Wiene. 

She looked over her shoulder to the opposite side of the room. Her gaze fell 
on the wall of quartz on the other end. 

No way.. .The party was in denial as they watched the vouivre girl focus on 
sounds only she could hear. But once they tried... 

u _ » 

.. .they could hear it, too. 

It was a song none of them had ever heard before. Growing louder, the 
reverberations rang in their ears. 

Every eye went wide as the adventurers tried to find words. 

“A song in the labyrinth...” 

The tone was pure and steady, forming a melody that conjured images of the 
ocean under a calm night sky. Lilly whispered to herself, having heard about this 
somewhere before. 

“Is it...calling?” 

Wiene’s eyes opened fully as her gaze raced along the quartz iceberg, trying 
to locate where the song was coming from. 

The others had figured it out, too. The sound waves were coming from even 
deeper in the Dungeon, from behind the cluster of quartz crystals. 

No one said a word as they climbed to their feet and drifted to the wall as if 
the melody were magnetic. 

They came to a stop in front of the gorgeous quartz formation. 

It looked like one solid piece at first glance...but then they found a dim spot 
among the crystals. 

The song had grown so loud that now even the quartz vibrated ever so 
slightly in time with each note. Exchanging glances, everyone nodded. 

Welf stepped forward, took aim with his sword—and brought it down in one 
swift motion. 

Crash! The quartz broke into pieces, shattering like glass to reveal an alcove 
in the wall. 

“...Well, how were we supposed to find that?” 

Welf groaned, whispering at the opening. 

The Dungeon always healed itself, repairing the damage it sustained during 
battles, but quartz grew back abnormally fast. In fact, the process was already 
under way. The party quickly strode through the opening as new crystals formed 
before their eyes. 

Shards of broken quartz littered the path under their feet as they watched the 
entrance seal itself behind them. 

“...Let’s go.” 

The song was gone, as though it had served its purpose. 

Peering down the slope into the depths of the tree, Bell urged his allies 

Tension held them in its grip once again as the party formed a line and 
pressed onward. 

“Could this place be...?” 

Lilly’s quiet voice trembled in through the dim, bark-covered passageway. 

While everyone knew exactly what she was trying to say, no one spoke. 
Breathing as quietly as possible, the party was so on edge that they became 
drenched in sweat. 

The path was narrow, but there didn’t seem to be a danger of monsters 
bursting from the walls. There was no Lamp Moss on any surface. Small quartz 
crystals dotting the passage provided just enough light for the adventurers to see 
one another and their immediate surroundings. 

Bell led the way. Wiene, directly behind him, reached out to take his hand. 

The boy didn’t say anything as he felt her thin fingers wrap around his, 
giving them only a tight squeeze. 

Having accepted the portable magic-stone lamp from Lilly in one hand, Bell 
pointed forward with the other as the group continued their descent. 


A body of cool, clear blue water awaited them at the bottom of the hill. 

The bottom of the wide pool appeared to be five meders deep. It could have 
easily passed for a small pond. 

The little light the quartz crystals provided glinted off the water. Bell used the 
lamp to scan the room, sweeping the beam from one end to the other. 

“Looks like the path ends here...” 

“That can’t be.. .The song came from here, did it not?” 

Haruhime didn’t want to believe what Bell just said. 

Casting light on the ceiling and the walls revealed only solid bark. There 
were no openings that could possibly lead to another path. 

Lilly and Welf tilted their heads, examining the room in an effort to puzzle 
out what had happened to the mysterious singer. 

That was when Mikoto discovered something on the water’s surface. 

A single floating golden feather. 

The idea came to her as she stood transfixed by the feather’s speckled, golden 

“Sir Bell, the light.” 

Mikoto approached the shore with purpose in her stride. 

The light from Bell’s lamp passed through the clear water, reaching the 
bottom with ease. 

As every detail came to light, Mikoto caught a glimpse of an opening in the 
submerged wall leading away from this apparent dead end. 

“I have a theory...” 

Mikoto spoke as she removed her katana, armor, and the rest of her 
equipment from her body. 

Down to a single layer of battle cloth, she dove into the water. Trained in the 
unforgiving rivers of the Far East, she used her ninja-like coordination to glide 
through the water toward the opening like a fish. 

Wiene, Bell, and the others watched with bated breath...Bubbles rose before 
Mikoto’s head breached the surface a few seconds later. 

She pushed the wet hair plastered to her face out of her eyes before giving a 

firm nod to her allies above. 

They all exchanged glances and began to disrobe. 

Mikoto briefly emerged to collect her katana and knives. They followed her 
example, leaving everything but the essentials behind before entering the water. 
Lilly and Haruhime removed their Goliath Robes and backpacks, filling small 
pouches with as many items as they could fit. 

Joining Mikoto and Ouka on trips to nearby rivers in her youth had served 
Haruhime well. She swam with relative ease while Welf walked along the 
bottom, weighted down by the massive sword he refused to leave behind. Lilly 
held her dagger-length magic blade tight against her body as she zipped through 
the water like a minnow. Wiene, who had been reluctant, held on to Bell’s arm as 
he helped her in. 

The water blurred their vision and chilled their skin as they filed into the 

It opened into a long submerged passageway that was illuminated by quartz 
crystals poking out of the bottom as if to guide the way. 

Their Statuses allowed them to hold their breath much longer than the 
average person could. Mikoto led them to a fork in the underwater path. Once 
there, the group noticed light filtering down from above and changed course. 

Kicking their legs as fast as they could, the party made a break for the 


Their heads popped out of the water one by one only to find what resembled 
a limestone grotto instead of the wooden alcove from whence they came. With 
black stone walls extending in every direction, only the dim quartz light 
remained consistent. The party climbed out of the water, Wiene and Haruhime 
shaking their bodies to dry off. 

Bell was quick to find a new path in the blackness—one leading even deeper 
into the rocky labyrinth. 

“So this is...” said Lilly, appalled, as she peered into the dark, unexplored 
corner of the Dungeon. 


The Guild possessed a great deal of Dungeon map data. 

While it was being used to assist modern-day adventurers, it was the 
adventurers who came before them as well as the brave explorers from the 
Ancient Times who had originally gathered it. These people had blazed the trail 
with no knowledge, putting their lives on the line to discover new routes and 

make maps of every floor. These were grand achievements. 

However, there were still areas yet to be explored. 

The Dungeon was far too immense to ever be completely mapped. 

People sometimes overlooked branching passageways in the never-ending 
journey deep into the Dungeon. 

There were also special cases like this one, where pristine terrain had yet to 
be touched by explorers. 


Just as the name suggested, no one had ever been here before. 

It wasn’t recorded on any map—not even top-class adventurers knew this 
area existed. Lilly, Bell, and the rest of the party gaped at the thought. 

u » 

A large opening connected to what seemed like a dark abyss. 

Bell’s party quietly took their first steps. 

They fell into formation around Wiene. Bell held the magic-stone lamp high 
as everyone followed his path. 

Quartz crystals provided nothing more than a slight glimmer. The lamp’s 
beam was all they had to cleave through the darkness. They were so on edge, a 
few confused their own heartbeats for far-off footsteps and the rock crunching 
beneath their feet as a sign of danger. The passage was quiet, but the party heard 
every little sound. Without the occasional familiar monster cry in the 
background, the silence was deafening. 

There was no way to know what creatures they would encounter. 

Should an as-of-yet-undocumented Dungeon gimmick or an Irregular occur, 
death was a very real possibility. 

This was pure, unbridled “unknown.” 

Their throats were dry, but their skin was slick with perspiration. Their five 
senses were focused beyond their intended limits. Their minds had never 
endured such stress, and yet, at the same time, they also felt sharper than ever 
before. Nothing was more reassuring than a familiar hilt in their grasp. The 
“unknown” revealed more of itself with each step, just like it had for their 

Bell led the party farther and farther into the Frontier. Just as everyone’s 
anxiety hit its peak, the rocky tunnel’s end came into view. 

“It’s dark...” 

And it opened up. 

Bell and Welf were suddenly freed from the claustrophobia that plagued them 

in the tunnel. This new space was extremely wide, overwhelmingly so. The 
words that fell from Welf’s lips resounded off into the darkness. 

This was probably a large room. However, it was pitch black. 

The lamp’s illumination couldn’t penetrate far enough into the darkness to 
find the opposite wall. 

“.Urn, Mikoto.” 

“Sir Bell?” 

“Are there any...monsters in here?” 

“N-no, not as far as I can tell...” 

Bell struggled to control his trembling voice as he asked. 

Something was there. 

There was definitely something in here. 

More somethings than he could count were watching them. 

They hid in the darkness, masking their presence while observing the 
adventurers’ every move. 

Terror crept into Bell’s veins as he realized how very many eyes were looking 
at him. 

Mikoto’s Skill couldn’t detect them. That left only three possibilities: these 
were people, they were monsters they hadn’t encountered before, or they were 
simply lurking just outside Yatano Black Crow’s range. 

A fresh wave of cold sweat ran down Bell’s neck as his mind raced. He had 
to issue orders, get Haruhime to recast her Level Boost, make sure Wiene was 
protected, and so on. 

However, there wasn’t time. 

An incredible killing intent swelled within the darkness. 

It swept over Bell, Lilly, Welf, Mikoto, Haruhime, and Wiene like a jolt of 

The animosity was intense enough to halt these upper-class adventurers in 
their tracks. 

Suddenly, thud thud thud THUD THUD THUD!! The unmistakable sound of 
feet charging directly at them reached their ears. 

At the same time, whoosh! Several feathered wings took flight. 


Bell’s left hand guided the lamplight toward the closest oncoming sound. 

The beam cut through the darkness, but Bell could make out only one thing— 
scarlet scales. 


Bell’s eyes flew open as he recognized the reptilian-warrior howl. 

—A lizardman?! 

A lizardman with bloodshot eyes didn’t give Bell a chance to attack as it 
stepped deep inside his space. 

The lizardman wielded a long curved blade in its left hand—a scimitar. A 
flash of silver scythed down with blinding speed. 

u _ » 

The invisible swordsmanship stole Bell’s breath away. 

The Hestia Knife in the boy’s right hand had moved to the right place out of 
sheer luck. 

The two blades collided directly in front of his chest. 

Immediately after, he felt the impact with his entire body, making his vision 
swim before hurling him to the side. 


The boy slammed into the ground, rolling away from the party as Welf’s yell 
reverberated through the room. 

The lamp fell from Bell’s grasp, and a reptilian foot crushed it beneath its 

With the light source gone, the area was plunged back into darkness. 

“What the hell is going on—?!” 


“ _ ?!” 

Welf’s heart was racing in his darkened surroundings when a small shadow 
zipped toward him. 

He promptly raised his greatsword overhead, where it crashed into something 
with a high-pitched metallic ring. The impact was strong enough to drive him to 
his knees. 

Sparks scattering from the collision briefly revealed the attacker: a 
diminutive monster wearing a red hat. 

“A goblin?!” 

The plump bottom-rung monster disappeared into the veil of darkness. Welf 
watched with stunned eyes, unable to believe its strength. 

u | » 


Even farther back in the rear guard, Mikoto recognized the sound of 
projectile weapons whistling through the air. Jumping over to land by Wiene, she 

deflected the shots with a sweep of her katana. 


In the instant it took her precise blade to repel the projectiles, she realized 
what they were as they fluttered before her eyes. 

Still recovering from the shock, she realized another volley of feathers was 
heading right at her from the same direction. 

“Everyone! Wiene!” 


«| 55 

Bell had gotten back on his feet while yelling in his party’s direction, but then 
another flash of silver descended upon him. 

He dodged the lizardman’s blade by the slimmest of margins, and the monster 
howled as it pressed the attack. 

Bell moved to engage an opponent he could barely see. 

“Wh-what in the world is...?!” 

A metallic ring echoed in the chamber; a burst of sparks scattered through the 
air. The bestial howls combined with the adventurers’ panicked gasps in the 

Bell’s party was forced into a desperate last stand, relying only on sound. The 
battle left Haruhime powerless to do anything. In the obfuscating dark, the 
pandemonium reached a fever pitch. 

U | 55 

At that moment... 

Lilly’s hand, which had plunged into her spare pouch the moment combat 
began, brushed against what it was so desperately searching for. While fighting 
against fear and panic, the devoted supporter of the party made a quick decision 
and grabbed what she needed to overcome their trial. 

