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[nsfw] Power Corrupts (Gamer Si) (Complete)

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  Dying really didn"t feel like I thought it would. Maybe I just watched too many movies where the protagonist/love interest/best friend/redeemed villain and so on got to say a few dramatic words before they died, but I always thought I would get to say...something. Something beyond "oh shit" before truck-kun crossed three lanes, rounding on me like I owed him money then splattering my brains over his front bumper.
  You are dead! Would you like to start a new game?​
  "...yeah, I figured that out. Thanks, though?" I tried, eyeing the words in a floating text box warily. Because, you know, floating text box. Then my eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Did I just get isekai'd? Am I the gamer now?"
  Yes! Since you are familiar with the concept, would you like to skip to the world selector?​
  I scratched at an unshaven cheek, taking in a bracing breath. I feel like I shouldn"t be handling this so well. Gamer Mind? Or did I just desensitize myself by reading so many self-inserts before my untimely demise? At this point, it could be either. Regardless, I was glad that I wasn"t if only because it made moving on that much simpler.
  "Yeah, let"s do that." I agreed. I was the Gamer and I was about to be isekai'd. And you know what? I"m pretty okay with that.
  Please select your starting world!
  Mass Effect
  One Piece
  Tokyo Ghoul
  Attack on Titan
  (additional worlds will be unlocked as you progress)​
  Eyeing my choices, I immediately tossed Attack on Titan, Mass Effect and Halo out. I loved the worlds, but I don"t want to start out on the losing side of a genocidal war. Mikasa"s abs weren"t worth it. The same for Tokyo Ghoul, Evangelion, and Fallout -- Craving human flesh, dealing with madmen playing god, or living in a post-apocalyptic hellhole weren"t worth the waifus they offered.
  "That leaves RWBY, Danmachi, and One Piece." I mused, frowning at my choices. RWBY was technically a post-apocalyptic world, even if they never really showed it was out. Danmachi or One Piece... if I had the power of the Gamer, I needed to think about what kind of soft level cap there was. What did the endgame look like? And what was I looking at in terms of midgame?
  One Piece had people cutting mountains in half, able to jump from orbit head first and be totally fine, and power that treated the laws of physics as a suggestion. Early and mid-game would be determined by pirates I could fight, if I could find a decent teacher and failing that, being self-taught.
  Danamchi... had a lot more structure. The Dungeon offered more stable sources of exp, what"s more, it was set up in a way that I always had an idea of what I would be facing. If I found an established familia then I would have a support structure. Endgame was able to blow up mountains and wipe out armies, but those were a lot fewer than One Piece. And...
  I was totally biased.
  I pressed Danmachi then another list appeared.
  You have selected Danmachi. You can now proceed to the character creator.
  Previous game data has been analyzed. You earned: 2000 points during your last game! ​
  The great nothingness that surrounded me began to shift until I found myself in the Sims character creator. Standing on a platform was me, or a creepily accurate doll of me. I looked at myself for a moment -- truth be told, I wasn"t horrible looking. My hairline started to recced already, I had a bit of a stomach since I hadn"t worked out in some times but I was hardly fat...I supported the whole body acceptance thing mostly because I didn"t really care about it. But now I had a chance to give myself the body of adonis? Yes, please.
  My eye caught a tab labeled Races. Clicking it, another list appeared.
  Human: (Race already purchased)
  Amazon: 250 (Female player models only)
  Demi-human: 150 (Click here to see subcategories)
  Pallum: 100
  Elf: 300
  Dwarf: 250
  Spirit: 100,000,000
  God: 1,000,000,000
  Xeno: 50 (Warning: monsters, mortals and gods will want to kill you.)
  As boring as it was, I stuck with the human race. It was what I knew.
  I made the changes, then pausing to admire my work. I handcrafted the best looking version of myself. Well muscled, handsome lips pressed into a thin line, tilting my head as I looked at my best reflection. It was me. Maybe if I made myself a little taller...?
  Giving myself an extra inch, I finally broke the six-foot barrier. Then I gave myself a few more inches. Then a foot. Then one more inch. And another inch. And one more just to be sure until the doll in front of me became a 7"5 giant of a man. Fiddling with the skinny/fat/muscular window, I maxed out muscular, all the muscles bulging out almost comically, so I scaled it back just a little.
  "Hmm..." I should give myself a tan. I was Irish, so the sun burned me and nothing else. Looking at my work now, I saw that my face really didn"t suit the mountain of man standing in front of me. I squared my jaw a little bit, keeping my stubborn chin...yeah, it was better, only now my hairstyle looked completely out of place. Cycling through the presets, I eventually found a wild mane of hair that looked-
  "..." Huh. I looked like Conan the Barbarian. Or Broly. Since I was going to an anime world, I was going to say I more or less looked like Broly.
  And you know what? I was pretty okay with that too.
  "I"m done," I said aloud, not seeing a Next icon.
  Please select your start:
  Wannabe adventurer: 350 p
  Rookie Adventure: 100 base p. Additional cost included: (dependent on God chosen) Rank S: 10000. Rank A:5000p, Rank B:4000, Rank C:3000, Rank D: 2500, Rank E: 2000, Rank F: 1500, Rank G: 1000, Rank H: 500, Rank I: 350
  Novice mage: 1000 (Start with magic with one spell slot filled)
  Novice Blacksmith: 500 (start with level 5 in blacksmithing)
  The list went on for some time, listing out various crafting starts. I skimmed them over for a long minute before I pressed Novice Mage. It was magic, how could I possibly resist? A giant warrior man flinging lightning from my fingertips...I couldn"t wait. I could even up with Danmachi"s necessary chants to use magic.
  Please purchase your perks. Points remaining: 1000
  Strong: (250) All strength exp is increased by 5%
  Weak: (+125) All strength exp is decreased by 5%
  Natural deodorant: (100) Natural musk never smelled this good.
  Reek: (+50) A bath and soap won"t wash that smell away
  Song bird: (100) Angels wish they sounded as good as you
  Annoying voice: (+50) Your voice has a habit of getting on people's nerves
  Limber: (250) All dexterity exp is increased by 5%
  Stiff as a board: (+125) All Dexterity exp is decreased by 5%
  Perfect memory: (500) Every moment of every day is perfectly recalled at any time
  Great memory: (250) You can recall most things with a passing glance
  Fast learner: (500) General exp gain increased by 5%
  Forgetful: (+150) Where are my car keys?
