Authors: Fujino Omori
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy
Wall Shadows have sharp “fingers.”
There are three of them sticking out of unusually long arms. They
are knives, plain and simple. They’re on the move! These guys make kobolds and goblins look like child’s play. They’re fast!
It’s safe to say that Wall Shadows are the most dangerous Level Six monsters in terms of pure power.
Adventurers who stay in the upper dungeon, lower floors one to twelve, need to be extra careful when one of these things shows up. It may be the last thing they see.
I would agree with that assessment.
Slicing pain! I’m hit already!
Their attack patterns are shockingly strong and fast. Black arms flash in every direction; my skin and clothes are being sliced up like tissue paper.
Their reach is too long! I can’t get close enough to strike back! They aren’t letting me!
These monsters are on a whole other level!
I can’t counter, I can’t dodge, I can’t get away.
They’re just too damn strong.
These silent killers are aiming for my head.
I catch a glimpse of one of their black blades out of the corner of my eye. Dodging at the last second, it passes just past my ear. The other one! Coming straight for me! Dodge right.
Front, side, behind, their attacks are coming from everywhere.
These strikes just keep coming, like they’re swimming through the air.
I’m getting dizzy, barely avoiding fatal blows by spinning like a top.
My blood and sweat are flying everywhere. I’m engaged in a dance of death.
This is serious. I might really die down here.
Hang on, I’m breathing. Very heavily, but I’m breathing…
I feel really impatient, but at the same time, something feels different…
Calm… I feel a stream of calm energy flowing through my body.
Despite this hopeless situation, my mind is clear. I look at my opponents with clear eyes for the first time.
—Why am I still alive?
Why didn’t I realize it before?
How did I make it to the lower sixth with my body still in one piece?
Why am I able to fight with the monsters around every corner on this floor as equals?
I don’t understand. How can someone who has only been an adventurer for two weeks survive on this floor on his own? I’ve encountered Wall Shadows! I shouldn’t be able to dodge their attacks!
The half-elf Eina told me as much. She warned me!
I remember she clearly said my status was far too low, low even for a newbie! She told me that my attacks wouldn’t make a scratch on these monsters!
A light flips on in the back of my mind. My status went up way too much earlier this evening.
It can’t be…?
The hieroglyphs on my back, could they be the reason?
I need to focus, that last hit rocked my whole body.
The Wall Shadows took advantage of my wandering thoughts and found an opening.
The back of one of their hands slammed into my shoulder. Not only was I thrown onto my back, but my knife flew out of my hand.
I hear the metallic blade hit the stone floor. My only weapon is gone.
A shadow rises above me, striking to kill. I quickly roll to the right to dodge.
The other Wall Shadow is standing above me now, taking aim with its right arm.
Suddenly, my eyes narrow.
Time slows down. I see everything.
Memories flood in with breathtaking speed. Everything I’ve ever seen, heard, or done lights up behind my eyes.
There she is, my savior bathed in silver light.
The smile of a special person, the goddess who gave me this power.
I can move! I feel strong, stronger than ever!
I jump up from the dungeon floor and punch the Wall Shadow in the face.
Long black arms fly by my cheek. I can feel the skin on my arm being scraped off as I plunge my fist deeper into the monster.
New echoes have joined me: the sounds of the Wall Shadow’s face being crushed.
My fist plows through the creature’s head. Throwing all my weight into a right counter worked!
A thick black liquid spurts out of the wound in the Wall Shadow’s head lodged around my arm. The creature’s arms cross where I was just a second ago, but they’ve gone limp. It falls to its knees as I burst through.
I’ve got momentum, can’t stop now!
The remaining Wall Shadow stares as I pull my black-blood-stained arm from its former comrade. The last monster squares its shoulders, preparing for my next move.
I make a break for my knife, snatching it off the floor before turning to face the beast one more time.
The animal man said I look like a “bunny”? I’ll prove him right!
Jump, pivot, step, roll, it can’t stop me! I get inside its reach before it can block.
The Wall Shadow’s muscles are firing, launching an attack. But I already have a step.