She pulled a small bag out of her pouch, opened it, and flung it forward with 
all her might. 

“Lamp Moss!” 

U | 55 


The bioluminescent substance spilled out, spreading across the ground. 

It was the Lamp Moss Lilly had harvested on the nineteenth floor. 

Pieces of the Colossal Tree Labyrinth’s primary light source lifted the shroud 
of darkness surrounding them. 

Friend and foe alike were caught by surprise as the battlefield came into 


U | 55 

That’s when Bell’s party definitively learned the true identity of their 


“OooOOooOO...! ” 

A lizardman, a goblin, and a harpy flapping its wings in midair appeared. 

The species of monsters might have been different, but they each had one 
thing in common: all of them had equipment, whether scimitar or hand ax, shield 
or armor. 


“...With weapons...!” 

Bell and Welf could hardly believe their eyes. 

Both clearly remembered the posting on the Guild’s bulletin board: 

A report stating that monsters had been seen stealing equipment from 
adventurers or looting it from dead bodies in the Dungeon. It had even displayed 
a sketch of them with the gear. Both young men felt as though that drawing had 
come to life. 

“H-how many of them are there...?!” 

At the same time, Lilly was more distracted by the other monsters farther 

In addition to the harpy, a gargoyle and a griffin circled the space above their 
heads. Meanwhile, on the ground wer e...lamias, al-miraj, formoires, war 
shadows, the humanoid spider called arachne, unicorns... The horde was 
composed of myriad monsters hailing from the upper, middle, lower, and even 
deep levels of the Dungeon. The space almost seemed big enough to fit the 
surface’s Coliseum, and the number of eyes watching them in the room made 
Mikoto and Haruhime turn pale. 

Wiene fearfully looked around at the numerous monsters that had many of 
the same features she did. 


The lizardman facing Bell let out a ferocious roar, and the other monsters 
started to move all at once. 

The blue-green light emerging from the ground illuminated claws and fangs 
as well as the raised swords and axes. 

“All these guys...!!” 

“They’re after Lady Wiene?!” 

The attacking monsters’ weapons were all aiming for the vouivre girl at the 
center of their party. 

Breathing ragged and eyes filled with bloodlust, they headed for Wiene with 
drool spilling from their mouths. Welf and Mikoto desperately tried to hold back 
the onslaught threatening to overwhelm them. 

“The magic sword isn’t an option like this...!” 

The battle had transformed completely into a wild melee in the darkness. 
Engaging the monsters in hand-to-hand combat, Welf and Mikoto could 
potentially get caught up in the blast. 

The chamber’s entrance, their only escape route, had been blocked off at 
some point during the fight. Lilly yelled in frustration, frowning as she loosed a 
barrage of arrows into the air only to have the harpies overhead launch a volley 
of feathers in her direction. 

“Lilly! Haruhime!” 

“Lady Wiene!” 

As the attack neared the supporters, Wiene shielded them with her one wing. 

Haruhime and Lilly embraced the girl as her peculiar appendage spread open. 
The pain and shock from the attack drew a groan from her. 

“I-it hurts...” 

Another round of feather missiles descended on the girl—but then Bell 
turned toward them from his distant location. 


A roar. 

Swift-Strike Magic streaked across the chamber to protect Wiene and the 

Several thunderous bursts of flame cut through the darkness and collided 
with the harpy and the griffin in midair. Shrieking in pain, the monsters fell to 
the ground in a trail of smoke. The gargoyle, along with the other airborne 
fiends, used their wings to shield themselves from the magical attack like Wiene 
had done earlier. 


« | 55 

The snarling lizardman charged forward and slashed at Bell as if to remind 
him who his opponent actually was. 

Bell had been interrupted in the middle of launching more ranged attacks and 
only barely managed to dodge. 

The lizardman carried two weapons: a longsword in its right hand, a scimitar 

in its left. A breastplate was firmly strapped to its chest over its scarlet scales. 
Metal plates covered its forearms, waist, shoulders, and knees, protecting the 
vital areas. The equipment might not have been the highest quality, but the 
lizardman could be described as fully armed and armored, standing a head and 
shoulders taller than Bell. 

Bell grimaced as he drew Ushiwakamaru-Nishiki and faced his opponent 
with double knives. 

This lizardman...It’s strong! 

Not only was its first strike fast enough to create afterimages, it was smart 
enough to exploit the darkness for offense and defense. 

Being on the receiving end of the monster’s onslaught, Bell was well aware 
of the creature’s potential. There was no comparison between this lizardman and 
the one he fought earlier on the twentieth floor. Its strength, speed, and skill with 
the sword were in a different league. Welf might have been joking around about 
one of them honing its technique, but this monster fit that description. The 
possibility that this could be some subspecies of lizardman popped into the back 
of his head. 

In terms of Level, the monstrous warrior could be beyond him—while only a 
guess, Bell couldn’t shake the thought. 

Bell’s rubellite locked onto his foe. It glared back at him, running its tongue 
eagerly back and forth behind its sharp fangs. 

He would never reach Wiene and the girls without winning this fight. 

Silencing every doubt, the boy held nothing back as he charged forward to 
defeat the lizardman. 



The Hestia Knife slashed forward, leaving an arc of violet light in its path 
while the monster’s longsword came down with its full strength behind it. 

The two closed upon each other and collided. 

UU | 

The blow confirmed Bell’s suspicions. The lizardman was incredibly 

At the same time, the lizardman was taken aback by the boy’s incredible 

Rubellite eyes met reptilian pupils. 

The faintest of grins appeared on Bell’s lips, and the lizardman bared its 
fangs in what resembled a ferocious smile. 


Bell and the lizardman roared at the top of their lungs as they crossed blades 
again in a flurry of strikes. 

“Li’l E—do it!” 

—Elsewhere, Welf stood as the last line of defense holding back the 
advancing horde. 

He yelled over his shoulder, using the flat part of his blade as a shield against 
the onslaught. 



The formoire laid into his makeshift defense with a metallic club. Knowing 
that the next block might be his last, Welf wasn’t about to let Lilly object. The 
pmm was hesitant, glancing to the other side only to see Mikoto fighting for her 
life against several monsters at once. 

Tightening her grip on the glistening dagger-shaped magic sword, Lilly bit 
her lip before finally hardening her resolve. 


With that, she swung the red dagger with all her might. 

A river of flames surged from the Crozzo Magic Sword in a straight line. 

Welf and Mikoto noticed a sudden wave of red light in their periphery and 
immediately dropped to the ground. Using their incredibly quick reflexes, the 
monsters jumped out of the fire’s path at the last moment. The beasts shrank 
away as a corner of the room erupted into a ball of flames. 



Bell’s battle with the lizardman continued unabated, the two going blow for 
blow as flames danced in the background. 

Their profiles were cast in a soft orange light as longsword and knife 
collided. The scimitar streaked through the air, only to be intercepted by a 
crimson blade. Then as a violet slash arced forward, the longsword halted its 

The monster had displayed a powerful fighting style that included fierce 
kicks and an approach to swordsmanship that made good use of its combat 
instincts, all backed by sharp, unyielding counterattacks. 

Bell’s body became a blur, and the lizardman’s blades sliced through empty 
air. Sparks erupted from the armor that stopped the boy’s attack. The monster 
knocked him backward, but not before a line of scarlet scales was ripped from its 

body in a spray of dark-red blood. 




Their stalemate was broken. 

Bell was trapped between the scimitar and the longsword. Caught in 
simultaneous attacks on the left and right, he blocked both weapons with his 
knives. In that moment, something flew in from an impossible angle and nailed 
him in the stomach. 

—A tail!! 

The third strike came from an appendage as thick as a log. 

The completely unforeseen attack from a creature that shouldn’t be very 
experienced fighting adventurers sent Bell reeling. 

It was the perfect final blow. Striking from an angle that the boy never 
thought to defend, the lizardman’s tail knocked Bell off his feet. Now was the 
monster’s chance to finish him off, and it used the opportunity to drive its 
clawed foot into Bell’s chest in a powerful kick. 

The boy hurtled backward through the air. 



The lizardman declared victory with a roar as Bell’s body bounced deeper 
into the room like a river rushing through broken levees. 

He lost his grip on the Hestia Knife and Ushiwakamaru-Nishiki, and the 
weapons flew from his hands. 

The lizardman warrior wasted no time in turning around, shifting focus to its 
original prey. Its bloodshot eyes landed on the vouivre girl surrounded by 
adventurers, and it charged. 

“ _ !!” 

Wiene reflexively cringed in fright at the pounding footfalls and savage roar. 

Cutting straight across the scorched battlefield, the lizardman raised its 
longsword high overhead. 

The monster’s long shadow fell over the girl unable to stand when... 


u |» 

Haruhime jumped in front of her, arms open wide as Lilly embraced Wiene, 
placing her own body in front like a shield. 

Two more shadows jumped into the fray as the strike hurtled toward its 


“Oh no you don’t!!” 

“I won’t let you!!” 

A terribly battered Welf and Mikoto brought their greatsword and katana 
crashing into the longsword. 

Two blades came together in time to catch the longsword. Their weapons 
audibly groaned as the two adventurers fought the incredible power and weight 
—and then it stopped. 

The longsword came to a halt a tiny distance from Haruhime, who was 
positioned directly in front of Wiene. 

Rattle rattle rattle! The lizardman tried to force its weapon forward, its 
orpiment-colored reptilian eyes wide with shock at the strength of the humans 
holding it back. 

cc _ » 

Just then... ring, ring. 

The lizardman’s ears picked up a chime. 

Shifting its gaze to the source of the sound, it saw an adventurer bounding 
toward it like a blood-splattered rabbit. And then a punch of bright white light. 

A five-second charge. 

Bell’s eyes flashed as he unleashed every bit of anger with his entire body. 




The glowing fist collided with the lizardman’s cheekbone. 

Several broken scarlet scales soared through the air. Now it was the 
lizardman’s turn to be sent flying. 

The blades fell from its grasp and loudly tumbled across the floor. 

It worked...! 

Bell had used his Skill, Argonaut, while moving at high speed. 

Seeing Wiene in danger had provided him with an extra spark of emotion and 
determination. Up until now, he’d been able to charge Argonaut only with his 
feet firmly planted on the ground. The situation had forced him to do a 
Concurrent Charge. 

The lizardman bounced off the ground and hurtled through the air into a 
pitch-black stalagmite a good distance away, finally coming to a stop. 

The other monsters had fallen back, forgetting to even bellow after seeing the 
magic sword’s destructive potential. Silence hung in the air. 

At the same time, Bell paid no attention to his numerous injuries and stood 
with his back to Wiene, ready to face the next challenger. 


Clawed fingertips digging into the floor, the lizardman pulled itself up using 
the stalagmite for support. 

Still seated on the ground, the monster made a noise in its throat—when it 
suddenly lifted its head and cried out toward the ceiling: 


Bell, Wiene, and the rest of the party watched in disbelief. 

The murderous aura and rage that had been washing over them just moments 
ago were gone. It was almost comical to see a lizardman holding its gut and 
cackling like this. 

Scanning the room again, the party realized that the other monsters’ 
threatening glares had disappeared as well. 

“G YA-G YA-G YA-G YA-G YA—! ” 

Slowly but surely, the cackling cries began to change. 


They started to sound much more like a person’s laughter. 



Haruhime’s and Lilly’s astonishment at the sound was plain on their faces. 
Welf, Mikoto, and Bell were just as dumbfounded. 

Unable to comprehend what they were seeing, there was nothing to do but 
stand and stare. 

Realization started to set in. Each member of the party glanced at Wiene 
before returning their gaze to the lizardman. 

“That’s new! Never met adventurers like these before!!” 

Never in the familia’s wildest dreams had any of them expected a lizardman 
to start speaking, let alone with this level of fluency. 

The monster happily slapped its knees a few times before climbing to its feet. 

“Adventurers willing to sacrifice themselves to save a monster! Haaah! Don’t 
know what this feeling is, but I like it!” 

“—Didn’t I tell you, Lido? These ones are different.” 

Flap! A new set of wings took flight. 

A single golden feather fluttered to the ground from overhead. One of the 
winged monsters—a siren—glided down. 

“I know that voice...” 

“There’s no way...” 