  Warrior: (250) All endurance exp increased by 5%
  Wimp: (+125) All endurance exp decreased by 5%
  Super immune: (200) Great resistance to Disease and Toxins
  Sickly: (+500) Max HP is halved with greatly decreased resistance to Diseases and Toxins
  Durable: (500) Physical damage reduced by 5%
  Frail: (+300) Physical damage increased by 10%​
  What kind of build was I going with? I was built like a mammoth, so definitely a warrior build. Up close and personal combat. Strong and Fast Learner for exp gains, leaving me with 250 points. Then I pressed Limber since the only thing better than being big and strong was being big, strong and dexterous. Bringing my total to zero.
  Despite myself, I found myself lingering on Natural Deodorant. I was going to be doing a lot of fighting, a lot of killing and I wasn"t sure what Danmachi"s hygiene situation was. Did they have modern showers there? I recalled Hestia and Bell having to use some kind of brush. Not to mention the days I would end up spending in the Dungeon without a convenient way to bathe.
  "This is dumb," I told myself, going back to the previous tab to reselect my Start. Should I pick a few bad traits? No, I don"t want to if I can avoid it. The negative traits were a little too harsh one way or the other, and they only gave me half of the points I bought the positive one with.
  I pressed Wannabe Adventurer since it was the cheapest, bringing my total up to 650 points. I could always learn magic later, but who knew when I would get this chance again? With that, I made pressed Natural Deodorant, my final total being 550. Naturally, I made one final choice of Durable, since any reduced damage as a warrior was a must, leaving me with 50 points left.
  Clicking Next, another list appeared only this one was long and broken up into countless tabs. Weapon types, armor, potions, spells, materials and so on. Hundreds of thousands of choices, maybe even a million. Out of curiosity, I went to the bottom of the swords list before quickly scrolling back up, wincing internally at the billions it would cost to buy a diamond enchanted sword possessed by the soul of an ancient evil god.
  "Warrior type build," I muttered, planning out my goto build in RPGs. High Strength, high Endurance, Dexterity lagging behind with Intelligence being my dump stat. So, I needed armor and weapons. I eyed my total, wondering if I should go back to pick a bad trait or two to get some more points.
  I needed to prioritize. What did I need? Armor first. I searched for something that was cheap and would cover my torso. My arms and legs would have to be left bare for now, it was more important that my insides stayed inside. I found a steel set of armor, blackened with a piece of metal jutting up at the front to protect my neck. The layered plates should make sure that I had full range of movement. 20 points left.
  Weapons... I was pretty big. Huge, really. My reach was long already. As much as I wanted a humongous sword, they were too expensive. I found something that would suit me, a steel longsword. It would look out of place, but it would do. I could always make money and buy a better one. This was just to make sure I had some starter gear without taking any loans.
  That cleared me out except for a few points. Not knowing what else to do with them, I changed them out for some valis, the currency in Danmachi. I don"t know if 1,000 valis was a lot, but it was better than nothing.
  "Neat," I said, satisfied with my choice. Perhaps it wasn"t the best build for Danmachi, but when in doubt, go with what you know. And I knew warrior characters from over a decade of DnD and RPGs.
  Are you satisfied with your choices?
  "I am," I said with a nod. I took my time with it, so there was no point in second-guessing myself.
  Game system reformatting to sync with world...enjoy your game!
  And, just like that, I found myself standing in a busy street filled with all kinds of people. Demi-humans, amazons, elves, dwarves...oh, and humans. The smell wasn"t exactly pleasant, but it wasn"t the typical stench I associated with a big city. Not everyone wore armor like I was, all the things that I bought on my new body, they wore brightly colored dresses or fur or pretty much anything that wasn"t modern attire.
  For a long minute, I just took the city in. Slowly, my gaze drifted upwards, spotting the white spire that stretched over the city, piercing the sky until it touched the clouds. The Tower of Babel. Inhabited by gods, actual gods.
  "..." Right. Speaking of gods, let"s go find Hestia and become an adventurer. With that thought in mind, I started walking, watching the people as I went. I saw girls with cat ears, dog ears, pointed ears and so on. The city felt like a giant melting pot of cultures, I noticed as I walked by a stall selling rice-based food next to something that looked like lasagna. There was a smell of spices in the air as I wound up wandering further into a food district, towards the Tower of Babel.
  I wandered the streets, the food eventually giving way to shops that lined the street filled with more adventure-oriented supplies. The closer I got to the tower, the more common they became. Potion shops, arms, and armor, tailors and so on.
  I kept my eyes peeled for the goddess of hearth, only to find no trace of her. It was surprisingly easy since I towered over everyone, having over a foot on the biggest people around. More than a few stopped to look at me, gaping at my new height. Making myself this big might not have been the best idea, but I was going to make the most of this second lease on life and that meant indulging myself.
  The anime never gave a hint exactly where her stall was located, so I was left searching for a needle in a haystack. Which was fine for now, I guess. It gave me time to get a lay of the land, so to speak.
  Eventually, I made my way towards the Tower of Babel, seeing a long set of stairs leading to it while the entrance was richly decorated. It was easy to forget that there was a vast sprawling dungeon beneath my feet teaming with monsters that wanted to kill everything that wasn"t a monster. And some monsters that were monsters. If anything, it reminded me of a bank.
  An idea struck me, driving me to cross a busy street into a large plaza filled to the absolute brim with people dressed exactly like me. Some had much finer armor, weapons and clothing, I noted, eyeing a group of seasoned adventurers that I didn"t recognize. Others had worse armor, I saw, spotting a lone elf limping his way out of the tower, his iron armor battered and bent.
  I made my way into the tower, stepping foot into the Guild, the organization that made its profit by exchanging magic stones for money. Stepping inside, I was struck with familiarity. It looked like a bank lobby. Complete with a front service desk, an exchange off to the side, with a sitting area on the other. A few doors marked different hallways, but my gaze was drawn to a seemingly inconspicuous staircase. Nothing stood out about it other than it went down.
  Down into the Dungeon.
  I searched the adventures for a familiar face, only to find none. The main cast was rather small in the grand scheme of things, so maybe I just missed them. Or maybe I was at the start of canon or a little before. Striking out on the adventures, I turned to the sharply dressed Guild employes.
