A Waning Silence

BY : JLDavenport
Category: -Misc Anime > General
Dragon prints: 226
Disclaimer: I don't own any elements of Danjon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darō ka or it's characters. I make no money from this.

Is It Wrong To Abandon My Plan To Destroy Orario?

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Author’s Note:  Been a long while since I’ve put anything out, hasn’t it? I’ve got a number of stories in some level of completeness now, so hopefully I can start changing that. This story’s one that grew out of a conversation I had with a friend, we bounced ideas about it back and forth and I liked it so much I wanted to has out a quick sketch of what a story in this vein would look like… and instead it became this! Ohwell, hopefully you find it fun too!

Right off the bat I’ll say that this story stars Alfia, and has mention of Meteria and Zald, Bell’s Aunt, Mother and family friend, respectively. It’s hard to say if those characters are spoilers, they are “canon” but they haven’t shown up in any of the mainline books, or even Sword Oratoria, you have to dig into some real spinoff material to find them. They’re all dead now, so they won’t appear in mainline except in passing mentions, so I’d say they’re probably not spoilers and this story won’t have anything that’s not part of mainline anyway, so you’re probably safe. This does NOT follow the Danmachi IF route, if you’re familiar with that.

If you don’t know who Alfia is, then the long and the short of it is that she was a lv7 Adventurer in the Hera Familia. She’s tall, lithe and beautiful with snowy white hair just like Bell. Unlike him however, she’s got a cynical and bitter personality, because she was born with health and talent, while her twin sister Meteria, was born with nothing and illness, Alfia blames herself for this and sees herself as having stolen her sister’s portion while they were in their mother’s womb. She puts up a front of being composed and collected but she’s secretly rather passionate and invective. She’s harsh, cold and difficult, obsessed with silence and so vain about her appearance that she’s terrified of being considered Bell’s “Aunt” because it’ll make her feel old. Oh, and in the canon she and Zald joined the Evils, to rain destruction and chaos on Orario in an attempt to force the remaining Familia in the city to develop Heroes powerful enough to stop them, to take up the mantle of defeating the One Eyed Black Dragon in their stead. And so now that I’ve made her sound just lovely, let’s see her impact on the story!

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The Maiden of Silence was embroiled in an absolutely unnecessary conversation. That wasn’t surprising. No matter how she’d yearned for peace and quiet, people were always trying to impose themselves on her tranquillity, whether for requests, attention or any other tedious bother.

What was surprising was that she had initiated it. And she was the one carrying it on.

Far from the walled city Alfia had made her legend in, she was now far out in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, a backwater town so small it’d never shown up on any map she’d ever seen. It was completely forgettable and entirely unremarkable. It was also where the God Zeus had fled and where he had sequestered away Bell Cranel, the infant son of Alfia’s sister.

That tiny, whimpering child was why she was here. And he was also, frustratingly, why Alfia had prompted this entirely unnecessary conversation.

Zald stood across from her, his arms folded and his expression as grim as ever. As the last remaining member of the Zeus Familia, just as she was the last remnant of the Hera Familia, the destiny that lay before them was entwined. Or at least, it had been, it was meant to be.

Once again, he asked her about her intentions, what she meant to do next. And Alfia found once more that she still couldn’t answer.

There shouldn’t have even been a reason to ask! There shouldn’t have even been a reason for her to have called out to him in the first place! They had already decided what needed to be done, they had talked about it at length -or as much as anyone dared discussed anything at length with her- and they’d each reached the same conclusion. It wasn’t as if she felt particularly guilty about the thought of becoming Orario’s enemy. The city had run out her Familia almost the moment they’d been shattered by the final Great Quest. The stress of their defeat and the flight had taken a toll on all of them, and enough to cause the early demise of her sister. Meteria had died before Alfia had even been able to reunite with her, just a few days after giving birth. Everything Alfia had cared about, or wished for had been destroyed. She would be very happy to don the mantle of villain and strike back against all that had wronged her.

And it wasn’t as if she feared death. She would only be going to join her Goddess, her sister, and all the countless comrades that had gone ahead of her. From the moment of her birth her life had been a sin, if it needed to end to complete one final great deed, that was a worthy trade.

Nor did Alfia have any doubts about what needed to be done.

The world wanted a hero. The city was waiting for a hero.
And she had seen just how weak Orario was. She knew herself just how pathetic the remaining Familia were. There was no hero among them.

To forge a hero, Orario needed a villain. It needed someone who could break the system as it stood. A villain to force hardship on the people, to humble the Guild and spread chaos in the streets. It needed a villain who would become the challenge for the next generation to rise up and overcome. It needed a villain who would destroy the current order and in turn die to the new order raised up in its place.

She knew all of this. She had agreed to all of this. Her contacts with the Evilus were already prepared and her role in what was to come was already fully defined.

And yet, she couldn’t voice it. Zald was waiting for her answer, for her to agree and to leave with him. But the Maiden of Silence was without words.

Frustratingly, it was his words that had stuck in her head and caused the change in her mindset.
No matter that he was no longer around, any thought of Meteria’s husband was guaranteed to set the bile in Alfia’s stomach rising, so she quickly clamped down on that thought, turning away simply finally giving voice to the doubts that had been poisoned within her.

“What if this plan is just hubris? Does Orario need this, or are we simply telling ourselves that to lick our wounds? So we can still feel like an important part of the city’s history?”

Zald snorted, dismissing her question instantly, “Whether it’s hubris, self-satisfaction, or even misguided intentions, it’s the only path I see where Humanity lives.”