Bell and Welf flinched as soon as they heard the new voice’s unusual 
inflection. The golden-winged siren landed with a smile on its face. 

“So we meet again.” 

One look at the monster’s sky-blue eyes was all Bell and Welf needed to be 

It was the strange robed person—no, monster—they had encountered on the 
nineteenth floor. 

Seeing her face for the first time, they were shocked at just how warm and 
friendly she seemed. Neither Bell nor Welf could string words together to 

Just like Wiene’s, her beauty was breathtaking. Her long, dull golden hair 
was light blue at the tips. Not unlike the half-human/half-bird harpy’s, both of 
her elongated forearms formed beautiful golden wings. Similarly colored 
feathers covered most of her lower body, the exception being the birdlike talons 
on her feet. 

As she wore a battle cloth that Amazons would have approved of over her 
pronounced bust, her un-feathered stomach was completely exposed. 

The siren standing in front of them was a far cry from the ferocious beasts 
they had heard of that froze adventurers in their tracks with earsplitting screams. 

“Yeah, it’s just as you said, Rei! These guys are different!” 

The lizardman addressed the golden-feathered siren, Rei, as it giddily 
approached the group, its thick tail swaying back and forth. 

The two monsters walked right up to Bell as the other party members 
watched in various states of shock. Lilly was perfectly still, slack-jawed. Mikoto 
was confused beyond words, and Haruhime tried to figure out what to do. 

“Sorry about that. You were too fast for me to hold back.” 


It took Bell several moments to understand that the lizardman was talking 
about the battle that had just ended. 

And for good reason. The monster that nearly killed him moments ago was 
suddenly more interested in having a conversation than cutting him to shreds. 

“First off, let me apologize. We’ve been testing you from the start.” 


“Yeah. We had to know if adventurers had truly taken in one of our comrades 
or not. Would they abandon her at the first sign of danger? Use her as a decoy to 
make their escape...?” 

Those words surprised not only Bell but the entire party. Wiene was no 

“We’ll explain the details later, but...I’m sorry for scaring you like that and 
inflicting so much pain.” 

U | 99 

“Thank you for protecting our comrade all this time.” 

The lizardman no longer felt like an enemy. In fact, it apparently had never 
intended to kill them in the first place. 

Its lowered reptilian head and sincere voice all but confirmed it. 

Next, the lizardman shifted its gaze to Wiene and opened its mouth to speak. 
However, the startled girl dashed for the safety of Haruhime’s shadow. 

The lizardman chuckled to itself, not reproaching her in the slightest. Giving 
up on the endeavor for now, it turned back to Bell. 

Urhh ... 

Bell was in serious agony, with open cuts all over his body and a throbbing 
pain in his chest where the creature’s foot had connected that showed no signs of 
dulling. But the ache couldn’t be farther from his mind. 

Sharp claws and fangs; skin covered in scales. These were not familiar traits 
for a person. And yet the lizardman was interacting with Bell, a human, without 
making him fear for his life as any other monster would. 

A lizard warrior equipped with adventurers’ gear. 

A talking monster. 

The same as Wiene. 

“I’m Lido; as you can see, I’m a lizardman. Nice to meet you, Bell Cranell.” 

“H-h-how do you know my...?” 

“Ahh, I heard it from Fels.” 

—Well, they were the same to a point. Wiene had a mostly humanoid form, 
making her appearance easier to accept. 

That was the main difference between the lizardman looking down at him 
from just above eye level and the vouivre girl. He bore a perfect resemblance to 
others of his species. If a wolf walked up to a lamb and tried to start a 
conversation, the peaceful grazer would probably have the same reaction. 

Bell’s mind was moving too fast to pay any attention to the word that 
sounded like a name. On the verge of passing out, he managed to come back into 
the moment. 

“Hey, mind if I call you ‘Bellucchi’?” Lido asked. 

“Uh, um, sure...G-go ahead.” 

The lizardman narrowed its reptilian eyes, focused on Bell. 

Smiling...perhaps? It wasn’t the hungry stare that hunters wore in front of 
their prey. 

Many thoughts ran through Bell’s mind as he looked into the lizard’s 
squinting eyes, but it was difficult to make sense of any of them. 



“Let’s shake hands.” 


Bell came back into the moment as its right hand appeared in front of him. 

It was covered in red scales and protected by a metallic glove, its fingers 
ending in sharp claws. 

Pupils shrinking to nothing but red dots, Bell stared at the hand hovering in 
front of him. 

He knew what following through on the gesture would mean, and it made 
him feel faint. 

“M-Master Bell...” “Sir Bell...” “Bell...” “Mr. Bell!” 

His allies couldn’t bear the tension and called out to him, but they didn’t 
move from where they stood. 

Haruhime was pale as a ghost, Mikoto dizzy and on the verge of becoming 
physically ill, Welf unable to hide his anxiety, and Lilly struggling with her 
growing alarm. 

All of them knew that what they were seeing defied logic. They called out to 
their leader, voices like hands desperately reaching out to stop a fall. 

Sweat poured from Bell’s skin. It wouldn’t stop flowing. 

A handshake. A sign of friendship. A bridge between man and monster. 
Unprecedented. “Unknown.” 

Bell couldn’t help but feel that he was making a mistake somehow. It seemed 
like the instinct to refuse that right hand and turn away was overwhelmingly 
correct. His completely nonfunctioning mind thought so. 

He wanted nothing more than to run away from a decision that would turn all 
common sense on its head. 

However, the lizardman was patient. 

He waited for Bell to either make a move or reject the offer. 

He was afraid. 

Bell was terrified. 

Of those fangs, those claws, all those scales. Of the reptilian gaze, of the 
creature’s terrifying visage. 

Every fiber of his being wanted to put as much space as possible between 
himself and the lizardman looking down at him. 

Logic screamed in his ears that it would be easier to listen to reason and flee. 


Bell glanced over his shoulder. 

“, uh.” 

He saw the vouivre girl’s bewildered eyes. 

He thought back to when they first met, remembering how he felt during that 
fateful encounter. 

u » 


Bell smiled. 

A bit clumsily. 

—If this is a mistake, I’d rather make it for the right reason. 

“A-hem.” He cleared his throat. 

And worked up his courage. 

“.P-pleased to meet you.” 

Bell stiffly stretched his lips and took hold of the extended hand. 

Haruhime and Mikoto watched with bated breath. Welf flashed a grin and let 
his shoulders relax. Lilly looked up at the ceiling and let out a long sigh. 

Bell shook hands with a monster. 

“—Pleasure’s all mine!” 

The lizardman—no, Lido—bared more of his fangs in a broad grin and gave 
Bell’s hand a firm shake. 

One heartbeat later—“WOOOOOOO!!” 

The adventurers nearly leaped out of their skins as a burst of sound roared 
through the room. 

The monsters that had been just as anxiously watching Lido and Bell as the 
adventurers—they were celebrating. 

The red-cap goblin applauded. Harpies on the ground skipped excitedly. The 
formoire pumped its fists into the air, albeit slowly, al-miraj hopped around in 
circles. The cheers continued. 

Friendship between man and monster—this day would go down in history, 

and all were elated to be a part of it. 

“Hey, over there, hit the lights!” 

Lido’s booming voice cut through the celebration to issue orders. 

Hellhounds and other agile monsters brought the magic-stone lamps out from 
hiding places in the rock landscape and flipped them on using claws or fangs. 

“Monsters.. .using magic-stone lamps...” 

Mikoto was dumbfounded at the sight of monsters operating the man-made 

Harpies had already taken to the air and started pulling back pieces of thick 
cloth to reveal the quartz crystals hidden underneath. 

Every detail of the limestone cavern-like room came to light in a matter of 

“—A g-green dragon?!” 

“One of those was in here the whole time...?” 

Far away from the entrance where the party stood, a dragon more than ten 
meders long lay at the base of a quartz pillar. Its body covered in scars, the 
wizened beast observed the adventurers with quiet eyes that seemed to contain 
the wisdom of countless years. Lilly and Welf recoiled at the presence that had 
been watching them from the shadows. 

“Please, let me greet the surface dwellers!” “Uuuu...” “Me too!" 

Some who could speak, others who could not, as well as those who had 
difficulty with pronouncing words—every sort of monster gathered in front of 

“I have heard stories about you. It is an honor to make your acquaintance, 
Signor Bell.” 


“To be able to shake your hand, I am very happy!” 


“I’m Laura. Good to meet you.” 

“N-nice to meet you, too...” 

« ii 


The red-cap goblin who called him “Signor” was the first in line as monsters 
approached Bell one at a time to shake his hand. His face had gone entirely stiff, 
and at times he would quietly shriek—such as when a silent large-category 
monster, a formiore, held out its massive hand toward him. 

“I apologize for the late introduction. I am Rei, a siren.” 

“I’m...B-Bell Cranell.” 

“Yes, I am aware...Bell, thank you for saving my comrade.” 

The siren from before came to exchange greetings with the young boy as 
well. She offered her wing, the tip extended out like a finger. Bell clasped it. 

Feeling the soft feathers in his hand and noticing Rei’s ravishing smile, he 
blushed bright red. 

“They’re all happy, too. They’re glad to meet a person who doesn’t reject 

The lizardman warrior, smiling from ear to ear, watched the monsters 
approach Bell one after another, sometimes shaking his hand again and again. 

Bell looked around after hearing Lido’s comment. 

The gentlemanly red-cap goblin, the harpies bursting with emotion, the lamia 
that spoke in halting sentences, the silent war shadow...It didn’t matter if they 
could speak or not, or even if they were humanoid or monsterlike, Bell could see 
consciousness in every one of the monsters who came to shake his hand. Some 
had tiny palms, others were large and covered in fur, but every one of them was 

As an indescribable feeling swelled within Bell, the monsters chanced 
glances over in the direction of Lilly and the other adventurers. 

However, Welf and the others uncomfortably avoided the incoming gazes. 


As for Wiene... 

She watched the cluster of monsters surrounding Bell like a child whose 
treasure was about to be stolen from her. 



She watched as a new, smaller monster briskly stepped up to Bell. It wore a 
loose blue battle jacket and had a broken pocket watch hanging around its neck 
like a pendant. The white rabbit looked up at the boy with cute round red eyes. 
Bell bent over, the same awkward smile on his face as he held out his hand. 

“Kuuu!” The al-miraj wiggled its long ears and leaped at him. 

“H-hey, wait, that tickles...! Wh-why are you licking me?” 

“Aruru...She cannot speak, but it seems she’s taken a liking to you.” 

“When you say 'she’—it’s a girl?!” 

The al-miraj had already jumped onto his chest and was happily licking his 
cheek when Rei offered an explanation. Bell almost screamed hysterically. Lilly 
and the other adventurers weren’t sure what to say as they watched the 

indescribable scene of two “rabbits” frolicking together—and that was when the 
dragon girl finally exploded. 

Rushing out from her hiding spot behind Haruhime, she ran straight for Bell. 

“N-no! You can’t have Bell, no!!” 

“Kuu?!” The al-miraj yelped as the vouivre girl physically pulled her away 
and latched on to Bell’s arm. 

The monster came bouncing back, hopping adorably to protest. But Wiene let 
out an “Uuuu!” and wouldn’t retreat even one step, which was when she noticed 

—that she was surrounded by monsters, and they were all looking at her. 

The creatures that were as fantastical in appearance as she, the ones she’d 
been too afraid to face, were now right in front of her. 

The siren Rei stepped forward, and Wiene tightened her grip on Bell as she 

“Would you please share your name with me?” 


“Wiene...It’s a very good name.” 

Rei smiled at the quiet voice. 

Wiene blushed, squirming as though she were being tickled after the 
compliment on the name Bell and the others had given her. 

A few moments passed before a winged hand was extended to her. 

The vouivre girl hesitated, fearfully reached out with her own hand several 
times, then quietly settling into a grip. 

The golden-winged siren smiled with her blue eyes. 

“A pleasure to meet you, our new comrade. No one here will hurt you. We welcome you.” 

Just as the boy and his familia had done, she had been accepted as a 
“comrade.” Wiene’s amber eyes opened wide. 

Touched by the kindness and acceptance, she quietly wept. 

After the soft wingtip reached out and dried her tears, the smallest of smiles 
bloomed on the girl’s face. 

The surrounding monsters howled to the ceiling, as though giving their 

“...Um, please tell me.” 