  I didn"t see Enia, the Guild advisor that helped Bell out in canon, unfortunately. From what I understood, she was the type to go above and beyond for those shes advising. Instead, I caught a glimpse of strawberry pink hair, a petite girl dressed in black business slacks, a button-down white shirt, and a black vest. It really shouldn"t work, but she made it work for her. More importantly, I recognized her even if I didn't remember her name.
  Walking over, she looked up to catch me approaching. Instantly, she put on a well-practiced smile, one that I recognized after working a few years in retail. "Good afternoon, how can I help you?"
  "Uh," I started intelligently, "I was hoping to become an adventure, and I was wondering if, uh, there was a familia recruiting? Hestia, she should have descended from Heaven not that long ago?" I asked, heat rushing to my face as she gave me a well-practiced patient look.
  Her light brown eyes dipped down to rack over my body, probably thinking that my appearance and personality didn"t match, I would imagine. "There"s a notice board over there that gods sometimes post on if they"re looking for a new child that has certain characteristics, like being an elf or really tall." She tapped her chin, tilting her head in thought. "I don"t think a goddess named Hestia made a notice, but I remember hearing some rumors about her."
  "Oh?" So I wasn"t something like a decade before the start of canon. That was great. As much as I could use the time to get some gains, I came to this world with a very specific purpose in mind.
  Misha winced, "w-well, maybe you should consider another god?" She tried to nudge me off my chosen path. "From the looks of you, most familias would be willing to take you in," she said gesturing to my...everything. I guess I looked the part, giving the impression of experience even though the closest thing I have ever been to a fight was that time I got punched in the face for skipping in line for wiffle ball. I was six.
  I shook my head, "sorry, but if you know anything about Hestia, could you tell me? I, ah, made a promise," I said, heat crawling up my neck to my cheeks. Apparently, after dealing with adventurers and heroes all day as her job, she accepted the vague motivation with a nod of her head. Though, technically, I did make a promise. It was just to myself.
  The girl nodded, a look of resignation on her face. "Lady Hestia works at a jagamarukun stall on by Spirits Cross, just off the main road. Short, black hair, blue eyes, bells in her hair. You won"t be able to miss her," she explained, offering up fairly detailed information. Most of it I already knew, but now I had a lead.
  "Thanks," I said, giving her a smile.
  "I hope to see you again. Good luck!" She said, giving me a wave as I walked away. I waved back, making it a couple of steps before I realized that those directions didn"t do me a lot of good because I had absolutely no idea where Spirits Cross was or the main road.
  I didn"t turn back, though. It would be too embarrassing to ask for more help after I already walked away. If I had to guess, the main road would be the one that leads to the Tower of Babel. So, if I just went straight then I should eventually find her stall. With that thought in mind, I resumed my blind wandering through the city, taking in the sights. All around the tower, the Dungeon rather, were all kinds of shops. In the central plaza, stalls of all kinds could be found.
  Double-checking the heavy coin purse tied to my belt, I felt it's reassuring weight. Should...I buy something? Was there a process of joining a familia? Or was it good to just show up and ask? Hestia in canon was cool with it because she was desperate...was Bell already apart of the familia? I didn"t know. Better to be on the safe side.
  I bought a bouquet of flowers from a flower shop run by an elderly couple, making me twenty-five valis poorer. They looked nice, the lavender would bring out the white in her dress while the lilies would bring out the blues of her eyes and ribbon boob holder thing. So, with that, I continued to explore the main road, looking for a sign to give me a hint that I was going the right way.
  Eventually, I saw Spirit Cross written on a sign. Finally. Looking down both ways, my gaze was drawn to the left as if they were pulled by a magnet. The magnet was a girl wearing a stark white dress, bells in her hair that was done in long pigtails, a light pink apron over her dress with ping-pong antennas bouncing with every movement she made. As ridiculous as they were, they couldn"t detract from the presence that she had as she helped a long line of customers.
  A god. I was looking at a god.
  A wide smile was on her face, showing off perfect white teeth, as she took the change after handing over a fried potato looking thing, a jagamarukun I would assume based on the sign. She bowed slightly, the antennas bouncing wildly as the bells jingled. Her face was shaped like a heart, her large blue eyes were wide and expressive, displaying an earnest joy for all the others to see.
  Yup. I made the right choice.
  Eyeing the line, I decided to sit on a nearby bench, waiting for it to die down before asking. It would be a little awkward for me to ask, she says yes, then have to finish serving customers. So, I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited some more. Each time the line began to die down, more would rush to it.
  Slowly, the sun began to make its way across the sky, from hanging directly above to dipping towards the horizon. I must have waited hours for the line to die down, only to end up inadvertently waiting for her shift to end. Another girl dressed the same way as Hestia took her place behind the stall.
  I stood at the same time that Hestia grabbed a cloth bag filled with leftover potato puffs. The hours had worn her bright smile down, but she walked with a pep in her step, her uniform in hand. Right. It was time.
  Walking up towards her, I opened my mouth to say something, only to realize I had absolutely no idea how to begin. Do you know what would have been really smart? Using the past few hours to think of what I should say.
  "Excuse me?" I tried, falling on old habits of being overly polite to cover my awkwardness. Hestia came to a stop, looking at me with bright blue eyes. Right. It wouldn"t have mattered if I did prepare what I was going to say, because I would have forgotten it right then. "Um, my name is Jericho and I heard that you were recruiting familia members...?" There. Nailed it.
  Hestia blinked slowly at me, her bright blue eyes racking over my body, having to crane her head back to look at my face because she only barely reached the center of my stomach. Then she looked to her sides, then behind her when she didn"t find whatever she was looking for. The silence between us stretched on for a few seconds, but they felt like hours.
  " talking to me...?" Hestia asked, looking back at me with a dull expression. This...really wasn"t going how I thought it was.
  "Er, yes?" I answered, shifting from foot to foot.
  "You want to join my familia?" She questioned, trying to make sure. I nodded, feeling a little more confident by the lack of a no.
  "I do. If you"ll have me," I added. A lack of a no wasn"t a yes, after all.
  Hestia stared at me for a long second. Long enough that I shifted from foot to foot again before blinking. I held out the flowers to her, making her look down at them with dull shock. "These are for you. Figured they"d help make a good impression?" I said, trying to sound smooth but the words came out like a question.
  Hestia took them, slowly looking back up at me. "You want to join my familia?" She repeated, her bottom lip starting to quiver. Then it started to quiver really bad, tears threatening to spill out of her eyes. I found myself smiling lightly at the sight, a coil of tension that I hadn"t known was there vanishing.