The two Great Familia were broken. And worse, the two of them knew to their souls just how far even the Zeus and Hera Familia had been from the task the world needed of them. The two greatest Familia, the adventurers to descend further into the dungeon than anyone else had dared dream, the ones to destroy the Behemoth and Leviathan, there was none like them in the world, none that even came close to their strength… and they had been scattered effortlessly by the One Eyed Black Dragon.

They were too weak. And those that followed were weaker still.

“The Evils will pluck at the heart of Orario, while the remaining Familia will content themselves simply with stopping them, and with doing as they’ve always done. And then the Dragon will destroy them all,” he was as blunt as ever, “The world needed a hero. One last time. The last hero. And we shall give it the despair needed to create one.”

“Your God says he wants to make Bell into that hero. That he shall be the legacy of the Zeus Familia.”

Zald snorted again, shaking his head dismissively.

“Zeus says a lot of things. Is he really committed to that? Will he see that through?” one of the reasons they’d always gotten on so well was because he didn’t think any more highly of his patron God than Alfia did, “Shall we really entrust all of Orario, all of the world, to a child? His own father was nothing but a coward and a pervert.”

That was another reason they got on so well, a shared distaste for that man. Alfia was hardly going to disagree. Her sister’s child was certainly not the son of anyone of any renown, even her own relation to him meant little. She hadn’t been powerful to achieve anything, that was yet another of her myriad regrets.

Really, coming here might have been her biggest regret of all. She’d known it was a mistake. She’d had all the reasons in the world not to. She had not ever wanted to be reminded that there was a child in the world that might one day call her aunt. It was much too far away from anything and anywhere. Zeus was here so it was, of course, full of noise. A young infant was here so, of course, the noise was only made even worse. When she’d gone to see him, he’d looked up at him with those disgusting red eyes he’d inherited from his equally disgusting father.

And then her feart had skipped a beat when he’d smiled at all. And then it’d skipped another when she’d stroked her fingers through his snowy white hair. Just like hers and just like Meteria’s.

Asking to hold him was, Alfia was certain, the biggest mistake of her life. She could still remember Zeus’s damnable laughter now. Bell had been asleep by then, thankfully, so he hadn’t bothered her with any additional noise. But he’d still clung to her and he’d cooed softly, and he’d reminded her of her sister so much that if she was anyone else, she was sure she would have cried.

Alfia was not maternal, nor did she consider herself a particularly pleasant person. She hadn’t held much love for anyone in this world, not even the Goddess Hera that’d given so much to her. But somehow, frustratingly, painfully, embarrassingly, annoyingly, noisily… she’d loved Bell from the moment she’d taken him into her arms.

“Zald. I’m staying here.”

And now, without any reason at all to do so, she had rejected the plan she herself had made with the last great adventurer left in this world.

She didn’t feel particularly wretched about doing so, although it surprised her to find that she did feel guilty. She understood well just how pointless this change of heart of hers was. There was absolutely no reason to believe that Bell could become the Last Hero, or anything notable at all. But she’d still decided entrust Orario’s future to him anyway.

The conversation continued for only a few minutes after that.

Despite the many years they’d known each other, despite how often they’d fought alongside each other, and despite that she was sending him off alone to his death, there was little left to say. Or perhaps, it was because of how long they’d known each other that there was simply no reason to say anything more.

She didn’t bother trying to change his mind, she had no reason to, not when she didn’t think her own course was correct. Zald’s resolve was clear. He would return to Orario as a villain and wreck terrible vengeance, he would destroy Orario as it was and force it to become a city that could create a Hero capable of saving the world. “I’ll create a city that won’t need Bell to even hold a weapon.” He promised.

Her resolve was equally clear. She would stay here, despite that damnable Zeus and all the noise he made. She would protect her sister’s legacy; she would raise Bell. No matter Zald’s doubts and Zeus’s lack of commitment, she would raise Bell to be the Last Hero. He was an innocent child, he hadn’t inherited Meteria’s weakness, nor Alfia’s sins, and she would ensure he was nothing like that father of his, he would be the man Orario was waiting for. “I won’t let any of it be in vain. Not our regrets, not our failure, or our fallen comrades.” She promised.

“I’ll be off then.”
“Mmm.”

Their goodbyes were as short as ever. Neither flinched from the fate that now separated then.

The last member of the Zeus Familia marched off into darkness. He would die as the villain needed to change and save Orario.
The last member of the Hera Familia walked towards the cradle by the fireside. She would throw away her role as villainess and live to raise a Hero who could save the World.

If she’d been a sentimental sort, or someone prone to self-reflection, Alfia might have thought it at least a little fitting that by his very presence Bell had already saved one woman. But she wasn’t, so she simply forced Zeus away from the kitchen and took to preparing the infant’s next meal herself.

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Several years passed.

Alfia was always a stubborn one and raising Bell -as noisy as it was- had proven no exception. The years passed, he got taller, stronger, more handsome, far noisier, and she’d stayed with him all throughout. Annoyingly, her affection towards him had only grown in the years since, to the point she’d taken to not only allowing him to hug her in his various boyish bouts of excitement, but occasionally reaching out and taking him into her arms herself.

As far as she could judge it and with zero experience around children, she considered that the years had been productive, with Hera returned to Heaven she has no powers and she’d never been one for martial skill to begin with, but, while she made clear that she thought his talk of heroism was ridiculous, she’d still spent the intervening years training him as best she could. Instilling him knowledge and strategy, just as Zeus instilled with him heroism and wonder. In that alone she’d made no attempt to intervene with Zeus’s pathetic attempt at child-rearing, such wonder and delight was fitting for the man who would be hero and it was not something she could so easily teach herself. Alfia had seen far too many dead comrades and unfulfilled dreams to talk with such romance about the dungeon and the adventures that awaited within.