Around the time the echoes started to die down... 

Still not fully grasping the situation around him, Bell spoke while still 
hugging Wiene. 

“All of you, and Wiene—what are you?” 

It was what they’d been trying to find out ever since the day they met the 
fantastical girl. Bell and the party wanted to know the answer to that question 
more than anything else. 

Every monster turned to face the adventurers. 

As the representative of the group, the golden-winged siren answered. 

“We are Xenos.” 


Hestia whispered under the light of the crackling torches. 

Ouranos, still seated on his throne, nodded in response. 

“That’s how we refer to them...Monsters endowed with intelligence.” 

In the Chamber of Prayers beneath Guild Headquarters, the elderly deity, who 
knew everything about the situation, informed Hestia as to Wiene’s true identity. 

Xenos... A word that gods and goddesses used to describe heretics. 

They were anomalies expunged from the established system. 

“You’re saying that Wiene is also one of these Xenos, or whatever you call 


“Indeed. All of them share one thing in common: an intellect that far exceeds 
what is normal for monsters...They possess the capability to understand—but 
more important, they all have hearts that are in no way inferior to our children in 
terms of will and emotions.” 

« | 55 

“Abnormal monsters that aren’t dominated by the urge to murder and 

Hestia almost forgot to breathe as she listened to Ouranos bring these facts to 

His voice continued to resound in the Chamber of Prayers, adding that the 
human-shaped monsters looked almost no different from the people who 
inhabited the mortal realm. 

“As for when the Xenos first appeared, it is not known. However, those of us 
who have observed them with our own eyes and come in contact with them have 
ever since offered them support under the pretext of ‘protection.’” 

“Support...? The Guild is supporting monsters?!” 

What the hell are you thinking?! Hestia was about to embark on a rant when 

something occurred to her. 

She and her followers had done exactly the same thing for the vouivre girl. 
They had harbored and continued protecting her. 

It was just as Ouranos said. That pure, innocent girl had a heart of her own, 
no different from Bell or any of her other children. 

The elderly god did not budge as he watched Hestia’s mouth snap shut. Then 
he continued. 

“This mission’s purpose was to return a Xenos who had reached the surface 
back to her allies in the Dungeon. That Xenos is none other than the vouivre girl 
you and your children have been protecting, Hestia.” 

“...I won’t bother asking how long you’ve known. Just tell me where Bell 
and my children are going right now...” 

“They should be headed to where the Xenos reside—their Hidden Village.” 

The mission had been to take Wiene home. 

The unrest spreading throughout the city after the other night’s commotion 
must have been the impetus for creating the mission. 

Hestia let that idea sink in. At the same time, a new question arose. The 
goddess couldn’t stay silent. 

“Ouranos, why did you bother asking us to carry it out at all? Couldn’t you 
have kidnapped Wiene and brought her back by force? Why let us learn about 
these 'Xenos’ at all?” 

“There are several reasons, including that Bell Cranell and your children have 
already become aware of monsters that could communicate using language. 
However, the most important one is...” 

Ouranos paused for a moment before he told Hestia. 

“I decided it was possible your familia, no matter how minuscule the 
chance.. .could become our hope.” 


“Yes,” said Ouranos with a nod. 

“To bridge the gap between people and monsters and lead to the path of 
coexistence .” 

“This is a dream, right...?” 

“Would you like Lilly to pinch your cheek to check...?” 

Welf and Lilly spoke as though they were in a trance. 

Bell heard their mutters, unable to hide the cold sweat running down his own 

“Food! Drinks! Bring out everything we have! Today, we need to celebrate 
our new comrade and the first people we’ve ever had as guests!” 

The monsters erupted with excitement as soon as they heard the lizardman 
Lido’s booming voice—the room shook from all the noise. 

A wide array of food, including fruits, nuts, and herbs found in the Dungeon, 
was circulating. Barrels of alcohol carved with marks that read Rivira were 
rolled out. People and monster alike sat in a large circle encompassing several 
bright magic-stone lamps. 

The whole scene was reminiscent of the night spent with Loki Familia around 
a campfire. It was truly a banquet. 

“Bellucchi, eat all you like; don’t be shy! Try this!” 

“Wh-what is it...?” 

“You humans call it ‘mruit.’ Supposed to be a real delicacy on the surface!” 

Lido, seated on Bell’s right, held out what looked to be a red fruit in the palm 
of his hand. Very slowly, Bell picked it up and took a cautious bite. It felt like he 
was biting through a thick slab of soft meat, but his taste buds disagreed as a 
mellow, fruity flavor washed over his tongue. The texture was unlike any beef, 
pork, or chicken and he could describe it only as the finest steak of some sort, 
eliciting his surprised reaction. “It’s so good...” 

Honey-cloud fruits and more were placed in front of Lilly, Welf, and the 
other adventurers as well. Smaller monsters like the red-cap goblin and al-miraj 
were in charge of distributing giant mushrooms grilled by hellhound flames atop 
wide leaves in lieu of plates. 

“Um, sorry for hitting you so hard back there...” 

“Don’t even sweat it. Everything’ll grow back soon enough. And I didn’t 
exactly hold back, either.” 

Bell gingerly brought up Lido’s left cheek—specifically the painful-looking 
wound his fist had made. He apologized guiltily, but the lizardman warrior 
merely brushed off worn-out scales with his arm. 

“Nothing to lose sleep over,” said Lido, his sulfurous yellow eyes forming 
crescents. Most likely, he was smiling. 

Bell was getting to the point that he could recognize their facial expressions, 
even if they didn’t look like people. It had been a real struggle at first, but the 
young boy felt as though he was getting the hang of it. 

Lido’s low voice and ferocious appearance made him seem much more 
intimidating than many of his comrades, but he was surprisingly personable. It 
was thanks to his constant laughter that Bell was able to stay somewhat calm 
despite their company. 

He felt proud of himself for adapting so quickly—then again, he might’ve 
also just become numb. 

Those thoughts made him want to laugh in spite of himself. 

“Now that I think about it, you guys drink liquor...?” 

“Yeah. At first I thought, What the hell is this? but then I got a taste for it, 
and now it’s become a habit! People really make the most interesting things!” 

Lido was drinking from what was most likely a bottle that had been discarded 
somewhere in the Dungeon. His breath smelled of alcohol as he slapped Bell on 
the back several times. Around them, a stunningly beautiful lamia was as red in 
the face as the lizardman, and several other monsters were not far behind, either. 

“Never been less drunk in my life_” 

At the same time, Welf and the other adventurers weren’t as social. 

A troll passed by, giving out wooden tankards filled with the cheap brew. 
Welf had hoped liquid courage would save him, but to no avail. Lilly sat next to 
him, sinking further into silence. 

Mikoto and Haruhime sat on their heels, incredibly tense, as a group of 
harpies gathered around them with eyes gleaming in curiosity. They seemed 
most interested in Haruhime’s scent, sniffing the air around her as the renart 
seemed on the verge of passing out. 

“And then Bell came back to save me.” 

“Did he? That makes me jealous. Bell is certainly stra—Ahem, very kind.” 


Wiene sat on Bell’s left. Receiving warm welcomes from all the monsters, 
despite her bewilderment, she would every so often flash an unworried smile. At 
the moment, she was speaking with the siren Rei, recounting the events up to the 
current day. 

While it was a little bit embarrassing for Bell to hear his name mentioned a 
few times, the entire party was overwhelmed by the monsters’ hospitality. 

“So then this alcohol and equipment.. .Is all of it from adventurers...?” 

Their hosts continued rolling out more food and drinks. Bell watched in awe, 
glancing at the armor covering Lido’s body before cautiously asking. 

The Guild had posted notices on the bulletin board about monsters seizing 
adventurers’ equipment. Bell was pretty sure he was looking at the culprits right 


“Weeell, yes and no. The alcohol was a gift, but these blades once belonged 
to an adventurer who suddenly attacked me.” 

Lido let his gaze fall on the scimitar and longsword lying by his feet as he set 
his bottle down on the floor. 

“But he dropped them and ran away as soon as I started fighting back... 
Thought I might as well try them out. Adventurers take monster claws and fangs 
home after slaying them, right?” 

“Th-that.. .Yes, it’s true.” 

“People seem to want them back even after they’re dead, so we try to return 
what we can...But adventurers get angry at us for carrying their weapons. It’s 
hard to know what to do.” 

Lido spoke with a nostalgic air, as if remembering a specific incident in the 
Dungeon. Bell couldn’t respond. 

“I gotta tell you, liquor is amazing, but crafted weapons are really something 
else! They cut better than those flowers over there and are a whole lot harder. 
There’s no way we could make those!” 

Words excitedly pouring out of his mouth, Lido spoke with tremendous 
respect for people and their creations. 

Many other monsters wore some type of battle cloth, Lido included, even if 
they didn’t have armor. A few of them wore normal clothing, like the scarf that 
the red-cap goblin had wrapped around his neck. 

Perhaps they were trying to imitate people.. .copying what they saw. 

Bell felt that each of them had grown fond of the handiwork of surface 
dwellers for one reason or another. 

“—Lido, stop this nonsense at once.” 

The speaker hurling venomous words toward them weaved through the 
banquet’s commotion. 

“They’re people. They aren’t worthy of trust!” 

“Are you still on about that, Gros? You saw how Bellucchi and his friends 
protected Wiene with everything they had. We only had to go through all that 
because you insisted on testing them. Ain’t that right?” 

Standing apart from the monsters who had joined Lido in welcoming the 
party, there were others who had separated themselves from the group. 

A gargoyle, an arachne, and a griffin, among others, were seated atop a 
nearby cliff. All of them were glaring at Bell. Its body composed of ash-colored 
rock, the gargoyle called Gros implored Lido to see reason. Instead, the 

lizardman turned back to Bell and waved off Gros’s words. “Don’t mind him,” 
he said reassuringly. 

“Sorry, they...All of us have been through a lot. The news that people would 
be coming here had everyone on edge.” 

“Th-that’s, urn...It’s okay.” 

“From what we’ve seen of you on your way here and in battle, we know that 
all of you are different from normal adventurers. That includes them.” 

“Wait a second, on our way here...? You were the ones watching us in the 

“Oh, you noticed? That’s right, our comrades kept an eye on you until your 

Lido went on to say that, in addition to testing them, Xenos members had 
trailed the adventurers to make sure that they could rescue Wiene in a worst-case 

That explained why Bell felt they were being watched in the Dungeon. 

“Were you guys only watching us in the Dungeon? Was anyone on the 

“Nope, Lett and his team started observing you upstairs, on the nineteenth 

Lido scratched his scaly chin, clearly stating that he didn’t know of anyone 
going any higher than that. 

Bell’s mind began turning again once he realized that those first watchers 
were someone else. 

“...Hey, was that true, what you said a second ago? Are you in league with 
the Guild?” 


A wooden jug was set on the floor with more force than necessary. 

Welf had been following their conversation and couldn’t hold back any 

Surprised that Welf had spoken up on his own, Lido blinked a few times 
before flashing his fangs in a grin. 

“Yeah, all true. They’ve pulled a lot of strings to keep us hidden, as well as 
provide us with food and equipment...They’ve done more than enough for us.” 

“...Lilly cannot take you at your word that the Guild would dirty its hands to 
keep this secret. The risk of discovery is too great, and the benefit.. .What 
benefit could there be?” 

“We are not simply parasites that rely on the Guild’s charity. We accept their requests to 

investigate situations or strange incidents while suppressing uprisings in the shadows...Our 
relationship is ‘give and take,’ as they say on the surface.” 

Lilly made her skepticism known while Rei stepped in to support Lido’s 

The Guild asked the Xenos to respond to Irregulars before adventurers were 
alerted to the danger or when the situation was too difficult for adventurers to 
handle by themselves. 

“We got similar goals, that’s all.” Lido casually dismissed the notion. 

“But I’d say that we’re more connected with a god named Ouranos than with 
the Guild itself. Most Guild employees have no idea we’re down here.” 

“L-Lord Ouranos...” 

Orario’s founding deity. Several of the adventurers gasped at the name. 

The Guild claimed to lack any form of military power, yet here sat their—no, 
Ouranos’s private army. Suddenly, Lilly and the others realized where Lido and 
the rest of the Xenos stood in the hierarchy. 

“So then, it’s just as you said. This mission...” 