  "If you"ll have me," I said, causing the dam to break. Hestia shot towards me like a speeding bullet, slamming her face against my armor hard enough that it must have hurt. That wasn"t why she burst out crying, though as she wrapped her arms around me, squeezing me until the steel creaked.
  We got some odd looks from those that passed by, but I didn"t let that stop me from hugging her back.
  Hestia had dreamed of this moment since she first stepped foot on the lower world. Sure, she got distracted with...pretty much everything when she actually arrived, but the dream itself never changed. She would start a familia filled with children of the lower world, they would go on adventures worthy of legends that would be told for another thousand years, while each day will be filled with joy and laughter.
  After two long weeks of searching, seeking the first member of familia only to be rejected so many times it made her heart ache just thinking about it, she finally stood in the bookstore she frequented so often. Surrounded by stories, fables and legends, real and imaginary. Her first child"s story would start surrounded by those that will one day be his peers.
  A giddy giggle escaped her, her face sore from all the smiling she was doing. It was funny that her first child, after weeks of searching and failure, would walk up to her out of the blue and ask to join. Her eyes darted to him, standing a head and shoulders and then some taller than her, watching him as he looked over titles of books. He was so big. It was impossible to not notice it, but he dwarfed everything around him, and he wasn"t just tall, but wide too. His shoulders were broad enough that Hestia was certain it would take two of her standing shoulder to shoulder to match him.
  "So, how do we do this?" Jericho asked, turning to face her, earning a small eek from her when she was caught staring. Looking everywhere but at him, Hestia gestured wildly to a couch in the center of the room.
  "Take your armor and shirt off so I can apply my falna," she instructed, feeling butterflies fly free in her stomach. It was happening! It was finally happening! She was going to form a familia! Another giggle escaped her, rocking from the heels of her feet to her tippy toes. She felt so light she could fly away.
  The sound of Jericho fumbling with his armor brought her back down. Looking over, she saw him struggle to undo a leather strap, blushing when he caught her looking. So, he didn"t have much experience putting in on and off. Maybe he was less experienced than she thought?
  "Er, sorry, but, uh, could you help me a little?" He asked, going beet red when she skipped over to help him. "Thanks," he muttered when he shrugged off the armor.
  "It looks new," Hestia commented, eager to learn more about her first child. Maybe it was a bad idea to say yes to the first person to ask -- Hephaestus had a long, drawn-out process to pick the best smiths for her familia, but Hestia couldn"t afford that. Not to mention he bought her flowers! There was no way he was secretly evil or planning to abandon her the first chance he got when another familia made an offer-
  "It is. I kinda spent my life savings on it. Figured if I was going to become an adventurer then I should invest in good armor to make sure my insides didn"t become outsides." Jericho explained, taking off his arm guards, revealing a white dress shirt underneath. Hestia twitched at the reminder of the fatality rates for adventurers.
  The Dungeon was alive in its own way and it desired the death of all those that walked its halls. Thanks to Ouranos, it had its rules that it followed. Certain monsters could only spawn on certain floors, they only got stronger the further you went down, it couldn"t just collapse a tunnel on an adventurer whenever it felt had rules, but even if it didn"t break them, that didn"t mean they weren"t bent. It wasn"t uncommon for experienced adventurers to find their ends in the Dungeon.
  That took the edge off her undiluted joy. She watched Jericho unbutton his shirt, revealing a tank top underneath- oh. Oh. Heat rushed to her face until she swore steam was about to erupt from her ears, torn between looking away and gaping. Muscles clung to his frame, each movement making them ripple, straining the tanned flesh that contained them until she worried they might break free.
  "Now what?" He asked, breaking her free of her hypnotized state. Blushing even harder, she gestured to the couch again.
  "L-lay down on your stomach," she instructed, swallowing thickly. He was going to be an adventurer, so of course, he was going to be all muscley. Once he obeyed, laying flat on his stomach, Hestia climbed on top of him, straddling his back. It was here. The moment she had been waiting for so long. Before she set foot on the lower world. For hundreds of years, she waited for this moment.
  And yet...
  " sure you want to do this?" Hestia asked in a small voice, eyeing the small pin that she would use to prick her finger. "It"ll just be the two of us, and I don"t really have much I can do to support you. You""d be better off finding a bigger familia, you know." She knew it was true. She lived in a dilapidated church basement, she was forced to work at a sweets stall to make ends meet and even then she was scraping by.
  Hestia knew when compared to other familias, who could buy potions and armor and weapons for their children, she was lacking. As much as it made her heart ache, she understood why she was rejected all those times. Mortals supported their god in exchange for their blessing, but a good god supported their familia just as much. And she couldn"t do that.
  "Hmmm. Maybe," Jericho began, making her heart plummeting to her stomach. "But I don"t want to be in another familia. I want to be in yours, goddess of hearth. Plus, so what if we start at the bottom? Just means we can only go up."
  ...She wouldn"t cry. She definitely, totally wouldn"t cry. Her sniffling and her eyes blurring were just because of the dust -- the owner really should do something about that. After wiping her nose on her sleeve, she swallowed thickly before giving him a shaky nod. "Yeah. That"s exactly right. Alright, I"m going to begin."
  Taking the needle, she poked her finger with it. A bead of blood welled up that she held over Jericho"s back. She summoned upon her arcanum, proof of her godhood, and blessed the droplet as it fell from her finger. It sunk into his back, light rippling like water where it landed. Her falna formed on his back, a cauldron lite with a flame, text written in the language of the gods...forming...uh...
  Did she screw up? Hestia thought, her eyes slowly growing wide enough they could fall out of her head.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 0/1,000,000
  Strength: 0
  Endurance: 0
  Dexterity: 0
  Agility: 0
  Intelligence: 0
  Sense: 0
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game​
  Hestia stared with growing horror. She screwed up. She totally screwed up! Intelligence, and Sense?! Those weren"t supposed to be there! Progress to level 2? What?! What did mean a million exp? He already had a skill? What was a video game?! What?
  "What did I do...?" Hestia whined, at a complete loss. She was so sure she did everything right! It was just a blessing, she learned how to do it back in Heaven and she managed it fine there. Did...did she accidentally use her arcanum? No, if she had then she would have instantly been booted back to Heaven. What did she do wrong then? This wasn"t the normal blessing that everyone else got!