But now all that was over.

Zald was long gone.

And now Zeus had left them.

As predicted, the God of Thunder had been unreliable to the last. He hadn’t said a word to her, she didn’t have an inkling as to his motives or his thoughts. Did he give up on this game of raising Bell? Had he never truly believed in the boy’s potential? Did he have some scheme of his own? She had no way of knowing.

All she did know was that he was gone, and Bell was inconsolable.

And, for the first time in her life, Alfia made absolutely no attempt to silence the noise that was practically overwhelming her. Bell wailed and sobbed, clinging to her dress and bawling his eyes out like he’d never done before. Alfia said nothing, she simply wrapped her arms around him and hugged him closer, pulling him into her and letting him cry his grief out into her chest. The sound was unbearable, but in this case, it wasn’t because her ears were left ringing but because his clear, unvarnished pain tore so miserably at her heart that she felt like she would do anything just to ease his pain.

She was absolutely furious, but not at the noise that beating down on her, every celch of her boiling rage was directed at the missing deity, at the God that had abandoned this boy that loved him.

Some time passed after that, another week drifted by as Bell slowly recovered from his pain and the first death he’d ever known. It was a painful lesson, one she would have delayed for much longer, but also a lesson that Alfia decided would mark the end of their tenure in this countryside village. It was time to return to Orario.

It was early, too early most likely. She’d intended to take some further years away to let Bell grow stronger still, she’d planned to introduce him to one of the Familia in place outside the Dungeon City, one of the ambitious few looking to move into the great city. They would have made for a suitable stepping stone if nothing else… but Zeus had set things in motion, the die was cast, and Alfia was never one to deny the pull of destiny.

Being set directly on the path of his dreams and the stories he’d idolised for so long would give Bell a chance to focus on something besides his loneliness. Playing along with that idea, Alfia made a show of opposing the idea, putting off their travel for a full week following Zeus’s death before finally relenting.

It wasn’t as if she had much other choice, the house had been halfway destroyed as it was. All their meagre belongings and current savings were all they had left.

Even with the advent of his adventure on the horizon, Bell’s grief followed him like a cloud, his grandfather’s loss was undoubtably a world-shattering event for the young man. Drawing him close to her, she held tight to his hand, making no attempt to shake him away as they made their journey slowly and silently towards the Walled City.

Too focussed on her own thoughts, her anger and her ambitions, Alfia’s eyes were turned only towards the distance still ahead of them.
So, it was Bell alone that noticed the remarkable sight passing directly above their heads- a brilliant, shining star of the heavens streaking across the sky and falling all the way down to earth.

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Much had changed in her absence, she was sure, but getting inside Orario was just as simple as she’d expected. The Dungeon City’s place in the world was as pre-eminent as it ever was.

Some combination of the distance, the time and the sheer novelty of finally coming to the city he’d heard about so many times in tales and dreams had finally served to bolster Bell’s mood and he was back to his usual self, practically bouncing on his feet with each step as they made their way through the procession into the city and as he eagerly gave his name and intentions to the guard (Ganesha familia, she noted idly). For her part, Alfia gave a fake name and stated her intentions only as the boy’s guardian and provider, that at least was barely a lie at all.

Even if it was convenient for her to hide her identity, a part of her couldn’t help but be galled that even in just the time she’d been away already she’d faded from memory enough that the gate guards didn’t recognise her on sight. Even as much as it soothed her oft-wounded pride, the guards didn’t even have the excuse of her looking any different- she may no longer have the Falna that had once been inscribed on her back, but her body had been changed tremendously by its power; she aged faster than she used to, but a score of years was little enough to have barely affected her appearance. If she’d been optimistic, she would have thought that perhaps Zald had been so successful in his mission that a level 7 adventurer was barely of note anymore in Orario, but Alfia was never one for faith or hope, so she simply insulted the guard’s competence under her breath after they’d passed.

Truly, the city itself was just as impressive as it had ever been, Bell was predictably wide eyed and awestruck just walking through the main street… and then for several hours since until she finally managed to snap him back to reality after arranging lodgings for that night. The details had changed, but the larger city remained the same, just as she’d expected. It was as noisy as she’d expected too, but somehow the hum of Orario’s city streets brought with it enough pleasant memories that she didn’t mind the din.

From there, they set about their respective tasks.

Bell would busy himself with arranging a Familia for himself and beginning his journey into the dungeon.
While she would relax, or read, maybe eat something, whatever took her fancy.

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The days passed, one by one, and soon enough Alfia was forced to come to a rather stark re-evaluation.

She had never told him such, of course, and never would say anything to him, but after so long raising him and watching him grow, the infant that’d instantly charmed her had become taller, stronger, more impressive and more handsome with each passing day. He was no longer just her sister’s child, and no more a reminder of that man… he was nothing but her adorable and beloved Bell. He was a child she would rip up the world and sunder destiny for. And more than that, he was the boy who she knew for sure would become the man she could entrust Orario with.

Zeus had filled Bell with stories and legends, Alfia had added corrections, additions or -very occasionally- her own tales. She had never once told Bell of his ambition, or the mission. The dream to become a Hero had been from Bell’s own pure desires, and with Zeus stoking the flames of ambition, Alfia had made herself the villain in the tale, tempering Zeus’s reckless enticement with her warnings or worries. While the God had sat Bell on his lap and told him of heroes and great battles, Alfia had forced him to run around the village to be strong enough to even dream of such things.

Even now, she was sure that Bell thought she was doing nothing but going along with his dreams, that the support she’d offered him and the offer she’d made to see his hopes through had come either from obligation or from worry. She had become his goal, the woman he believed doubted him and an obstacle for him to overcome. She was a challenge for him to cast down and to prove himself to, the fire with which his mettle and his determination would be forged stronger.