“That it is, Bellucchi. Lord Ouranos contacted us, and we agreed to test the 
people who lent a helping hand to one of our comrades.” 

The mission hadn’t been issued by the upper levels of Guild management but 
from Ouranos himself, its true head. 

They’d been dancing in the palm of his hand—being appraised. Bell and his 
party knew the whole truth now. 

“However, hearing about you got our hopes up a bit.” 

Just as Bell was about to ask for clarification— 

A booming voice came from the other side of their makeshift magic-stone 



A couple of drunken monsters started demanding a song, and more howled in 

The siren, still seated close to Bell, sighed and looked up at Lido. He nodded, 
eyes twinkling with expectation. 

Rei grinned and stood. 

“I suppose I must. I shall sing and add some color to this banquet.” 

Taking a few steps forward, whoosh! One flap of her wings and Rei landed 
on top of the tallest magic-stone lamp with the grace of a feather. 

She turned on her heel to face Wiene, Bell, and the others, wearing a delicate 


“A new comrade and guests from the surface are here. Let’s make this one special.” 

With that, Rei closed her eyes and drew a breath. 

Silence hung in the air for a fleeting moment before a beautiful voice 
replaced it. 


“This song...” 

Hearing the high-pitched notes, Wiene suddenly smiled with joy, while Bell 
and the others reacted with surprise. 

It was the gentle soprano that had guided them through this Frontier. 

The siren brought one of her golden wings to her chest, singing happily and 
enjoying her solo with a smile on her face. There were no instruments or lyrics. 
The pure melody alone was enough to ensnare the hearts of her listeners. 

A single siren, weaving a song with her eyes closed, ringed by people and 
monsters sitting side by side. 

The scene, illuminated by quartz and magic-stone lamps, was so elegant and 
beautiful that it seemed to come from another world. 

This hardly seemed to be the same dark labyrinth filled with monsters deep 
underground—but then again, perhaps it was one of those moments when the 
Dungeon would allow its audience a glimpse at sacred mysteries and illusions. 

The song reverberated deep into the maze. 

Bell and the others had never heard a song so captivating, so beautiful, and 
the passage of time left their minds. 

“Let’s dance, surface dwellers! May I have this one?” 

“Eh? Wha...wai—Please don’t, I’m not a dancerrrrrr!” 


A young harpy girl dragged Mikoto out, leaving a wailing Haruhime to chase 
after them. In the ring’s center, two shadows danced together. A curious and 
energetic monster girl twirled hand in hand with Mikoto, or perhaps it was more 
accurate to say she swung her partner about. A human hand and a winged hand 
were clasped tightly together. 

The singing siren chuckled to herself for a moment before changing the tune. 

Her beautiful ballad became an upbeat, toe-tapping rhythm similar to a waltz. 

Completely drunken Xenos rushed to join Mikoto. They called out to one 
another, pairing off. The red-cap goblin and a lamia joined hands, hellhounds ran 
stride for stride with al-miraj, and the formoires joined the trolls, using their 
gigantic fists to pound the floor like drums. Other monsters came up to Wiene 

and whispered in her ear to join. “Okay!” she replied cheerfully, heading toward 
Haruhime. Meanwhile, the gargoyle and his group watched the tumult from their 
distant seats, unamused. 

The song, cheers, and laughter wouldn’t stop. 

Wiene pulled along a flustered Haruhime all the way to where Mikoto and 
her partner were, before starting their own dance. 

The long shadows of people and monsters stretched across the floor, mingling 

“...Things never get this crazy.” 

Lido’s eyes were filled with delight as he muttered. And his lips were 
definitely turned up in a smile. 

Bell, Lilly, and Welf were convinced they were dreaming and still at a loss 
for words. But before they realized it, all of them were laughing. 

The siren’s soothing song and the echoes of joyful howls serenaded them. 

“Lido, what did you mean earlier when you said we got your hopes up a 

“Hmm? Ahh...” 

Bell watched Wiene and the girls for a time before turning back to Lido. 

The reptilian warrior didn’t look away from his dancing comrades as he 

“You gave us hope—that maybe things can change...” 

“People and monsters coexisting...?!” 

Hestia wasn’t sure how many jolts of surprise shot through her body after 
what Ouranos had just said. 

The elderly deity’s face was as stoic as ever. He did not turn away from her 
stunned expression. 

“Do you understand what you’re saying, Ouranos...?!” 

“Of course.” 

People and monsters living together in peace was impossible. 

Hestia had already reached that conclusion, and yet Ouranos responded with 
a deep nod. He knew what that meant. 

Those born in the Dungeon were the greatest enemy of surface-dwelling 
races. People killed monsters and monsters killed people. With such 
overwhelming fear and ingrained hatred on both sides, they would like nothing 
more than to avoid each other. They could not be together. 

The various races residing in the mortal world were fated to kill and be killed 

by monsters. 

That was their destiny ever since monsters first emerged from the “Great 
Hole” back during the Ancient Times. 

They were doomed to fight for all eternity. 

Then Ouranos arrived with the divine will to turn that undeniable truth on its 
head...Hestia frowned, unable to overlook such a desire from the Guild’s master, 
of all people. 

“However, the Xenos do not attack people instinctually but instead wish to 
engage with them in dialogue.” 


“Rather than with fangs or claws, they wish to use words and logic to make 
their voices heard. They want to walk on the surface. They want to know our 
children.. .to learn more about people.” 

Wiene’s face appeared in the back of Hestia’s mind. 

“Self-aware Xenos are constantly under threat even from normal monsters. 
They live in alienation and exile. They have no place to belong on the surface or 
in the Dungeon.” 

u >> 

“With no one to hear them, their easiest choice as monsters was to resign 
themselves to oblivion. However, they possess determination as well as the 
means to express their thoughts and wishes. Just like our children,” he said. 
“Then I discovered them.” 

Ouranos lowered his eyes ever so slightly. 

“As the one who offers prayers to the Dungeon...No longer could I withstand 
their lamenting as they perished.” 

Someone sure is diligent —Hestia tried to force herself to poke fun at Ouranos 
but she couldn’t manage to get the words out. 

Because she had met Wiene. 

Could she really bring herself to abandon the vouivre girl now? 

Could she become a treacherous and deceitful goddess for her familia’s sake? 

Hestia’s thoughts swirled, trapping her in a whirlpool of choices and 
decisions. After a few minutes of heavy silence, she lifted her face and started 
asking Ouranos another question. 

“Are you serious about bringing harmony to the children and monsters?” 

“The will of the divine has been set. However, it is an impossible demand. 
The truth is that it is beyond my control.” 

Ouranos had no qualms about confessing everything in response to Hestia’s 


“If our goal is harmony between our children and monsters, then we must 
question the reason of their existence in detail.” 

—Prove that monsters themselves were important. 

From birth, they were constantly stigmatized because of their physical 
features that diverged from what was considered normal. 

Threatening physiques, claws and fangs that were symbols of bloodshed, 
death-heralding flames, and voices tinged with savagery. 

In order to break free of their reputation as icons of slaughter and violence— 
as well as for the sake of establishing peace—there was no choice but to 
demonstrate their role in this world to the children of the mortal realm. In order 
to realize their dream of basking in the surface’s sunlight, it was imperative to 
overcome people’s hatred and fear by proving their significance. 

One option was the cruel subjugation method known as taming. Although it 
would allow them to be recognized by the masses, it required living with a collar 
of thorns. What’s more, that path would never lead to true peace. 

“...So basically, in your quest to prove the meaning of their existence, you 
thought there’s a possibility Bell and my other children could become a bridge 
between the two sides?” 

“That is correct.” 

Hestia let her head hang limply at the revelation. The elderly deity was so 
unbelievably open about these secret plans it was almost refreshing. 

She understood Ouranos’s reasoning. After getting to know Wiene, she also 
wanted to help the Xenos find happiness. 

However, this path put Bell and their familia in a very precarious position. 

Ouranos mentioned alienation and exile. If the fact that Hestia Familia had 
assisted these “monsters” became public knowledge, not only would their 
standing in Orario be at risk but their place in the entire world. Just like the 

Perhaps it was impossible, but Hestia preferred to not have their fate hanging 
in the balance. 

Even if that means running away, the goddess thought to herself. 

“Is what you just said the Guild’s opinion on the matter as well?” 

“Currently, it is mine alone.” 

That made sense. 

Declaring peace with monsters would shake the world to its core. 

Even Ouranos, the one heralded as the founding deity of Orario, could not 

help but lose political power as cracks formed in his base. 

“The highest levels of Guild management, including Royman and his closest 
advisers, have been kept in the dark on this matter.” 

His employees had been ordered only to deliver the mission to Hestia 
Familia. Most likely, Royman believed that Bell’s rapid growth had caught 
Ouranos’s attention and the deity intended to test the boy’s strength with the 

Ouranos explained this to Hestia. 

“So the only ones who know are...” 

“Among deities other than myself, Hermes, because he accepts my 
requests...and Ganesha.” 


Hestia was completely taken aback at the unexpected name. 

“You must be kidding,” she said, wide-eyed. 

But then, her shoulders jolted. 

“Don’t tell me the Monsterphilia is...?” 

“Correct. It was conceived five years ago in order to soften people’s hatred 
for monsters, no matter how slight, and has continued ever since.” 

The Monsterphilia: an event that turned taming monsters into a spectacle. 

The festival had been proposed and organized by the Guild. It hadn’t been the 
brainchild of deities who craved entertainment. It was still relatively new, and 
Hestia had heard that the Guild didn’t offer much explanation about it during 

Now she was able to connect the dots. 

Ouranos had been the driving force behind the event. Putting on a show 
despite the dangers of bringing monsters out of the Dungeon was all his idea. 

He wanted to soften the public’s opinion of monsters by showing the majestic 
tamers interacting with them, making the beasts less alien, providing a 
foundation for future change. 

It was all to lay the first stepping-stones that would lead to a day when the 
Xenos could revel in the sun’s rays. 

It wasn’t just “Monster Festival” but “Monsterp/zz'/za.” 

But that merely served as the first stage, and its impact was rather limited. 

“I informed Ganesha in order to gain his support.” 

While the Guild oversaw the event, it was Ganesha Familia that provided 
tamers for the show. 

Ouranos would never have gained Ganesha’s confidence by being 

manipulative. So the elderly deity had no choice but to reveal his divine will. 

Never thought it’d be Ganesha... 

Out of everything she had heard, that had been the most surprising. Hestia 
wiped the sweat off her neck with visions of the friendly god wearing an odd 
elephant mask popping up in her head. 

She promised herself right then and there to take some time to get to know 
him better. 

“Is that everyone working with you?” 

“No,” Ouranos responded plainly to Hestia’s question. 

The god looked down at his feet as if he were gazing deep into the Dungeon 
far beneath. 

“Fels is also with us.” 

“Well.. .this certainly exceeded my expectations.” 

A serious voice devoid of any shock or mockery reached the banquet, still as 
lively as ever with singing and dancing. 

Bell and everyone else who heard the remarkably monotone voice turned 
toward the entrance of the room to see where it came from. 

“Fels, you made it!” 

What they saw seemed like a living shadow, wearing a long black robe and 
black gloves adorned with intricate patterns. Bell and the adventurers were quick 
to react to this mysterious individual, instantly ready for a fight, but Lido opened 
his arms and gave the newcomer a friendly wave. 

Fels. A name that both Lido and Rei had mentioned quite a few times. 

The adventurers still watched the hooded figure for a bit as he approached. 
However, Fels seemed more interested in watching Wiene and the other dancers. 

“You’re here earlier than I thought you’d be.” 

“I came as fast as I could. But please, Lido, I could do with a quick 
explanation. To tell the truth, I’m quite startled.” 

Fels asked the lizardman warrior climbing to his feet to recount what had 

The adventurers followed suit, standing as Lido brought the stranger up to 
speed. “Oh-ho?” A light chuckle emerged from the hood. “You all may be more 
important than we thought.” 

Fels looked down toward Bell and the others, offering words that were 
difficult to discern as praise or ridicule. 

The black-robed figure stood just a little shorter than Welf. Examining each 

member of the trio in turn, the shadow come to life continued speaking. 

“First, allow me to introduce myself. I am Fels. I act as a liaison between 
Ouranos and the Xenos—a messenger, if you will. I also take on odd jobs as 

“O-odd jobs?” 