  "Is everything okay?" Jericho asked, starting to turn over to look at her, only to stop when she slapped his back, keeping him down.
  "Nothing's wrong!" She lied through her teeth. Okay. She had absolutely no idea what she did wrong. The better question was what she could do about it now. She could...go to Hephaestus! And...get yelled at...a lot. She could practically hear her friend already "what? You couldn"t even manage a simple blessing? You really are helpless."
  Hestia shook her head hard enough that her bells jingled, filling the small room with the sweet sound. A pity she couldn"t hear it over the sound of her heartbeat in her ears. That option was out. Hestia promised herself that she wouldn"t rely on Hephaestus anymore. No, it was up to her to do something about this.
  And that cover her tracks!
  Grabbing a slip of paper, she pressed it to his back, tracing a circle on it as his status was copied to it. Peeling it off, Hestia saw that she managed to do that right, at least. "Here, let me show you your status." She said, climbing off of him.
  Jericho twisted into a sitting position next to her, looking over his first status, right next to her. He smelled like spices and oranges. Forcing her attention back on track, Hestia pointed to his status, "these are all of your stats. You can increase them through physical training, but the best way is through experience."
  Words of admittance about her mistake weighed heavily on her tongue but refused to leave her mouth. He was her first child. He picked her knowing that she had nothing to offer him, that he would fight in the Dungeon alone, without any kind of support. Even still, he picked her. And the very first thing she did to repay his faith in her was to mess up his falna.
  Hestia wanted to admit it, but fear overpowered desire. Fear that he would leave as soon as he joined her familia. It was one thing to stick with a useless goddess that couldn't do anything for her children, but choosing to stay with a goddess that couldn't even give her blessing right? If he left then, Hestia couldn't blame him. And she would be all alone. Again.
  "That tells you how close you are to leveling up," Hestia said, hastily moving on before he asked questions she didn"t have the answer to. "And this is your first Skill! I heard stories that some children start off with a Skill when they get their falna because of previous life experiences, but I never thought my first child would have one! This is really rare, you know."
  Even more so because she never heard of it before. There were plenty of Skills -- Berserk, Diver, Artel Assist and so on. Any one of them appearing at on a level 1 would have most gods trying to poach him. Rarer Skills like Mystery, which allowed the user to create items that far surpassed enchantments of normal development abilities like Blacksmith or Mixing could make, would have all gods fighting over who got him. A skill that had never been heard of before?
  Whether he wanted to stay or not, one of the stronger familias would take him. Most likely Loki or Freyja. There would be nothing she could do to stop them.
  Hestia's expression turned grave, "which is why you can"t ever, under any circumstances, reveal that you have a skill even though you"re level one. Or your status in general, okay? This is really, really, really important!" She stressed, leaning in close. Jericho leaned away slightly, looking down at his status before giving a shallow nod.
  "Because other gods would get interested?" He guessed, getting it half right. The gods came down to the lower world not to save it from troubled times it found itself in, but to entertain themselves. Words like unique or interesting were synonyms for fun and entertaining. The other part was...well...if he didn"t know if his stats weird then, with the natural secrecy about status, he would be in the dark long enough that she could think of a way to fix it.
  "Exactly. They"re like bloodhounds when it comes to these kinds of things, they"ll be all over you and try to take you away," she explained, her chest clenching at the idea.
  "Well, we wouldn"t want that. My lips are sealed," he said, giving her a lopsided grin. Hestia found herself beaming at him in response. She spent thousands of years doing little more than reading, but not even she had the words to describe the sheer relief she felt at his words. He was going to stay. He wasn"t going to leave her alone. Even better, he didn"t want to leave her alone.
  "Hm!" Hestia nodded, savoring the feeling.
  After getting my falna, Hestia lead me to one of the seedier parts of town. It wasn"t the ghetto, but it was a long time since anyone thought to do any kind of maintenance in this part of the city. The stone slab road was cracked and broken, weeds growing in between the spaces or flat out overgrowing in some places. Eventually, she brought me to a rundown looking church.
  The stained glass was broken, a door knocked in with another leaning on rusted hinges. The interior wasn"t much better, the wooden pews rotting from time and exposure, weeds growing between the stone slabs with vines crawling on the walls.
  "I know it doesn"t look like much, but that"s just for now!" Hestia blurted as she walked through the church, her ears burning. "One day soon enough, we"ll be living in one of those apartments in the Tower of Babel!" She declared, walking towards a door up on the platform where the ceremonies would be performed.
  "This is just our start," I agreed, getting another beaming smile from Hestia as she threw open a door, revealing a staircase. Walking down, a turn revealed a small basement area. An old green couch that saw its best days a long time ago, a small table that looked like it was salvaged. A bed dominated the small room, taking up almost a third of the space. At least it looked nice. To the right was a curtain that separated a wooden tub to do our washing.
  Somehow, it looked more cramped than it did in the anime. And it wasn't just because I had to crouch down to enter the room.
  "It looks homey," I said, knowing that Hestia was waiting for me to say something.
  "Thanks," she muttered shyly. "Hephaestus helped me find it after I came down from Heaven a couple of weeks ago." She explained, leaving out the parts where she mooched off her for a couple of months, but I wasn"t going to say anything about that.
  "She"s the goddess of smiths, right?" I asked, setting my armor and weapon in a corner, leaving me in the clothes that I died in. At least there wasn't any blood on them.
  "She is. Hephaestus is the best! Her familia is really big and they make all kinds of amazing stuff," Hestia said, from the sound of it there were no hard feelings on her side about getting kicked out. If anything, she sounded happy at the opportunity to brag about her friend. Though, that did bring me to a topic that needed to be discussed.
  "So," I started, taking a seat on the couch, Hestia quickly sitting next to me, managing to almost reach my shoulder now. "Since our familia is just starting, do you have any kind of ideas of what kind you want us to be?"
  "Er," Hestia winced, a hand going to one of the jagamarukuns.
  "Because there are all kinds of types, right? I mean, do you want me to try to aim for a particular development ability like Mixing or Blacksmith?" With one of those, I could craft potent potions items or weapons, far beyond what I could manage with the Skills. Though, since I had a different variation of the gamer system, I would have to find out how easily I could gain them. "Since you like books, we could do something with that."
  "...What do you want to do?" Hestia asked, deflecting the question.