That was fine. The mantle of villainess suited her better anyway, far more than that of the caring and loving supporter she had somehow (infuriatingly) become throughout the intervening years.

And now, when she looked at him these days, when she saw the determination and yearning hidden within the kind face of the boy she’d watched for so long, she couldn’t even imagine the doubts she’d once held, the doubts she’d once voiced to Zald. It all seemed so ridiculous now. This was her adorable and beloved Bell! No-one could possibly doubt that he was the man who would turn the city on its head, the one who would become the last and greatest Hero and who would finally put a close to the story that had begun with the descent of the Gods!

Unfortunately… that was only what she saw.

After spending several days in the city now, she was painfully aware that what the rest of Orario saw was a weak and skinny runt, a young kid that would be absolutely no use to any Familia and would surely die within a few days if anyone was actually reckless enough to take him into the dungeon.

It was irritating. Almost enough to make her want to shed the cover of anonymity she’d cloaked herself in. After how long she’d spent in the great city and how much she’d achieved, she was sure her name must still have enough power to give her the leverage to convince one of the more upstanding Familia to take on Bell. At an absolute last resort, she could trade her own loyalty in bargain- there was surely no Familia in the world that would turn down the chance to recruit a level 7 Adventurer.

Yet even as the days passed, she held back, doing nothing at all to direct Bell’s efforts or to bring about the solution by her own hand. This was the exact same spartan mentality she had always taken towards her students. All the care that she’d (frustratingly) accumulated towards Bell only drove this impulse on even stronger, coddling him would only stymie his growth. He needed to face desperate challenges and overcome them with his own strength; there was no hero who ever walked the path decided by others.

Despite that however, and despite her claims towards altruism in his approach, there was no denying the shock of relief she’d felt that first night they’d spent in the city when she was told that Bell had been turned away from the doors of the Loki and Freya Familia both. Apparently setting his eyes seemingly as high as the tower of Babel itself, he’d immediately applied at each of the most prestigious Familia in the city and barely been given a glance at either before being hurried back onto the streets.

Logically, Alfia knew that her feelings were misguided. If her purpose was solely to foster Bell’s growth and help him realise his potential as Orario’s final hero, then in the current circumstances there were no Familia better suited to that task than either of those two. With the most powerful comrades and the deepest dungeon experience, they could protect him, they could support him, and they could raise him up faster than anyone else.

Yet the very thought had her fists curled in at her side and her glare cold enough almost to chill the window pane at her side.

Alfia was not a perfect person. She was petty, she was spiteful, she was selfish, and more importantly, they killed her sister.

Not intentionally, and not directly of course. Under the eyes of the Guild, Adventurers very rarely died in the battles they fought in those chaotic Orario days, and a civilian like Meteria was beyond question. Loki and Freya’s forces both fought against the Evils and had shed blood to stabilise the city throughout the turmoil that followed, neither would condone reckless slaughter like that.

But the result was the same. Their failure against the Dragon shattered the Hera and Zeus Familia, and with their blood in the water, their would-be rivals had wasted absolutely no time in rising up and taking their revenge, running them out of the city. The sins that made up Alfia’s life had always taken their toll in Meteria, her sister had always been frail, and birthing a child had only made her even weaker still, being suddenly forced from her home, from the church she’d kept as sanctuary and from the quality of medical care she could find in Orario...

Calm façade crumbling entirely, Alfia’s scowl deepened further as she lost herself in bitter memories. The thought that both those two Goddesses towered large over not just the dungeon City but the world as a whole was almost more than she could stand. Walking through the city and seeing the public adoration both seemed to bask in had almost been enough to wish to re-enact Zald’s plan herself all these years later.

“Tch.”

It was rare indeed that she would be the one to break a comfortable silence.

Soon enough, the moment passed and she collected herself once more. Bell would be back soon, and while she hoped for his success, judging from past results, she could only assume he would be reporting another day of failures to her.

There was no real harm in that, the shame and pain of his failures would only make his eventual success more powerful. And, while she’d made a great show of playing up the dire state of their remaining funds -lest he grow comfortable relying on her financial support- the truth was that she had easily enough valis left to last several months and even if that wasn’t enough, there were numerous hidden caches the Hera familia had left throughout the city she could pull from. Still, even as adorable and beloved as he was, it wouldn’t do for Bell to grow reliant on her any desperation he felt now would only forge him with eve stronger motivation. It was harsh, but her training always was.

‘Ah!’

Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the sound of familiar leaden feet tromping dejectedly up the stairs to their inn-room. Moving over to the kitchenette, Alfia responded to Bell’s exhausted greeting with a placid one of her own as the boy slumped across the room and splayed himself across the table and as she began to prepare their dinner.

As expected, it seemed like today had been similarly unsuccessful in his quest.

With a little prompting, she coaxed the details out of him, offering her usual silent, unspoken support as she took pulled out various ingredients and took a knife to them.

And so it was that the woman once known as the Incarnation of Talent found herself stuck in place a minute later, eyes wide in shocked disbelief as her numb hands went through the motion of cutting the air before her where a carrot had already been thoroughly diced.

‘This… This boy…’

The boy lying miserably facedown on the table behind her behind her… The young, innocent child she’d helped raise… Her dear sister’s son… The man who would become the Last Hero of Orario… Her adorable, beloved Bell… Speaking as if it was worth no more than any other tale of his failures within the city, chalking it up to no more than yet another rejection… had just regaled her with his story of spending several hours first tracking down and then applying to the Ishtar Familia.