My blade tears a clean slit through the Wall Shadow’s chest.
I catch a glimpse of a flash of light from deep within the open wound. The monster’s magic stone was severed.
The beast lets out a silent scream as its jet-black body turns to ash.
I stand there for a moment, my arms and knife still outstretched, and watch its figure dissipate. As the last pieces go up, I finally let myself breathe.
“Haa… hh… haaa… hh… ha!”
I lean back as my lungs suck in massive amounts of air.
The tension gone, my body is really screaming at me now. That was too close, but I’m still in one piece. My heart pounds in my ears; just keeping my eyes open is a pain.
I’m in bad shape, but how bad?
I wasn’t ready to fight any of those monsters: I shouldn’t have been, anyway. But I did, and I won. It has to be my status, that’s the only thing that could go against everything I’ve been taught. That’s the only way I could have grown enough to do this and survive.
What’s happening to me?
The first step to figuring all this out is getting out of the Dungeon alive. I’m on the verge of collapsing, hands on my knees and trying to inhale the city itself… I can’t take much more of this.
I need to get out of here, now.
I take one step toward the exit, and another, just trying to move forward.
“You shall not escape.”
Am I hearing things…? That wasn’t a voice…
Oh shit… The walls are echoing, breaking, breathing! Left and right, there’s a spiderweb of cracks opening in every direction! Here come the Wall Shadows, lots of them.
… The first reason Eina told me not to come down here unprepared: the number of monsters born from the Dungeon walls dramatically increases from the lower sixth… no, lower fifth floor.
I’m stunned. I don’t think I can even speak right now. And more things are howling from beyond the exit door.
I can see their eyes reflecting the light from the ceiling.
Here they come, one after another. Lower-sixth-floor monsters bar the only way out.
There goes my clean escape. I’m surrounded. Wall Shadows are on my left, right, and behind me. Various other beasties are in front. And they’re all coming for me.
But I’m calm. Seriously, my head is cool and clear.
I step into a defensive stance… Wait, what’s that on the ground?
A drop item? Must have come from one of the Wall Shadows… A finger blade!
One of the three must have been left behind. I can use this! There’s no grip, just the long blade itself. But what choice do I have?
It cuts into my left palm. My blood drips off the tip of the blade.
Armed with two knives, I stare down my enemies one by one.
Even in this hopeless situation, I don’t feel like my number’s up.
I have to reach the next level, get closer to her.
I don’t have time to play with the monsters down here.
I’m in the eye of a storm of howls and roars, but I’m different now.
The symbols on my back are pushing me forward. My blades are ready.
I charge headlong into their advancing ranks.
Time-marking clicks echoed throughout the room.
The clock on the wall showed five in the morning.
Hestia paced back and forth around the room under the old church, her home.
He’s way too late…
She crossed her arms and scrunched up her eyebrows. Anxiety was pulsing through her veins.
She had lost her cool after seeing how much Bell’s “crush” on Aiz had caused him to grow last night.
She couldn’t even enjoy the drinking party with her coworkers. All that was there to greet her when she came back was silence. Bell wasn’t home.
She had told him to eat alone, but his not being back in time to welcome her home just made her even angrier. She skipped taking a shower and jumped into bed with every intention of falling asleep. Ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock passed, and he still hadn’t come back. That was when Hestia realized something was very wrong.
All her anger at Bell had kept her awake this long. Giving up on sleep entirely, she kicked off the bedcovers and left the room to look for him.
“Where did you go…?”
Her search bore no fruit.
There had been no sign of the boy’s signature white hair anywhere. Hestia’s last ray of hope was that Bell had returned while she was out. However, the room was still empty when she’d arrived.
All she’d gotten from her strenuous search was tired legs. Her nerves were starting to get to her as well. She was now officially a wreck.
Is it because of I said to him? But he’s the kind of guy who puts other people first; he wouldn’t make me worry just because he’s upset… Usually he’d be here with his head down apologizing by now…
Bell’s face had been like that of an abandoned baby bunny when she last saw him. She ran through their last conversation a few more times in her head.