  That was a good question. "I think I want to dive into the Dungeon. It"ll be dangerous doing it solo, but I think it"s worth the risk." If only to find out exactly how my system worked. Gamer Body gave me some hints, but I needed to find out the specifics as soon as I could. Hopefully, I could get the stupidly fast strength gains that gamers typically had. Ideally, it would be comparable to the insane jumps in growth that Bell had because of Realis Phrase.
  "Okay," Hestia nodded, not exactly sounding enthused about the prospect. I gave her a lopsided smile, reaching out to put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
  "I"ll be fine. Between my armor and my height, the goblins won"t be any trouble," I said, having absolutely no idea if I was lying. I must not have since Hestia looked reassured, my words not tripping a built-in lie detector that all gods had.
  "You won"t go past the first floor?" Hestia asked though it sounded much more like a request.
  "I won"t go past the first floor," I promised, giving her shoulder a squeeze. She gave me a slight smile in return, reassured. That was good. The last thing I wanted was to accidentally trip on an emotional landmine and have her forbid me from entering. She was too new at this, and so was I even if I had a decent idea of what I was doing. In theory, at least.
  The touching moment was ruined by Hestia"s stomach growling. Loudly. She eeped, clutching her stomach while I just looked amused. Heat rushed to her face as she stammered out, "i-its because I had to skip my lunch break!" She explained, making my eyes dip down to what served as her dinner. A potato thing and some kind of paste.
  "You can still have some, though!" She said, mistaking my glance for hunger. "I-"
  "Thank you, but I can always get myself something latter. Actually, would you want me to get something for both of us?" Something that actually had some nutritional value, maybe? However, Hestia shook her head so hard that I spared a worry that she was going to give herself whiplash.
  "It's fine!" She said too hastily, still clutching at her empty stomach. "You don"t have to do that," she decided, looking longingly at the food before her. I don't think it was possible for someone's words and actions to be more at odds. She was practically drooling.
  "I do, actually," I said, grabbing the potato thing and holding it out to her. She looked at it, then at me with confusion. "You"re my goddess. It"s my job to support you." That was a good line. I"m mildly impressed with myself. Pressing the potato thing towards her, Hestia gingerly took it. "For example, before I asked to join your familia, I was watching you work." And it looks like I used up my quota of suave social skills and made myself look like a stalker.
  "You skipped your lunch, didn"t get a break and they never stopped coming," I said, earning a nod as Hestia began nibbling the potato thing. I knew exactly how much that sucked. Worse, the slippers she was wearing wouldn"t offer any lumbar support. "Your back and legs must be killing you."
  Hestia looked surprised, "how"d you know that?" She admitted, finishing off the potato thing. She looked honestly shocked, it was enough to get a laugh out of me.
  "Because I used to work at a store like yours, and it never stopped. I"m actually surprised you had the energy to give me your blessing, I would have dropped into bed after a day like you had." I complimented, gesturing to the potato puffs for her to have.
  Hestia huffed a laugh, "of course I did! I was scared that I wasn"t ever going to get a familia." She said, grabbing the potato puffs, and after making one last offer for me to take one that I refused, she swallowed them down so fast I doubt she chewed.
  "So, let me support you," I murmured, gesturing to her legs. She gave me a confused look in response. With a slight grin, I explained, "you said your feet hurt, right? Let me take care of that for you."
  For a split second, I worried that I might have pressed too far when a hesitant expression appeared on her face. Prompting me to continue with, "I"m trying to impress you, Hestia." I admitted, "I have no idea what I"m doing and I want to make sure that we get along." In my experience, blunt honesty was always the way to go when you had no idea if your flirting was working. Either it worked great, or let you know you were wasting your time and making someone uncomfortable.
  Hestia lite up, a giggle bubbling out of her. "So am I," she admitted, raising a leg so I could grab her foot. Cupping it, I pressed my thumb into the center of her foot, getting a startled groan from Hestia. She gave me a wide-eyed, embarrassed look, but I just smiled in response and got to work.
  My technique was nothing to write home about, but sometimes that didn"t matter as much as letting the tension ease out of you. Before long, Hestia was laying on the couch, one leg in my lap as I gave her a foot rub.
  "Jericho?" Hestia whispered softly, her eyes closed as her aches and pains were steadily rubbed away.
  "I"m really glad you joined my familia," she said so earnestly that it gave me pause. My eyes glanced at her face, trailing down her skin tight dress, her cleavage threatening to spill out of her neckline, then to her waist. I always thought the white underskirt was either a pair of shorts or part of the dress, but I was surprised to see that they were a pair of white panties with a small blue bow on the front. All of it was revealed to me from how short her dress was and the angle I was giving her the foot rub.
  Then I smiled, continuing to massage her.
  "I am too."
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. I hope you enjoyed!
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  My Stories: Gone Native: Earth Saga (DBZ/DC Comics), Risk It All (Young Justice/Gamer), Fool's World (F/SN), Legends Never Die (Ahistorical/CKIII Gamer), Castoff (Berserk/Witcher 3)
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  I didn"t expect to wake up with Hestia next to me. I should have, in hindsight. I knew she did it in the anime, and that she was naturally affectionate, but I thought it would take her some time to open up to me. I mean, we met yesterday...then again, we were a familia now. I guess she trusted me by default?
  Blinking to clear my hazy vision, I looked down at the slumbering goddess laying on top of me. Her head laying on my chest, her breasts pressing against my stomach while the rest of her body was laying between my legs. The blanket that covered me earlier laid over her, by extension me for the most part, my legs left hanging off the edge. At some point, she started to drool in her sleep because there was a wet patch on my tank top.
  For a long minute, I just stared at her. Everything that happened yesterday catching up with me. I died. I gained a power that I read an unhealthy amount of fanfics about. This was the world of Danmachi and laying on top of me was an actual goddess. I"m not entirely certain that I didn"t have Gamer Mind because that was...okay. Apparently I skipped five of the stages of grief and went straight to acceptance.
  Because what could I do about it now? Nothing. No point worrying about it. Especially when I had other things to worry about.
  Like my rapidly hardening cock that strained against my blue jeans. For once I was grateful that I wasn"t sleeping in the nude like normal. It was pinned between us, jutting off to the side so there was a chance she wouldn"t notice, but it made the base of it ache with strain, wanting to go straight up but Hestia and my pants kept it restrained.
  With my free hand, my other tucked behind my head to offer more support to my head than the lumpy pillow gave, I reached down to it. Pressing against a painfully hard head, I tried to change the angle so that it was a little more comfortable for me. If anything, I made it worse.