The Ishtar Familia.

Even in broad daylight where the district would be little more than a bunch of closed shops and empty buildings, it was hard enough to imagine her Bell in the Red-Light district. And it was impossible to imagine him supplicating himself to that bronzed slut’s joke of a familia! He didn’t even seem to realise where he’d applied to, he’d been asking around after the strongest Familia in the city, and the people who’d directed him had obviously treated it like some big joke, sending a young child off to a brothel to ask for the Whore-Queen’s patronage. No, more like sending a young rabbit into the Lion’s den!

The urge to find each and every one of those men who’d pointed his way and have a very quiet, very direct and very painful word with them boiled and frothed inside her, but there was nothing to be done for it. As cathartic as it would be to envision such an encounter with only the vague descriptions Bell had given about the passer-by and adventurer’s he’d asked, there was nothing for her to go on.

It didn’t usually take a lot to set Alfia off, but right now she was absolutely infuriated. If there was any Familia she would object to Bell joining as strongly as either of the two currently reigning duo’s, it was the Ishtar familia.

A man should have a respectable appetite, of course. She understood and accepted that, she wasn’t raising him to be a celibate hero. But there was a far cry from appreciating women and having his journey to the top start in the dregs of a brothel, no doubt with Amazons and their hanger-on’s draped all over him. He could take all the prostitutes he wanted, if he wanted, she couldn’t care less. But the women at Bell’s side should be one that would engender the respect and admiration of the townsfolk, not someone that any adventurer could buy for a few spare valis!

For the second time, despite waiting eagerly for Bell’s success, Alfia found herself relieved for his failure. She certainly wouldn’t thank Zeus for this (it wouldn’t surprise her if this was at least partially his fault), so she whispered a silent prayer to Hera instead.

Perhaps, she thought, it was time to reconsider her original plan.

She wouldn’t help Bell, not directly, of course. But she could at least point him in the right direction. And as far away from the Red-Light district as possible. He had a strong sense of justice, and that was a good trait in a hero, there was at least one Familia that immediately came to mind as a much more suitable option.

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“Is something the matter?”

It was a soft, cold voice that jolted Bell from his reverie wandering up and down one of Orario’s backstreets.

“Oh I, I was ac-”

Turning around with his encouraging smile plastered right on his face, Bell’s world suddenly slammed to a halt.

An Elf!

A female Elf, an Elf maiden!

Just like in the stories! Just like he’d dreamed of!

His heart skipped a beat and a furious blush rose for a second on his face as he stumbled for his words. He wasn’t prepared for this! He’d planned to ask for an Elf for his advisor when he got a chance to sign up at the Guild, but this was completely without warning! Standing dumbstruck in one of the dilapidated back streets that ran through the eastern edges of Orario, he was suddenly face to face with a beautiful elf woman and his brain locked into place as it suddenly found itself shifting gears.

This wasn’t the first time he’d seen an Elf, of course, he’d gawked with all the wonder of a naïve countryside hick through almost his entire day throughout the city. Noble and graceful Elven women, roguish seeming Animal Women, tall proud Amazons, Goddesses so perfectly beautiful he lacked the words to describe them, even the human women looked nothing like the ones he’d grown up with, somehow standing even more glamourous than he’d imagined clad in the powerful armour of an adventurer… just like his Grandfather had promised, Orario was like a completely different world to the one he’d known.

But despite seeing them from a distance, in all the time he’d spent so far in the city and in all the rejections he’d gone through, he’d never once talked to an Elf before, he’d never even been this close to one before. Famously aloof and reserved, it had never seemed to be an Elf that had answered his application, nor one that led him to the door shortly after.

While his brain took a moment to restart, Bell took in the sight before him. An Elf woman, a real Elf maiden! Golden hair hued just barley forest green, piercing icy blue eyes, those legendary pointed ears, a beautifully slender and wonderfully lissom body with petite breasts just barely pushing out her apron and soft-looking perfectly pale skin, she was the very image of the Elves he’d read about, the women he’d dreamed about! Even the unexpected sight of an Elf wearing a green coloured maid’s outfit, as modest as it was, only served to leave him utterly charmed.

“Is something wrong?”

She rephrased the question. Her voice was soft, very feminine and -despite the seeming kindness of the words- without a single trace of warmth. Shuddering in response, as if a cup of cold water had been thrown over him, Bell finally pulled himself upright to face her directly.

“I, ah, I was just…” he gestured around the dilapidated street and abandoned buildings, feeling both out of place and more than a little ridiculous, “Well, I was looking for the Astrea familia!”

That was the advice Alfia had given him, and this was the location he’d wound up in after what’d felt like an entire day of being given the run around by everyone he asked for directions. The Astrea familia, he’d been told, were a proud and respectable group, kind-hearted but stern, Alfia had explained them as something like the arbiters of justice in Orario. A dependable and reliable group that he’d certainly fit well in, Bell had been practically bursting with enthusiasm when he’d rushed out the door to go find them this morning!

And yet, from the second the words left his mouth, Bell felt a sudden chill blow through him. It was a bright sunny day in Orario, more than warm enough to walk around without a coat, but in this instant, it was as if all the heat had suddenly rushed out of his body! As if the very air around them had taken on a wintery bite.

The Elf didn’t react to his words at all, she didn’t narrow her eyes, her fingers didn’t twitch or clench, not a single trace of emotion shifted across her face. Even, so, Bell found it suddenly both very hard to meet her gaze and painfully difficult to avoid it.

“Why would you be looking for that Familia?”