The thought that it was her fault Bell was gone once again crept into her mind, but she shook it off.
She knew this wasn’t the time to be buried in her own misgivings. Taking a deep breath, she mulled over the possible reasons for the boy’s absence.
If I’m not the reason he hasn’t come back, then that means…!
Something bad had happened to him. She was sure of it.
Her forced calm fell apart like a sand castle. She broke out in a cold sweat. She couldn’t just stand here knowing that something had happened to him. She grabbed her cloak and headed to the door to go outside and look for him again.
The moment she reached for the knob on the square door, it swung open.
And hit her smack in the face.
At the same moment, her personal pillows went
as the door stopped on contact.
Hestia’s faith shot up 100 points!
She let out a high-pitched squeal as she grabbed her face and crouched down.
“G-Goddess? I-I’m sorry…”
Suffering from the agony of an unforeseen attack, Hestia looked up between her fingers at the figure standing in the doorway.
Realizing it was the boy that she had been worried about all this time, she jumped up to greet him.
It was him, just as she had expected.
Relief flowed through her. She was about ready to cry, but she was lost for words when the light hit him.
He was looking at her with big eyes, almost begging for forgiveness. But his face was covered in cuts, red with blood and brown from mud. He looked utterly exhausted.
His upper body was in rough shape. Hestia’s eyes spun as she looked at the shreds of cloth draped over his shoulders. They had been a shirt when she left. The skin peeking out from under what was left of his clothes was crisscrossed with gashes and swollen.
His lower body was even worse. His pants were stained with who knew what and frayed all to hell. However, there were three gashes across his right knee that had to come from a very sharp knife. Black and still bleeding, they were the worst injuries on a body riddled with them.
Hestia went pale as she carefully approached him.
“What happened to you? What’s with all these injuries? Were you mugged?!”
“No, it’s not that…”
“Then what the hell happened?”
“I went into the Dungeon…”
As the words rolled off her tongue, she forgot her anger for a moment and just stood in awe.
“Are you crazy?! You went into the Dungeon like that? At night?!?!”
“… I’m sorry.”
Bell did not have any armor whatsoever on his body. Going into the Dungeon like this was the same as going in naked.
One hit from a strong monster, and it would be over. Bell’s condition was proof of that.
He may have had a knife for protection, but the lack of thought and consideration for his life shocked Hestia to no end. Going into the Dungeon like this was not fearless, it was foolish.
“… Why would you even try this? You’re not some thrill seeker, so what was going through your head?”
The more Hestia looked at Bell, the less she wanted to scold him. He was not himself; he seemed darker, almost brooding. So she decided to change her tone to try to get a response out of him.
Bell showed no signs of opening his mouth. His hair covered his eyes. He was flat-out refusing to open up.
Hestia sighed, beside herself.
“Okay, okay. I won’t ask you anything else. You’re pretty stubborn, I can’t win.”
“I said it’s okay, didn’t I? For now, you need a shower. The bleeding has almost stopped, but your wounds are dirty. I’ll treat them when you are done.”
“… Thank you.”
Bell showed her a small smile. Although she was still hurting inside, Hestia smiled, too.
She stepped away from the door to let Bell inside, but he staggered forward.
The injury on his right leg must have been serious.
Cursing her lack of height, Hestia offered her shoulder to the struggling boy. She had to stand on the balls of her feet to keep him upright.
“All you do is apologize. If you really are sorry, think about what you did.”
Hesita half carried Bell toward the shower room. It was next to the bed behind an old, white wooden door. The door hung at a strange angle because one of the hinges was loose.
Hestia focused all of her strength to keep Bell upright as they made their way through the room. Just in front of the shower room, Hestia got an idea.
“Bell, sleep on the bed tonight, okay?”
“Are you sure…?”
“Of course! You’re hurt, and I can’t drag you all the way to the sofa, now can I?”
She knew that he needed sleep, first and foremost, to heal his injuries. It was the least she could do to give up her bed to help him rest.