  Grimacing, I tried to shift my cock back, stopping when Hestia muttered in her sleep. Right. This plan wasn"t working. I needed another. I think about something else. Something that wouldn"t make my dick feel like it was about to rip through my jeans. Okay. What could I think about?
  Not going to think about my untimely demise or the life I felt behind because that"s too depressing. Alright. Uh, what was my plan for this world then? Go Dungeon diving, hammer out the specifics of how my abilities work, was also bad to think about. What else was there-
  Hestia shifted, turning her head to the other side, likely prompted by something poking her in the stomach. Looking down at her, my eyes widened a fraction when I saw her new position gave me a perfect angle to see just how deep her cleavage went. I tried to stop it, but my cock throbbed in response. With Hestia laying pretty much directly on top of it, and already halfway woken up, it was little surprise when her eyes opened.
  She blinked the sleep out of them, resting her pointed chin on my chest as she looked at me. Then she blinked once. Then twice. Then another time just to be sure. I braced myself for a panicked shout or screaming that I was some kind of pervert because, at the end of the day, this was an anime world.
  "It wasn"t a dream?" Hestia asked herself more than me, her bright blue eyes wide. She didn"t notice. Thank Go- er, the gods, she didn"t notice. I"m not sure how, but I wasn"t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
  "It wasn"t," I answered, very, very aware of her weight on my dick. And how painfully tight my pants felt. Hestia"s face lit up in a gleeful smile offered up a distraction that I gratefully accepted. Wait, shoot, I should have said something like "if its a dream then I"m pretty sure it's mine." That would have been so much better. Eh, I would just have to save that line for later.
  "We"re a familia..." She trailed off, basking in the fact. She shifted again to get herself more comfortable, unknowingly grinding on my dick. A huff of laughter escaped her as she rested a cheek against my chest, apparently a big fan of cuddling. I was too when I wasn"t sporting morning wood.
  I needed to take my mind off just how much my dick was starting to ache, "do you work today?" I asked, daring to lower my free hand so it rested on her side. She didn"t seem to mind as she shook her head.
  "No, I"m off today." She informed, her tone sleepy. Already her eyes drifted half shut, a sigh of contentment escaping her that could only come from those that had no responsibilities for the day. I cracked a grin at that, having that same sigh come out of me more times than I cared to count.
  "Well, after I"m done registering with the Guild, I"ll probably spend some time on the first floor." She went tense at the mention of me going into the Dungeon, so I was quick to move on. "After that, though, would you want to go out a celebrate? I have some money left over-"
  "Yes!" Hestia said, her head shooting off my chest to give me an excited look. A wide smile devoured her face, practically giddy at the mere mention of it. "I wanna go!" She was like a little kid told she was going to Disney World.
  I laughed, "alright, so its a plan. Do you know what time it is?" I asked, making Hestia look over at an hourglass that I hadn"t noticed earlier.
  "It"s about 6 o"clock," she answered, resting her head back down as she hummed contentedly to herself. That...really wasn"t helping me.
  "Then I should go ahead over to the Guild," I said, giving myself an out. Hestia groaned, clearly unhappy to lose her cuddle partner, but it was a necessary sacrifice. I didn"t know how she"d react if she noticed my...situation. "I know, but it"ll be a lot faster if I get there before the morning rush. Plus, the earlier I go into the Dungeon, the more money we have to party with."
  "I guess," Hestia muttered sleepily, taking a moment before she pushed herself up, planting her hands on my chest. Leaning back until she was nestled between my legs, the blanket fell back and it was only then did I realize a flaw in my plan. Now there was nothing to hide my obvious erection.
  Sure enough, almost as soon as she leaned back, when she looked down at me, my crotch was the first place her gaze went. I...might have made my dick too big. I had to though, for consistency. I was a mountain of a man, an average sized dick looked really small in comparison! It strained against my jeans, a clear outline that lifted the denium up, leaving little to the imagination. Her eyes widened a fraction, the naive goddess knowing exactly what it was, unfortunately.
  "I"m sorry," I blurted, not knowing what else to say. "It gets like that, sometimes, in the morning." I offered up an excuse. I mean, this was hardly my fault, was it? She climbed on top of me when I was sleeping! I never stood a chance.
  "O-oh," Hestia said, her eyes never leaving my crotch. Her face was turning a bright red, though she didn"t move. After a horribly awkward second, I pulled myself back so the small of my back rested against the armrest. Only then did Hestia"s gaze flicker to mine, before looking away a split second later.
  "Sorry," I repeated. My other leg trapped between Hestia and the couch. Unfortunately, that was the side my dick was leaning, so the problem couldn"t really be hidden by curling my legs up.
  "Are you okay?" Hestia asked hesitantly, my face burning as I nodded.
  "Yeah, I"ll be fine," I quickly reassured. "It"ll go away on its own or I take care of it later." And I just told her I was going to masturbate. Smooth move on my part. A real stroke of brilliance. I didn"t feel tired but I clearly wasn"t firing on all cylinders.
  "Does it hurt?" Hestia asked, looking down at it again, her arm gripping her other, pushing her already perky breast up. Naturally, my cock twitched at the visual stimulation.
  "No," I answered, getting a sharp look from Hestia. Right. Built-in lie detector. She knew my dick ached from being restrained, a sharp burning pain of a stiff muscle being pulled in a direction it couldn"t go in. "It"s fine, really. Don"t worry about it."
  Hestia shifted where she sat, a conflicted expression on her face before her gaze drifted to mine. She swallowed audibly, pointedly looking away as her face flushed crimson. "You"re my familia," she started fidgeting where she sat. "Last night, you said it was your job to support me, but that"s not true. We"re supposed to support each other."
  Her gaze darted back to mine, my mind picking up the hints she was leaving and painting a picture with them. I almost knew exactly what she was going to say before the words left her lips. "So, if it hurts, the let me support you." She said, using the same words I told her last night.
  "You don"t have to." Those words nearly left my lips, my cock twitching at her offer, making her face burn. I should say them. This was taking advantage of her generosity. I should say no.
  Instead, I said, "if you"re sure..."
  For a second, neither of us moved. Then I moved my hand to my zipper, watching Hestia"s face as I did. She didn"t so much as blink, her face a deep red that stretched all the way to her collar bone. Hooking a thumb on my pants and boxers, I yanked them down to let my cock spring free. Almost instantly, the dull ache in the base of my dick let up, a breath of relief leaving me.