Not noticing the way she avoiding mentioning the Familia’s name, Bell launched immediately and awkwardly into an explanation! Stumbling over his words and unintentionally pouring his heart out, he told her everything about why he was here. He told her he’d just come to the city, how he’d always dreamed of being an adventurer (he held back on mentioning his dream of being a Hero), he told her about the trouble he’d had finding a familia, how lost and overwhelmed he’d been so far in the city, and how his Guardian had suggested the apply to the Astrea familia- that the Goddess Astrea would surely be able to see the strength and justice within him.

Bell didn’t really know what he was saying, or why he was saying so much to a stranger who’d just stopped him in the street but thankfully, the more he talked, the more the day seemed to warm back up. The Wintery chill faded from the air with each passing second and by the time he was explaining about his intentions to join the familia, and about his hope that Lady Astrea would see him directly the back-alley street was swollen with the same summer heat as it had always been.

When his rambling explanation finally petered out, she acknowledged it only with a soft sigh but even so, a certain degree of tension seemed to have drained out of her and her icy blue eyes seemed far warmer than before. Examining him, as if testing the weight of his words and finding them believable, her lips curled slowly into a wan smile, and Bell’s heart was left pounding in his chest all over again.

“I see,” she answered a moment later, her words as placid as ever but her tone somehow several notches warmer, even sympathetic, “In that case, your intentions are certainly laudable. However, it appears that your Guardian has been away from the city too long and the people you asked for directions have been having fun at your expense.”

“H-Huh!?”

“That Familia is gone. They were destroyed five years ago.”

For the second time in less than a score of minutes, Bell’s world jammed to a halt. This time the shock was infinitely less pleasant.

“Wh-ah, I, uh, how?”

“Have you heard about the fighting with the Evils?” he shook his head numbly, “The details don’t matter. But for years, ever since the Loki and Freya Familia took power, there was a war between the many Familia trying to restore order to Orario and those trying to take advantage of the chaos, the Evilus followers of the Evil Gods. The people you seek were caught up in that fighting and… that Familia no longer exists.”

“Th… They’re all dead?”

It was like a splash of cold water across his soul. He’d barely been able to sleep last night after Alfia had spoken to him. He’d never expected her to reach out unprompted, to help him in the dream he knew she disapproved of! For her to do so had meant the world to him and he’d treasured her advice dearly! All night he’d laid awake with images of the Astrea familia, he’d envisioned them as noble and kind warriors, people who valued strength and kindness and who wanted to make Orario better! His heart had been soaring like never since the day he’d first arrived in the city!

And now he was told that all those people he’d imagined, all the figured he’d invented and envisioned were all dead. That they’d been killed years ago by a group of Evil Gods. He’d never even known one of them, but still his heart ached at the thought.

“Then, Lady Astrea…”

The Elf’s eyes shifted at that, and she turned away from him, her gaze held instead by one of the numerous abandoned buildings in the street. Desolate and clearly run-down, it was still the only one still standing whole and untouched.

“There… was no record of her returning to Heaven,” she answered eventually, “A Goddess’s return isn’t something that could be missed… most likely she left the city.”

“A-Ah!” Bell perked up, filled with sudden inspiration, “Then I cou-”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” his excitement was cut down the very same instant, “Were you going to say you’d find her? How? You don’t have a clue where she went, or what she even looks like. If she was so easy to find then the Evils remnants would have tracked her down already. You only just arrived in Orario, are you so eager to leave?”

“I- I ah, th-…”

Bell’s words trailed off. He could be impulsive sometimes, and he knew he’d inherited Alfia’s sense of stubbornness too… but this wasn’t determination or steadfastness, this was just being childish. After being so despondent and feeling so out of place, and so lonely, within the massive city he’d finally had his hopes bolstered once more, it was painful to feel them crashing down around him once again. And it was even more painful when it was a result of following Alfia’s suggestion… He didn’t know many details, but he knew Alfia used to live in Orario, she was familiar with the city and the Familia, the thought that even with her unexpected help, he still hadn’t found a Familia that would so much as look at him was sobering…

“The Astrea Familia is gone,” the Elf declared with finality, as if to kill off any lingering hopes he may have had, “and its name disgraced besides.”

That strange comment brought him back from his thoughts, “Disgraced? What do you mean?”

“One member of the Familia escaped the Evil’s ambush. Her comrades were all killed and she was left shamefully alone, the only survivor… And in response, she lost herself in vengeance, drowning in revenge. She abandoned her ideals, abandoned her Familia and hunted down the Evils, killing everyone she could find responsible for her companion’s murder.”

Bell perked up, unable to make sense of the disgust ringing clear in the noble Elf’s voice, “Then, she avenged them? She brought them to justice?” that wasn’t a particularly happy ending, but it certainly sounded like something out of the hero tales he’d loved.

“No,” her voice was steel, cold and unbending, “It was nothing but violence. She used poison, bombs, even arson- and she killed indiscriminately, not just those that had been involved, but anyone connected to them, anyone that may have supplied them, anyone that she could pin the blame on. She forsook her Goddess’s justice and became nothing but a killer; the guild branded her a criminal, and the citizens feared her name. Now still, her disgraceful story does nothing but haunt the streets she’d once fought to protect.”

He swallowed heavily, cowed by the stern words. He didn’t have a way of answering that, and again he was forced into an uncomfortable realisation about his naïveté. His only connection to fighting, justice and heroism was the stories he’d idolised, it was all very well for him to puff up about the Evil’s getting destroyed in retribution- but he hadn’t been there, and this Elf clearly must have lived through that time. Without any experience at all, he could only imagine how terrifying it must have been for a normal civilian to hear about a powerful adventurer going rogue and cutting down anyone she’d thought got in her way, to hear about bombs and poison taking out anyone even connected to her target.