“Yes, that’s right...Perhaps you would understand if I were to say that I was 
the one keeping tabs on you and the vouivre girl?” 

« | 55 

Bell, Lilly, and Welf were stunned. 

Something resembling a laugh spilled from the darkness of Fels’s hood as a 
gloved hand rose into the air. 

“Bell Cranell, Lilliluka Erde, Welf well as Mikoto Yamato and 
Haruhime Sanjouno. I’ve been observing your activities over the past week.” 

Those were the only words they needed to hear to put the pieces together. 

The person in front of them was the Guild’s “eyes” who had taken the liberty 
of thoroughly investigating them without their knowledge. 

“Are you...Are you a monster, like them?” 

Lilly knew that something was odd about this person; something felt off. 
Fending off her confusion, she pressed for answers. 

“Nah, Fels is a person,” Lido replied, and Fels’s black hood fluttered up and 
down again. 

“Formerly a person may be a better choice of words.” 

Huh ? Bell nearly whispered under his breath. 

“I’ll show you.” 

Two black gloves took hold of the hood and pulled it back. 

U _ 55 

For Bell, Lilly, and Welf, time came to a screeching halt. 

The eyes that were supposed to be there didn’t exist—just two pitch-black 
cavities, empty eye sockets. 

The skin they expected to see was also missing. Perfectly aligned teeth 
protruded from the exposed jawbone. 

The face simply didn’t exist. 

A white skull of death stared back at the adventurers. 

“A...a skeleton?!” 

“Hold up, hold up, hold up...!” 

“A spartoi?!” 

Three voices shrieked. 

There was no doubt that it was a skeleton’s head—no eyes, no nose, no ears, 
no hair, just bones. The horrifying personification of death itself was proof 
enough that this being was no living person. 

Bell was reminded of the skeleton monsters from the deep levels called the 
spartoi. But Fels slowly shook his skull side to side to refute the boy’s terrified 

“Sorry, but I am not a monster. As I said, I am formerly a person.” 

“F-formerly a person...?” 

“What.. .what the hell happened...?!” 

Lilly could only echo Fels’s words as Bell struggled to speak, mouth opening 
and closing again and again. Meanwhile, Welf clenched his teeth together in a 
desperate attempt to remain calm but couldn’t hide the fear scrawled across his 
face. Fear was a natural reaction to a voice originating from a skull with no skin 
or throat to speak of. 

While the three of them stood dumbfounded, it was Lido who spoke up with 
an answer: 

“Fels is the Sage. An awesome Magus.” 

Those words. 

It was as though Bell and his companions had been doused by water, all of 
them going silent. 

That is, until a moment later, when Lilly let out a cry. 

“The Sage?! As in THE Sage?! The one who created the Philosopher’s Stone 
in the Kingdom of Magic—the only one to ever successfully create the elixir of 
eternal life ? That Sage?!” 

“Y-yeah...Probably that Sage, I guess...?” 

The lizardman was unfamiliar with what was considered common sense on 
the surface, so the prum’s red-faced outburst caught him by surprise. 
Overwhelmed by this demi-human girl only half his size, Lido took a step back 
as a stunned Bell remembered the story Eina had once told him about the Sage. 

Just as Lilly said, that legendary person created the Philosopher’s Stone, a 
magic item that granted the user eternal life. 

Mastering the Advanced Ability Enigma, the Sage became the most powerful 
Magus in history. 

He brought his creation, the Philosopher’s Stone, before his god only to 
watch the deity smash the stone on the floor... 

If that story were true, then the being standing before him was worthy of 
being named among the heroes in fairy tales and legends. Bell’s eyes opened as 
wide as they would go. 

“Another correction, if I may. I am what became of the one once called the 

The Magus shocked the adventurers further, explaining with a shade of self- 

“As my story will be handed down to future generations...and as it is told 
even today, I came to loathe the deity who destroyed my precious stone. I 
became more driven than ever before in my pursuit to acquire more knowledge, 
to unlock the secrets of immortality.. .and became what you see now.” 

The skeleton recounted the traumatic experience with that god while running 
black gloves up and down the robe that hid the rest of his body. 

“My methods took their toll, causing my skin and flesh to rot off my bones. 
Now I have become something more revolting than a monster. I’ve forgotten the 
sensation of hunger and thirst.. .1 am no more than a living ghost.” 

Fels finished by saying that all his experimentation produced was a “curse.” 

Learning the other side of the story, one that had been lost in history, the 
adventurers gulped as the Sage’s fate came to light. 

At the same time, they were in awe at how cruel the deusdea could be, 
completely ruining the lives of their followers. 

“I now go by the name Fels the Fool.” 

“Fels.” A fitting name for someone who had once been known as “Sage,” 
only to have been reduced to a farce. 

Incapable of expressing even the slightest emotion, the skeletal Magus who 
could no longer even smile now went by that name. 

“...Mind explaining how the Sage ended up in a place like this?” 

“It’s a long story, to say the least. Suffice it to say that Ouranos took me in 
despite my wretched state after I wound up in Orario.” 

Welf certainly looked uncomfortable, but he posed his question without fear. 
Fels responded openly, making the peculiarly indistinct voice friendlier in tone. 

“Now I’m privy to a front-row seat in the ‘center of the world,’ the driving 
force behind the changing times.” 

Pulling the hood back up, Fels spoke as though satisfied with the state of 

As Bell stood frozen in place, he had thought nothing could surpass the shock 
of encountering Lido and the other Xenos. Now his eyes were spinning from a 

second knockout blow. 

“The Sage, huh...Well, of course I’ve heard of him. So that kid from earlier 
has become your right-hand man, Ouranos?” 

“I do not deny it. Outside of my agreement with the Xenos, Fels is the one 
piece I can move at will.. .My private soldier.” 

Ouranos nodded at Hestia’s inquiry. 

Several familias, including Ganesha Familia, worked closely with the Guild 
to create a public face. Meanwhile, Fels, a Magus—a being who had a firm 
handle on the intricacies of Magic—worked in the shadows, conducting dirty 
jobs and taking on secret missions. 

“I take it Fels played a major role in keeping the Xenos a secret up until 

“Indeed. We have already worked together for centuries.” 

Fels also filled the role of Ouranos’s personal bodyguard. Many Guild 
employees had witnessed his movements through Guild Headquarters, with 
mmors of an elusive “ghost” circulating among their ranks through the 
generations, each with a common thread. 

“Monsters with the capacity to think and feel...I first encountered Lido and 
his kind fifteen, maybe sixteen years ago.” 

Fels continued to speak even as the siren sang among the happily dancing 
monsters in the background. 

At that time, members of the familia close to Ouranos captured them. The 
deity managed to keep their presence a secret from the rest of Orario by issuing a 
strict gag order. That familia fell into ruin and no longer existed. 

Fels obeyed Ouranos’s divine will and had served as a messenger ever since, 
eventually becoming the Xenos’s first contact with the world aboveground. 

“After talking with Lido and his companions, we decided to dub their group 
of heretics 'Xenos.’ They now live as a community under the same name.” 

“A community?” 

“Yeah. Others like us are born throughout the Dungeon. We make contact 
with our comrades to form our own organization.” 

Bell asked for clarification from Fels, but it was Lido who provided the 

“We gather in Hidden Villages like this one and travel between different 
floors in the hopes of finding comrades nearby.” 

As soon as Lido explained that most of their activities took place in the lower 
levels, Lilly jumped back into the conversation to ask about something that had 
been stewing in her head for some time. 

“...This has been bothering Lilly for a while, monsters not spawn in 
this room?” 

“Oh? You noticed, Lillicchi?” 


As the prum struggled with how to feel about being addressed in such a 
strange manner, Lido glanced out over the chamber dotted with dark-green 
quartz jutting from the walls and ceiling. 

“This place...You might call it a safe point. There are plenty more just like 


“Of course, adventurers haven’t found them. That’s why we call these places 
Hidden Villages.” 

Lido ignored the astonishment on Bell’s, Welf’s, and Lilly’s faces and carried 
on with his explanation. 

The Xenos frequented undiscovered Frontiers in the middle levels all the way 
down to the deep levels—places adventurers didn’t know existed—using them 
as base camps in their search of monsters who shared their unique gifts. 

They were a community of monsters, a traveling brigade. 

“There are about forty Xenos at the moment...The numbers go up and down, 
but Lido, Rei, and Gros were members from the start.” 

“It has been a long time, yes?” 

Fels glanced at the siren and gargoyle while the lizardman flashed a toothy 

“...That would make you the leader, wouldn’t it?” 

Welf finally asked what he and Filly had suspected for a while now. 

“Yeah. Gryuu used to hold that title, but his dragon body can’t move like it 
used to. So I’m leading everyone in his stead now.” 

“Then the strongest member is...” 

“Of course! You’re looking at him!!” 

Lido proudly puffed out his armored chest. 

Bell thought that might be the case after fighting the lizardman one-on-one. 
Lido was most likely holding back at the time, but it still summoned flashbacks 
of Ishtar Familia’s first-tier adventurer, Phryne, during the battle. Therefore, the 
boy had suspected that the lizardman’s potential strength could very well exceed 


“...Well, that’s what I’d like to say.” 

—However, Lido let his reptilian head droop, shoulders slumping right away. 

“One of our newest comrades took the title from me in no time flat...” 


Welf wasn’t sure what to do with the clearly depressed lizardman. Bell, 
however, was stunned. 

The question had to be asked. 

“Um, so, what’s this new member like?” 

“He isn’t here now. He’s a strange one, I tell you. Went off to the deep levels 
on his own for training.” 

“Th-the deep you think that’s okay?” 

“Knowing him, I think worrying would be a waste of time.” 

Lido drily chuckled to himself as if he was exhausted just thinking about it. 

“...Mr. Fels.” 

“What is it, Lilliluka Erde?” 

After some time had passed... 

Tired of singing and dancing, the revelers were starting to seat themselves on 
the floor. Mikoto, Haruhime, and Wiene were among them. 

Lilly had been lost in thought when, finally, she looked up at Fels. 

“When the siren Rei...Miss Rei spoke with us, she described the Xenos’s 
relationship with the Guild as ‘give and take.’” 

“Yes, this is true.” 

“Lord Ouranos provides support, and in return the Xenos scour the Dungeon 
for new members.. .Is that really everything?” 

Her chestnut-tinted gaze bore into the darkness beneath the Magus’s hood, 
but his only answer was silence. 

“Lilly can’t help but feel that this relationship is too one-sided. There’s 
something oddly urgent about these heretics’ chosen words and actions...” 

A group that used several unknown Hidden Villages and had members 
capable of traveling alone in the deep levels possessed considerable power. The 
brigade of monsters called Xenos should be able to take care of itself with or 
without assistance from Fels and Ouranos. 

Lilly acknowledged that the Guild, in charge of the city and Dungeon 
management, would want to keep an eye on them to prevent mass panic from 
spreading through Orario. However, from what she could tell, the deal was 
incredibly unfair. 

Above all, the Xenos members seemed to yearn for something more. 

Lilly spelled it all out. 

“If this is simply charity, then Lilly will drop the suggestion now... 

Averting her eyes and hesitating for a moment, she made her point. 

“Are they in this relationship because they want something only Lord 
Ouranos and Mr. Fels can provide?” 

She’d kept these misgivings to herself ever since arriving at the Hidden 
Village, voicing them only now. 

Bell and Welf stayed silent, ears perked and waiting. 

A look of quiet contemplation grew on Lido’s face. 

As their conversation reached a standstill, only Wiene’s laughter and playful 
monster howls could be heard. 

“—To walk on the surface." 

Just then... 

A voice cut through the still air, clear as day. 

“Miss Rei...” 

“That is our desire.” 

Rei stepped lightly as she approached the group, winglike arms folded as if 
she were hugging her own body. 

Bell, Lilly, and Welf gazed at the siren’s resolute blue eyes in amazement as 
her words sank in. 

“...I have dreams.” 

Lido’s soft voice brought them back into the moment. 

“Dreams about a ball of red light sinking behind a massive pile of rocks...A 
sky that can’t be found here, burning red, so red and beautiful it makes me tear 
up. Getting redder and redder as time goes by...” 

“Wouldn’t that be.. .a sunset?” 