As soon as she finished offering her bed, she got another idea. Why not tease him a bit?
“But I’ll be sleeping in the same bed. I’m exhausted from going out and looking for you, you know? You wouldn’t refuse, would you?”
“Yeah, sure. You must be tired, too. Let’s get some sleep together.”
Bell completely missed her teasing tone and accepted the condition right away. Caught completely off guard by his words, Hestia felt as if she’d been hit with a right hook. She quickly collected her thoughts; her heart had to recover. What was she going to do now?
Was she taking advantage of him? He was completely spent. There was no way to tell if he even knew what he was saying.
Damn it, Bell! You’re so close…!
Hestia’s teeth clenched as she thought about what Bell had just said. Her face turned pink as her heart jumped.
We can snuggle! No, we will snuggle!
Visions of what was to come filled her mind as she made mental notes about the size and weight of the boy she was holding up.
She had his word. He couldn’t get away now.
“…! Wh-what’s wrong?”
Bell’s voice woke her up from her daydreams. She rushed to respond.
Had he seen through her plan? Hestia was sweating bullets as she waited for Bell’s next words.
“… I-I want to get strong.”
She craned her neck to look up at his face.
He was looking straight forward, but not at anything in particular.
Hestia took a breath and looked back at the shower room door. She said, “Yes…” and accepted his words.
Strength: H-120 → G-221 Defense: I-42 → H-101
Utility: H-139 → G-232 Agility: G-225 → F-313 Magic: I-0
Continued desire results in continued growth
Stronger desire results in stronger growth
Hestia’s hands stopped moving in an instant.
Her eyes were glued to the thin back of the boy beneath her. His status was laid out before her as if she had opened an ancient book of hieroglyphs.
The information expressed in the Falna she had given him sent shivers down her spine.
A day had passed since Bell’s return.
He screamed when he’d realized he was sleeping next to the goddess. He spent a full day in that bed and awoke at his usual time the next morning to find himself in that predicament. It was still early, so they decided they might as well do a status update.
It was just how it always was: Bell facedown on the bed without a shirt, the goddess sitting on his rear end, pricking her finger and dripping blood on his back… The only thing out of the ordinary was the numbers floating to the surface, a completely unbelievable status.
He’s growing too fast.
Bell was the first member of her
, and thus he was the first human to receive her Falna, her blessing. A few of her friends had told her some things about how blessed children grow, but she wasn’t an expert.
She didn’t know how to make them get experience quickly, how to unlock their skills, or how to release the magic within them.
She only knew that the status on his back was not normal, at all.
This wasn’t growth. It was leaps and bounds.
There might not be another adventurer like him…
If everyone grew at Bell’s pace, then most adventurers would be in Level Two, almost to Level Three.
Most adventurers had a difficult time reaching Level Two, so much so that most Level Twos were members of large
More than half of adventurers never advanced beyond Level One.
Bell’s status was currently the equivalent of two average, veteran adventurers’ statuses combined.
The only time a blessed person’s status points went up 10 points or more at once was during the early stages of his or her career. Then they usually hit a wall and came to their god to complain about it.
Very few of them made it past that first wall. The rest just went around in circles.
Why did he grow this much…? The only possible explanation is…!
There was something swelling within him.
Hestia, the only one to know about the skill Realis Phrase, bit her lip as her head spun.
The children had an emotion called “jealousy.” This emotion was rocking Hestia to her very core.
Bell was looking over his shoulder, trying to figure out why Hestia had stopped.
“Aah! Sorry! Sorry!” she said, trying to reassure him and returning to work. At least she acted like she was getting back to work. She was almost finished anyway.
What should I do…? Just give the status to him as it is…?
Sudden confidence and strength led to arrogance.
Hestia knew that much. She knew that all the children, not just humans, had this weakness. Arrogance led to carelessness, and then to death.
Part of her wanted to believe that Bell wasn’t the kind of person who would be arrogant. But the other part said, “What if?” and she couldn’t ignore that feeling as his protector. What if she lost him?