“I-ah, I’m sorry.”

“Ah,” blinking languidly, as if suddenly seeing him again, the Elf suddenly snapped back in place. A faint tracing of red spread across the tips of her ears as she realised she’d been lecturing a child she’d just met, after imposing on him directly in the first place, “No, I’ve said too much. That was an unpleasant story, I’m sorry- I always take things too far.”

Losing his train of thought momentarily in the wonder of seeing such unabashed emotions play out across her face before her expressions settled back to its usual placid demeanour, Bell couldn’t offer anything much as a response. It seemed, he thought, he still had a good way to go to deal with Elves.

She spun on her heel, “Needless to say, you won’t find what you’re looking for here. All that’s left are ashes, memories and ghosts.” And then, a few steps after she’d begun striding away from him, she turned back, and the back-alley street got a few degrees warmer as Bell found himself basking in the twilight glow of an Elf’s slight smile, “Even if you were misled here, your intentions were commendable. An Adventurer should pledge themselves to the God that suits them, so, I wish you luck in finding a Familia that will welcome you.”

And with that she was gone.

“Heh, hehe.”

The warmth of that smile, and the radiance of her elfin beauty stuck with Bell even in her absence as he traced his steps slowly back along the path he’d travelled to get here.

It stayed kindled inside him as he spent the next half-hour finding his way back from the fruitless adventure he’d been sent on.

Its embers comforted him as he walked through Orario’s main throughfare once more, seeking out Gods and Goddesses, and knocking at the doors of any adventuring Familia he could find.

And slowly as the afternoon wore on and light began to wane, as Bell’s more and more harsh rejections, soft refusals and polite dismissals piled up atop the boy’s soul… the warmth that had been keeping him going slowly faded.

His steps grew slower and this energy ebbed to nothing.

After looking forward to it what felt like his entire life, he’d finally come to Orario. The tower of Babel loomed high above him and he knew the dungeon lurked only a few kilomeders away from where he stood now. Adventuring, heroism, encounters with women, it all seemed like it was so close… And yet, day after day, it felt like an impossible gulf was separating him from the dreams he’d yearned for.

He’d travelled all this way, and day after day he’d been forced to understand just how big the city truly was.

Maybe… nobody in Orario wanted him.

Maybe… nobody needed him.

Maybe… there really was no Familia to find, no place for him to belong?

“Ah…”

A strained sigh escaped his lips as Bell’s head spun, dazed with the sense of the hopes he’d sheltered for so long finally dwindling to nothing. The pain and loneliness from losing his Grandpa still tore at him even all these weeks later, coming here, pushing himself to fulfil the dreams his Grandpa had entrusted with him was a way of dealing with that. Finding a place to belong, a new home, a place where he was wanted was a way of trying to warm up the part of his soul that’d been chilled by the loss ever since.

But maybe there really was nothing? Maybe he really was just a useless country hick with dreams far above reality?

Even Alfia’s suggestion hadn’t helped. The woman who’d always seemed like she knew everything hadn’t known a Familia that would take him. The Elf had been kind to him, but her story had severed all the hopes he’d clung to since the previous night. And now, as her smile faded from his mind, Bell was left with nothing instead.

“…Ah…”

He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t have any particular destination in mind. He was just trudging forwards, one-foot in front of the other, away from the main throughfare, away from the smiles and the laughter and the city filled with adventurers and families that all had a place to belong, filled with people who didn’t need him and didn’t want him. He walked on. Alone. Nobody paid any attention to him.

“Heeeey! You there! The back alleys are pretty dangerous, so I’d steer clear if I were you!”

Which is why, when someone called out to him, he didn’t understand what was going on.

“Huh..?”

Turning around, his head full of bleak doubts and dark memories, Bell thought absolutely nothing of this encounter. And yet soon, later, long after and for the rest of his life he knew for certain, that he would never forget this moment.

“Th-Thanks but… um, who are you?” he blinked, surprised to see a young woman even shorter than he was looking at him with such naked concern, “All alone in a place like this… are you lost, by any chance?”

Cocking her hip, she raised an eyebrow, “Uh, I think you’re the one who looks lost here.”

Thoughts finally catching up to his senses, Bell finally caught on to just who he was addressing here. Even for someone as uncultured as him, it wasn’t hard to identify a Goddess. The absolutely flawless beauty, the sense of perfection, timelessness and divinity stood out unmistakably despite their semi-mortal shells. In this case, the woman’s small frame, strange looking dress and eye-catchingly massive breasts served to stand out more than clearly enough to ensure Bell understood he was talking to a deity.

He swallowed. First an Elf, now a Goddess.

The cold loneliness that had been gnawing at his soul began to thaw her presence. Somehow just the care and concern in her gaze seemed enough to ebb away the darkness that had been clouding him.

“So, um… the thing is, I’m recruiting for my Familia. Just so happens that I’m looking for adventurers to join up, so, y’know, uh…”

She was blushing, hesitating and awkward without a clue what she should really be saying or what the proper procedure was.

But Bell didn’t notice any of that.

All he saw was the hand reaching out towards him.

Her appearance. Her voice. The nervous shiver they each shared as their hands interlinked. The warmth tingle that went through him when he introduced himself and she voiced his name aloud.

The joy of that moment was enough to make him want to weep.

And standing there, hand in hand, smile meeting smile, with the young-looking Goddess of the Hearth, Bell knew for sure that he would remember every last detail of this moment for the rest of his life.

---------------------------------***********************---------------------------------

Bell, Alfia thought, was exactly the kind of man to bring a girl home to his mother.

Of course, he had neither of those things.

Instead, he brought a Goddess home to his Guardian.