The lizardman warrior looked up at the dark shadows that hid the Dungeon 
ceiling from view, but his gaze seemed to reach farther, going beyond. 

Bell could easily visualize what he was describing. 

“You may be right,” Lido answered with a nod. 

“But is that just a dream...? You’ve been outside on the surface, haven’t 

“Not even once. Which means that maybe sometime in a past life I broke out 
of this dark hell and spent some time above.” 

Lido’s suggestion made Bell and the others freeze. 

“In...a past life...?” 

“You couldn’t mean...” 

Lilly and Welf whispered in astonishment. Then Bell’s voice shook as he 

“Reincarnation ... ?” 

Lido and Rei didn’t respond, staring off into the distance. 

“You know, Bellucchi, that Wiene’s a real talker.” 

“Huh...? Oh, y-yeah, she is.” 

The seemingly abrupt change in topic caught Bell off guard, but he recovered 
in time to nod his head affirmatively. 

Lido watched the laughing young vouivre girl play with Haruhime and 
Mikoto as well as chat with harpies and al-miraj. 

“Some of us can use language, but some can’t speak a word. There are those 
who know how to express themselves while others have no clue. Don’t you find 
that strange?” 

Lido amusedly mentioned that was where the individual differences ended, 

“Here’s what’s crazy. The really good ones can speak right from the start. 
Almost like they’re recalling something they already know.” 

u | » 

“Maybe they’d watched people for a long time in the past... Jealous of them, 
yearning after them.” 

—“Lots of people, just like Bell.. .Protect someone from me. ” 

—“I see those people, and I feel cold. ” 

—“But those people were beautiful. ” 

The vouivre girl’s words, whispered under the covers of a very cramped bed 
only a few days ago, came to the forefront of Bell’s memory. 

A surge of disbelief accompanied them. 

Wiene and those like her really did— 

“—A powerful longing.” 

Fels’s voice interrupted his thoughts. 

“Each of the Xenos has their own unique thoughts and feelings. However, 
they all have one thing in common: an intense yearning for people or the surface 

The Xenos remembered in their dreams their jealousy of the people who 
resided beneath the sun and the sky and their desire to do the same. 

They had seen beautiful things among the violent hostility and murderous 


Humans desperate to save one another’s lives. A dwarf courageously standing 
tall despite the numerous injuries covering him head to toe. An elf on the edge of 
death and still carrying herself with pride to the end. Or perhaps ones who 
showed mercy, sparing a monster’s life. Even something as simple as a beautiful 
blue sky and the setting sun. 

The Xenos remembered their “past lives” in their various “dreams.” 

And each possessed an intense desire that gave them a strong reason to keep 

“I want to live in that world with a beautiful sunset one more time.” 

“I want to spread my wings in a world filled with light, but in exchange, these arms can never 
hold...I want to be held by someone I love.” 

To be with people in the sunlight. That was their wish. What these men and 
women desired. 

They were looking for a way to make it happen, with help from Fels and 

All to accomplish a goal that would have been so simple if only the Xenos 
were human. 

They were also fully aware how difficult it was, how long a road they would 
have to take. Both Xenos stopped speaking, letting their words hang in the air. 

Lido and Rei smiled wanly as Bell and the stunned adventurers came to the 
same realization. 

“We know what we are. Our place is in the shadows—halfway between man 
and monster, neither side accepting us...Even so, we want to keep dreaming.” 

They wanted to follow those dreams and the permission to do so. 

Lido cast his gaze at the labyrinth ceiling once again as he spoke. 

“Maybe Mother wanted beings stuck in the middle like us to have a place to 
go when she made Hidden Villages like this...The thought crosses my mind 
every now and then.” 


“Mother—you know: Mom. The one who gave us life.” 

“In other words, the Dungeon.” 

Rei’s words astonished the adventurers again. 

“We still do not know how Mother feels about us...Why those who should be our brothers and 
sisters attempt to take our lives. Even so, we are allowed to exist. It is our quandary.” 

Lido and Rei seemed to be asking the Dungeon despite knowing there would 
be no answer. 

On top of everything, they still wanted to pursue their dreams. 

“So that’s why...we couldn’t be happier to meet you, Bellucchi, and 
everybody else.” 

After looking off into the Dungeon with Rei, Lido returned his gaze to the 

At about the same time, Wiene and the others stood up and rejoined the rest 
of the group. 

Bell heard someone happily call his name and glanced over his shoulder to 
acknowledge it before turning his attention back to the Xenos. 

“We’re not asking for help or favors. It’s enough to know that there are 
people who accept who we are.. .That alone means the world to us.” 

Lilly and Welf stood motionless with Bell at their side. 

The Magus watched from underneath the shadowy black robe. The siren 

Lastly, the lizardman shyly scratched his nose. 

“I’m glad I met all of you.” 

“—Ouranos, last question.” 

In the stone chamber illuminated by crackling torches... 

Hestia’s voice echoed. 

“What’s happening in the Dungeon?” 

“These 'Xenos’...Do you know why Wiene and others like her were born in 
the first place?” 

Rogue monsters, subspecies, Irregulars. If these were all it took to explain the 
situation, then that was that. 

However, she was convinced there was something more to the Xenos due to 
the simple fact that not even the deities could explain their existence. Hestia had 
to know why. 

After a long silence descended upon the chamber, Ouranos slowly opened his 

“What do you think happens to monsters after death, Hestia?” 

« ^55 

Hestia frowned at having her question answered with another question. 

The elderly god didn’t wait for her response and carried on. 

“The souls of our children return to the heavens, are judged and sorted by our 
kind, and then many are reborn into the world...So what about the souls of 

monsters? No, it would be better to phrase it as...If these monsters who are not 
our children have souls, where do you think they would go?” 


Hestia felt her heart tremble. 

“Could it be...?” 

“This is only my speculation, but I also have confidence it is correct.” 

Ouranos was gaining momentum. 

“After death, monsters return to the mother from whence they came, the 
Dungeon...They’re given new form somewhere deep inside the labyrinth and 
then are born again.” 

A cycle of death and rebirth—monster “souls” were in constant circulation 
inside the Dungeon. 

The motionless, elderly god declared it while his deep-blue eyes narrowed. 

“Monsters have... souls... ?” 

“Yes. They have shown change during their centuries of death and rebirth.” 

Specifically, they became self-aware and capable of learning. 

The “change” started to manifest itself in individual monsters after so much 
time had passed that the Ancient Times felt like a distant dream. Strong feelings 
of attachment and desire accumulated in each soul as it completed countless 
revolutions in the cycle. 

Hestia’s dumbstruck voice tumbled out. 

“I can’t believe something like that.. .What could possibly be the cause?” 

“The driving force is either the monsters’ strong yearning and desire...or— 
the Dungeon’s will.” 

Ouranos’s words vanished into the shadows enveloping the chamber. 

The banquet at the Xenos Hidden Village was coming to an end. 

Bell and the others were making preparations to return home. Lido and the 
rest of the Xenos were planning to move to another Hidden Village soon after. 

Haruhime and Mikoto wore awkward smiles as they shook hands with their 
dance partners and said their good-byes to monsters who had become something 
close to friends. 

The magic-stone lamps were extinguished one by one until only the glow of 
quartz illuminated the area. 

Enveloped in their green radiance, Bell watched his allies exchange words 
with the Xenos around the dim cavern. 

He hadn’t had time to think about it before, but the monsters with human 
characteristics were all genuinely attractive individuals. Some spoke with ease 
while others couldn’t say anything at all. It was just as Lido said. Every one of 
them was different. Even their body types were incredibly varied. They each had 
their own personality, their own way of living. 

He had learned that they had aspirations. He had heard they had hope. 

And he had also discovered that before they gained these feelings, they were 
bloodthirsty beasts incapable of even shedding a tear. 

That was just as true for the openhearted Lido as it was for the beautiful Rei. 

—Can I point a blade at monsters the way I used to ever again ? 

The thoughts he’d been keeping locked away started resurfacing in the 
corners of his mind. 

As Bell stared into the palm of his hand, he could almost hear the whirlpool 
of anguish inside him. 


Lido spotted the boy lost in thought. He waved one hand high above his head 
and approached him. 

Bell looked up to see the lizardman warrior slowly wagging his thick tail 
back and forth as he pulled something out from beneath his breastplate. 

“You know what this is?” 

“That’s a magic stone...isn’t it?” 

Lido nodded as he pinched the purple stone between his claws. 

Suddenly, he brought it to his open mouth and plopped it inside like candy. 

« | 55 

“Do you know what happens when we Xenos...we monsters eat magic 

Crunch! Crunch! Bell wasn’t sure how to react as he watched Lido purposely 
chew louder than necessary. 

At the sight of a lizardman gulping down a magic stone, one of the facts that 
Eina had drilled into him rose from his memory. 

“Enhanced species...” 

It was like how adventurers became stronger by receiving excelia and 
updating their Status, but for monsters. 

They gained a power boost by consuming another monster’s “core”—a 

principle of the monsters’ world where only the strongest survived. The ones 
who gorged themselves on magic stones and became too powerful were 
identified by the Guild and subsequently marked for extermination via missions. 

Bell couldn’t respond as he watched the phenomenon firsthand. 

“We kill any monsters that aren’t our comrades. Then we pluck out their 
magic stones and eat them.” 


“I’m sure you already knew that other monsters attack us on sight. We aren’t 
about to lie down and let them kill us without a fight. We kill to survive and eat 
to see tomorrow.” 

They had meticulously honed swordsmanship and the potential to match top- 
class adventurers...Bell reflected on their earlier battle, the strength and power 
the lizardman possessed, and knew at once that Lido was telling the truth. 

The Xenos were forced to commit cannibalism every day to stay alive in the 

Purely because their lives depended on it. 

Blood drained from Bell’s face as Lido made his point. 

“So please don’t waver. Don’t hold back for our sake. Those things are scary 
as hell, and they’ll kill you if you hesitate for even a moment. You’ll die, 


“And even if they can speak, if they attack you, kill them for me.” 

This den of monsters is already littered with corpses and ash. 

While he didn’t say it directly, the lizardman warrior truly wanted Bell to 
prioritize his life above anything else. 

“Don’t you ever die. I want to see you again.” 

The Xenos themselves had killed countless other Dungeon-dwellers and 
would continue to do so. 

So don’t you hold back, either. So we can meet once more. 

Bell’s eyes trembled at Lido’s argument. 


“Let’s shake hands.” 

Reptilian eyes smiling, Lido stuck out his right hand. 

Bell paused for a moment, looking between the lizardman’s face and his 
hand.. .but then he managed a grin. 

Hearing the same words as when they first spoke, the boy smiled at the row 

of fangs right at eye level. 

He took the hand offered to him. 

Bell felt Lido squeeze back, scaly skin rough on his own. 

“...So, why did you arrange for us to meet them, exactly?” 

The prum was busy tying an item pouch to her waist when she caught a 
glimpse of Bell and Lido’s handshake. Then she turned to the Magus standing 
beside her, looking up at the concealing hood as she spoke. 

Fels didn’t meet her stare, but a response emanated from deep within the dark 
confines of the robe. 

“We wanted you to know them. That’s all.. .at least for now.” 

At the deep, cryptic answer, her chestnut-colored eyes narrowed. 

Her glare said it all: We’d rather not have more trouble to deal with, so please 
excuse us and leave us out of it. 

The black-hooded figure shrugged good-naturedly. 

“I don’t think I need to remind you, but please keep what you saw today to 

“Would anyone believe Lilly if she told them?” 

Clenched fists trembling in frustration, Lilly stomped away toward the center 
of the room where Welf and the others were waiting. 

Bell and Lido weren’t far behind. The people and monsters gathered at the 
quartz pillar before going their separate ways. 

“Bell, let’s go home.” 

Wiene immediately broke away from her conversation with other Xenos as 
soon as she saw him coming. 

Turning around with a smile on her face, she reached out to take his hand. 

Bell weakly smiled in return and was about to let her. 

However, Lido got in the way. 

“Your place is here, Wiene.” 


He grabbed hold of her bluish-white arm and dragged her back toward the 
Xenos group. 

Shocked, Wiene yelped and started struggling. 

“Lido! No! Let me go!” 

“No. You’re staying here in the Dungeon.” 

“I don’t wanna! I want to be with Bell!” 

Her thin arms stood no chance of breaking Lido’s grip. Tears of desperation 
began forming in her amber eyes. 