It was difficult deciding just how she was meant to feel about this development. Initially the apparent Goddess Hestia made an absolutely horrible impression. For one, she was loud. Her greeting after Bell dragged her inside had been almost as loud as his, except Alfia didn’t have more than a decade’s worth of resistance built up towards the young Goddess’s shouting. That alone would normally have been enough to have her slap flying to turf the divinity out into the streets… but, instead… for Bell’s sake… she grit her teeth and held back.

Unfortunately, her impression wasn’t improved at all by Hestia’s weak and clearly ill-prepared plan to become an adventuring Familia. It was very quickly apparent that this so-called Goddess of the Hearth had no hearth to speak of, nor did she have any other followers, any equipment or any resources at all. In this entire city, a metropolis absolutely bursting at the seams with the Divine, this was who Bell found? A rookie in well over her head, who’d barely arrived to Earth a few months ago, whose Familia was entirely theoretical, who worked part time at a Jyaga Maru Kun stall and whose base of operations was an abandoned church she’d (in a somewhat shifty explanation) “been given as a farewell gift” from a friend.

Logically, it made absolutely no sense.

There was no mystery why Hestia hadn’t managed to convince anyone to join her Familia in all the time she’d been in Orario so far, simply, she was the same as Bell. Instead of building up power, connections and resources outside the city, she’d jumped ahead right to the hotbed of Adventurers without a plan and just tried to make it work. Any adventurer worth their salt knew that it was difficult to make a living on expeditions into the dungeon without preparing at least some level of funding and personnel in advance. To head to the dungeon was to put your life on the line, it was only natural that anyone doing so would favour a familia that could actually supply them with a level of support or comfort.

Orario was full of useless, feckless Gods and Goddesses. And by all appearances this Hestia was just yet one more.

And yet, somehow Alfia couldn’t dismiss her. Because, despite all those things, Bell was standing ahead of the small Goddess and defending her. And because Bell hadn’t let go of her hand this entire time.

His argument was as simple as could be- that all God’s Falna was exactly the same. That was, more or less, true.
And, that in this entire city, bursting with all those famed and beloved Divinities, Hestia was the only one who had reached out to him.

Alfia sighed.

Ultimately, in the face of all her logic, that was the more important consideration. The Goddess of the Hearth indeed, the Patron of the lost and weary children. She had been the one to see Bell’s worth, to judge the colour of his soul and to offer him a place at her side. For all that the tiny Goddess lacked in power or influence, this was something that Bell had gained for himself, entirely through his own efforts, and Alfia was loath to throw it away.

‘And...’

Secret to him, on a more cynical level, she couldn’t help but wonder if what this idea lacked in pragmatism it made up for in romanticism.

A Familia built literally from nothing, created from the burned-out ashes of a desolate church. The union of an overlooked boy and an unwanted Goddess. Even Alfia could clearly see that was surely a fitting beginning for the Hero she believed that Bell would become. None would ever be able to say that he’d been lifted through his trials or victories by the assistance of strong Familia, he would pull himself up purely through his own efforts rather than being coddled through Loki or Ganesha’s induction program, or whatever it was that Freya used to raise up her newbies.

It was a far more dangerous road of course. According to the conventional wisdom it was borderline suicidal. But then, so was going to the dungeon at all. Bell had accepted that danger, and Alfia had never been one to shy away from harsh lessons to her students.

In the end, she gave her ascent fairly quickly and both boy and Goddess were soon cheering to each other far, far too loudly and not anywhere near far enough away from her. The Goddess dragged Bell away with her, apparently taking him to what she’d dubbed “her favourite spot in the city” to engrave their union permanently and Alfia found herself smiling warmly as they left.

Hestia, for all her myriad of faults, gave a wonderful second impression.

When she’d pressed the small Goddess on her plans and ambitions for the Familia, while she’d received mostly dithering and vague assurances in the way of concrete details, what had been clear was her clear frustrations with and dislike of Loki! Hestia had crowed openly and angrily about the way she’d butted heads with the chaos deity, how displeased she was to run into her again down in Orario and of her dream to knock that “Itty-Bitty” down from the perch she was so vastly ill-suited for.

Alfia would have clapped if such a thing didn’t go against her very principles. What a wonderful speech! What a wonderful ambition! Truly it just went to show that even someone as bedraggled as this could still have some real value to them.

It also helped that Hestia was clearly very taken with her young charge. In a city filled to the brim with blind fools who’d somehow overlooked Alfia’s adorable and beloved Bell, it seemed the Goddess of the Hearth was the only one who’d been able to notice the diamond lying directly at her feet. The two of them, Alfia thought, were surely on a very similar wavelength. And that surely couldn’t be a bad thing.

And so, despite herself, Alfia’s life became even more noisy.

---------------------------------***********************---------------------------------

A/N: And there we go! What a relief to finally get something out! It’s long overdue, I’ve been writing all this time, but whether it’s for a favour to a friend or getting distracted, I’ve kept getting pulled away into one project or another. I’ve got a number of stories at about 80-90% complete, so hopefully you’ll see a number of updates from me soon.

Anyone who’s read her story might notice that I’ve toned Alfia down a bit here. Hopefully that’s not too drastic, she should still be recognisable as herself, my thoughts were that I didn’t want her to be quite as aggressive or use slapstick comedy, and more importantly that I think her time with Bell would have mellowed her out a good deal. Especially now she’s here with him in Orario. For those interested, her act of directing him towards the Astrea Familia was meant to be a bit of poetic irony, seeing as they were the ones to destroy her in the canon timeline.

Not a whole lot happened this chapter, but a lot’s now setup so we can have some fun happenings next time!



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