Bell watched, unable to speak as the lizardman knelt down to the girl’s 

“If you’re with them, Bellucchi, Lillicchi, everyone will wind up crying.” 

« | 55 

“Bad things happened to you on the surface, yes? Only this time, that might 
happen to Bellucchi.” 

All those angry, jeering voices. Cold, hard stones striking her skin and the 
weapons maliciously pointed her way. 

Wiene’s slim shoulders trembled as memories of that night came to mind. 

“...We cannot live on the surface yet. But no one will be cruel to you here. You can live here 
with us.” 

The siren’s voice reached them. The young girl’s dragon wing, the feature 
that clearly identified her as a monster, quivered. 

A flurry of emotions flooded the vouivre girl’s mind as she looked at each of 
the other monsters in turn. 

“Lady Wiene...” 

Bell didn’t move. 

He heard Haruhime behind him as she did her best not to cry. The moment of 
separation came much more abruptly than he’d expected, and surprise was 
written all over his face. 

No—it was just an act. 

The moment he met Lido and the other Xenos and learned there were others 
like Wiene who considered her a friend, he had done his best to ignore the 
possibility. Immersing himself in the new discoveries and revelations had 
allowed him to run away from reality. 

The reality that Wiene had a place here. 

That saying good-bye would be the obvious conclusion. 

“There is a group of hunters that indiscriminately try to capture the Xenos.” 

« | 55 

“After all, they’re monsters who can communicate with language. The ones 
with humanoid features possess enticing beauty. If they’re rare enough, anything 
becomes exciting for these hunters. After capturing Xenos, they apparently 
smuggle them out of the city and sell them to gourmets.” 

Lilly and the other adventurers were as genuinely shocked as Bell at Fels’s 

The black-robed Magus spat out the words with disgust. 

“They put out tidbits of information, calling the Xenos ‘monsters wearing 

armor’ and the like, but they never leave a trail to follow. They must have a base 
of operations, a place to hold their captives, but...” 

Fels cast his gaze toward Bell from beneath the concealing hood. 

Staying with Wiene will only result in disaster. Bell got the hint. 

Ikelos’s ominous smile appeared in the back of his mind, sealing off his last 
hope of escape from the reality. He turned to face the young girl. 


As the lizardman and siren gently held her shoulders, tears rolling down her 
face, Wiene cried Bell’s name as though hanging on to him. 

A realization hit Bell as Lilly, Welf, Mikoto, and Haruhime watched with 
worried eyes. 

—I won’t let her be alone. I won ’t let her die. 

He could keep the promises he made to himself without being there to protect 
her personally. 

“Bell! I...!” 

A large group of intelligent monsters stood directly behind her. 

Behind him was the family he’d gone through so much with up until now. 

Bell was surrounded by those precious to him, before and behind. 

For this girl’s happiness... 

And his familia’s, everyone’s, his goddess’s— 

“...See you, Bellucchi. We’ll head out first.” 

Lido said his good-byes before turning his back on the adventurers. 

Bell couldn’t stop him, couldn’t even take a step forward. 

The monsters began to disappear into a corner of the cavern shrouded in 
darkness, Wiene with them. She looked around one last time. 

He could see her amber eyes glistening with tears. Bell clenched his hands 
and shouted even as his expression was on the verge of breaking. 

“This isn’t good-bye! We’ll see each other again!” 

He left her with that reassuring promise, unsure if he could keep it. 

Wiene sobbed, mouth opening and closing as if trying to tell him something, 
but she couldn’t turn her feelings into words. 

It wasn’t long before every Xenos faded into the darkness. 

« 55 

With his allies silently watching over him from behind... 

Bell only stared at the spot where he last saw the vouivre girl. 

Morning fog filled the air. 

The puddles dotting the stone pavement suggested rain must have fallen the 
previous night. Wide-leaved trees appeared to be shedding tears as water 
droplets fell from their branches every so often. Another one splashed on the 
stone surface and vanished. 

The sun wasn’t out yet. Only the smallest traces of light were starting to 
appear on the horizon. 

Silence hung over the sleeping city. 

It was early morning at the base of Babel Tower. 

Bell’s party returned from their mission a little more than a full day after their 

Fels, who accompanied them to the surface, had already disappeared. The 
party of five stepped out from beneath the white tower’s entrance. 

Hestia waited for her followers outside the gate alone before sunrise. 

Noticing that they numbered one fewer than when she saw them off, the 
goddess’s shoulders sank in sadness as she said, “Welcome back,” with a weak 


“...What is it, Bell?” 

The group was completely alone in Central Park. Bell opened his mouth to 

“ the Dungeon?” he asked, turning to face Hestia. 

Welf and his other friends quietly watched as she averted her eyes. 

“The Dungeon is...the Dungeon...” 

She gave him the same response deities had given the children of the world 
from the beginning. 

The goddess wouldn’t say more than what had already been said. 

Bell stood like a statue as her words faded away. 

The boy stared at the ground as if the world itself weighed on his shoulders. 

Dawn broke on the other side of the city wall, ushering in a blue sky. 




d i 


© Suzuhito Yasuda 



“Damn bastard!” 

Wham! A loud kick landed on the cage. 

The sound of the rattling chains that restrained four limbs and shrill 
screaming halted at precisely the same moment. 

The one who had been howling and pleading, saying “It hurts, let me out 
from here,” had fallen completely silent as though fearful of its master’s furious 

A man’s sharp, angry breaths echoed off the stone walls. 

“Glenn, keep it down, would you? Want me to feed you to the monsters?” 

“Gah.. .s-sorry, Dix. But come on, we were so close to finding their nest...!!” 

A hulking human named Glenn howled in frustration, fists clenched at his 

The goggled man, Dix, sat on top of a black cage while resting the shaft of 
his red spear against his shoulder. 

“Tailing Hestia Familia and the vouivre monster was going so well, too!” 

Surrounded by a ragtag group of animal people, humans, and Amazons, he 
let out a sigh loud enough for all to hear. 

Thanks to his deity investigating Hestia Familia, as well as assuming that the 
female vouivre had caused the ruckus in town, Dix had instructed his 
subordinates to stake out Hestia Familia ’s home. 

Of course they noticed when Bell’s party left the building with the disguised 
vouivre in tow. They had planned on jumping them right away, but they quickly 
deduced that the group was headed for the Dungeon after seeing their 
equipment. So they had decided to wait. Returning the beast to the Dungeon— 
had the vouivre told them where the talking monsters’ nest was located? Were 
they on their way there? That was Dix’s theory and why they hadn’t made a 

In fact, they almost hit the nail on the head. They followed the party into the 

Dungeon, drooling at the idea their target would lead them directly to the nest. 


“Burn in hell, Hermes Familial Who would’ve thought we were being 

Dix and his companions had been denied their prize by a second familia 
tailing them. 

They were so focused on Bell’s party that another group of adventurers went 

Since Hermes Familia members were equipped with magic items, Dix 
noticed their pursuers only by lucky coincidence. Bugbears were known for their 
keen sense of smell—and a few of them seemed to be looking for someone who 
wasn’t there. Getting a bad feeling, he ordered them to give up the chase and 
split up. 

Once the enemy’s presence was revealed, they had scattered through the 
Colossal Tree Labyrinth to make a clean getaway. Now they had regrouped. 

That was the true identity of the many “eyes” Bell had sensed outside Babel 
Tower before the mission began. 

Some of them belonged to Dix’s group, members of Ikelos Familia; the rest 
were Hermes Familia’s. 

“Damn that god of ours. Just when he finally makes himself useful, he pulls 
shit like this.” 

Dix grumbled and complained about his deity. 

“Hermes’s kiddies may have noticed...” Ikelos had mentioned in passing, 
smiling in anticipation. However, the deity was not present now. Most likely, the 
idea of a three-sided struggle enticed him—and he was keeping a close eye on 
the show involving his own familia from someplace close by. The god thought of 
his followers as nothing more than pieces on a board that he could manipulate 
for his own amusement. 

Dix was all too familiar with their deity’s hunger for entertainment, having 
experienced this kind of thing many times before. “Damn that god,” he muttered 
with his lips curled back. 

“So it’s Hermes Familia that’s sniffing us out...meaning they know about our 
dealings. Is the Guild on to us, too? Tsk, such a pain.” 

There was yet another side to Ouranos’s secret mission. 

Bell and the party, in addition to bringing Wiene to the Xenos Hidden 
Village, had served as bait to draw out the hunters, Dix and his subordinates. 

That was the mission in its entirety. 

“Thinking logically, they didn’t jump us when we were trailing the brats... 
meaning we were stronger. My bet is they were trying to find this place.” 

The pursuers had been more interested in the location of their base than 

Dix ridiculed their opponents while analyzing their actions. 

“Wh-what are we supposed to do, Dix? At this rate...” 

“The hell is there to do? There’s no way we’re gonna stop doing something 
so interesting. You all are having plenty of fun all the same, ain’t that right?” 

Dix chuckled from deep in his throat as he looked out at the not-quite- 
humanoid figures locked inside the cages. 

Several of the captives trembled upon hearing his cruel laugh. 

“If the Guild is getting involved, I doubt they want word about talking 
monsters spreading around the town. There’s only so much they can do...We 
continue the hunt.” 

Dix stood up and paced back and forth while spinning his spear around in his 

“We pretty much know what floor the nest is on. Maybe we should use it for 
the first time in a while.” 

Walking down the line of black cages, Dix took about ten steps. 

Holding his breath, he came to a stop outside one particularly silent 

Hyy! A small, fearful cry emerged from among the bars. 

“You’ll do nicely—better prove yourself useful!” 

He thrust the wickedly curved spearhead deep into the cage. An earsplitting 
shriek of pain flooded out not even an instant later. 






















I believe that it is best for a novel’s main story to be resolved between the 
covers, and I do my best to make that happen. 

Normally, light novels take at least three months to write. While that time 
span remains constant, I’ve noticed that three months feels like less and less time 
with age. However, I’m sure that many young people would disagree with that 
statement. At the very least, I remember three months feeling like an eternity 
back in my teenage years. 

Of course, the fact remains that readers want to know what happens next 
regardless of age. That urge to “read the next chapter” is a trait we all share. 
Which is why I understand fleshing out a story is very important—but at the 
same time, I try to bring the story to a close by the end of each volume, even if 
that means increasing the page count. 

After saying all that, I must admit that no, that was not possible this time. 

Volume nine and the next, volume ten, are parts one and two of the same 
story. To all my readers, I offer you my sincerest apologies. Here I was, talking 
about the beginning of the “Third Act,” making all these bold claims, and I wind 
up with something this embarrassing. What have I done...?! 

Painfully aware of my own needlessness, having to resort to this makes me 
want to swear off it for good. 

Allow me to lightly touch on this novel’s content. I think it opens a brand- 
new world. 

I’ve wanted to write this particular episode since I started the series back in 
Volume 1 if an opportunity arose. As an author, this new world is my own 
“adventure.” Fantasy building on fantasy. That being said, longtime readers who 
have been with me since the start of this journey may feel blindsided. 

I believe that every event that has taken place in the main series can retain its 
meaning while this new addition adds an entirely new flavor to the story. Also, 
characters who got a mnning start in the side story have joined the main cast. I’ll 

try my best to keep everything thrilling. 

Changing gears for a moment, I forgot to mention something during the 
previous volume. Chapter 4, “Beloved Bodyguard,” was originally printed in GA 
Bunko Magazine under the same title and updated for volume eight. My 

This afterword was really all over the place, but the time has come for me to 
express my gratitude. 

To my supervisor, Mr. Kotaki; to the one who always takes time out of his 
busy schedule to provide beautiful illustrations, Mr. Suzuhito Yasuda; to 
everyone involved, thank you for making this volume possible. Lastly, I would 
like to express my deepest appreciation to every reader who picked up this book. 

Concerning volume ten, a certain heroine who barely appeared in this volume 
will most definitely have a role to play. A certain other heroine, who has gone 
“dark” if you believe the rumors, will also make an appearance. They will bring 
forth devastation the likes of which has never been seen before. 

Since the story had to be divided into two halves, I am working night and day 
to make part two available as quickly as possible. Thank you for your patience. 

Thank you for reading this far. 

Let’s meet again in the next installment. 

Now I will take my leave. 

Fujino Omori 

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