  Hestia gasped, not recoiling but eyeing it like it was about to grow teeth and bite her. Looking down at it, I realized I might have gone a little overboard. It wasn"t a stupidly massive horse cock or stupidly thick that it could be mistaken for a third leg. my quest for consistency, I might have given myself a penis that could more or less be described a bitch breaker. Accidently. I foresee a lot of halfway sex in my future in worlds that weren"t governed by anime physics/biology.
  "Uh...W-what do I..." Hestia trailed off, looking like she just realized she offered to do. She was a virgin goddess, and I guess she was a virgin in all regards. My gaze drifted to her lips, then to her large breasts. No. That was too much for her. Way too much. If we were going to do this, then it had to be slow.
  "Try touching it," I instructed softly as if she would take off running if I spoke too loud. Hestia looked at me, then at my free cock standing proudly, before nodding to herself. Reaching out, she extended a finger that floated over the underside of my cock for a second before she poked it.
  "It"s really hard," Hestia observed, poking me again. She swallowed thickly again, slowly tracing the large vein underneath with her finger. I twitched in response, and that was enough to get her to jerk her hand back as if she was burned.
  "Yeah, it is," I agreed, I was probably the hardest I have ever been in my life. "That felt really good, though. That"s why it twitched. Do you want to try holding it?" I explained, patiently waiting for her decision. Hestia swallowed thickly before giving a small nod, reaching out with a small hand and gripping my cock with the strength of a newborn.
  Hestia looked like she could barely believe what she was doing. Which, to be fair, I could hardly believe it either.
  Taking in a slow breath, I said, "now, try stroking it." Hestia obeyed a second later, her hand began to slowly stroke me. She started at the bottom, her small hand showing that there was enough room for both hands and then some. Slowly, she stroked upwards, unsure. Her gaze darted up at me to check my reaction, earning an approving nod.
  She stroked again, firmer this time. Her speed increased, her hand gliding over my cock as she worked the shaft, the sound of skin on skin the only sound in the room except for Hestia"s heavy breathing, her eyes as wide as dinner plates. I was too big for her to only use her wrist, forcing Hestia to use her entire arm so her hand could glide along the length of my dick. Her breasts began to sway as her tempo increased, the pale flesh wanting to leap out of her low neckline. I watched them, memorized as she got faster and faster and faster until she stroked down too hard and too fast.
  I hissed, wincing in pain. Hestia stopped instantly, letting go, "I"m sorry!" She blurted, "Did that hurt? I"m sorry." She repeated, looking at me with eyes filled with worry. She really was best girl, hands down.
  I gave her a small smile in response, "it"s fine, don"t worry about it." I quickly reassured. I held out a hand, Hestia hesitating before she placed hers in mine. "Try work the head a little too with smaller strokes. Here, let me show you," I said, guiding her hand up until it rested just under my head. Huh, it was a random thought, but I wonder if circumcision was a thing here. Well, not that it mattered.
  "Squeeze down a little tighter," I said, Hestia obeying with a nod. Satisfied, I guided her through the motions, almost like I was jacking off with her hand. Once I was satisfied she had it, I let go. "Just like that Hestia," I whispered, watching her stroke my cock with complete concentration, doing her best to mimic my movements.
  "Just like that," I said, feeling the pleasure begin in my balls as the minutes ticked by. I was nearing my release, regardless of how much I wanted this to last for eternity. "You"re doing really good," I murmured.
  "Uhh, something is leaking from your..." Hestia spoke up, bringing my attention to the pre leaking, dripping over her fingers to give them a shine. My cock throbbed with arousal, making another dollop leak out.
  "That precum," I explained, shifting slightly so my dick wasn"t pointed straight up. "It means I"m about to cum." I looked at her mouth when I spoke, imaging myself emptying my balls there. It was a fantasy that brought me closer to the edge, but one that I couldn"t fulfill.
  Hestia nodded, her gaze unwavering as she stroked me, waiting for the moment that was getting nearer with every pump. I felt my orgasm building in my balls, she wouldn"t have to wait for much longer.
  "I"m about to cum Hestia. You"re about to make me cum," I muttered lowly to her. I pictured unloading my orgasm on her face, painting her face white with my seed. Or burying my cock in between her breast and emptying myself there. I couldn"t do either. Not yet. Instead, I grabbed her hand to complete the last few strokes.
  The pressure began to build, begging to be released. I staved it off for as long as I could, wanting the feeling over her hand wrapped around my dick to never end. Alas, all good things did, but as far as endings go, it was a great one.
  "Ah!" Hestia flinched back when her hand was coated with thick white cum. At the same time, I groaned as the first rope of cum erupted from me, splattering over the palm of her hand. The second rope did the same, then the third did too. Each blast was weaker than the last, so the fourth missed her hand entirely and landed on her thighs.
  "Ohh..." I groaned, letting go of her hand to do a few more strokes, getting a fifth shot of cum that splattered on her thighs again. "Oh, that was great," I said, a shudder ran through me. I looked at Hestia to see her staring at her painted white hand. The sight stirred something primal in me.
  Hestia was a virgin goddess, her hands and legs stained with my seed. I don"t think I have ever felt more powerful in my entire life.
  "That was amazing Hestia," I said, letting out a deep breath, my dick already beginning to wilt. My heart began so slow, a sense of ease filling me. Post orgasmic bliss wasn"t just for women, it felt like I just shot out every ounce of stress I ever had into the palm of her hand.
  "Really?" Hestia said, looking up from her hand. Still uncertain, but happy that I felt good.
  I nodded, "really. That was perfect."
  Hestia smiled before she gestured to her hand, and - woah, that was a load and a half. Huh. "What do I do with this?" She asked, looking unsure. I looked around for something for her to wipe her hand with, only to find the blanket, couch and my dress shirt. With a grimace, I grabbed my shirt and held it out to her, only for her to shake her head.
  "I don"t want to get it dirty," she denied. I was thankful for it since I didn"t know when I could get more clothes. Plus, using my one good shirt as a cumrag was just sad.
  As I looked for something else, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hestia stare at her hand. She licked her lips, warning me what was about to happen. I turned to see her drag her tongue over her pointer finger, licking up the cream that coated it. She drew back, seeming to judge the taste. Then she went back in to lick her palm.
  I stand corrected. I don"t think I"ve ever felt more powerful than watching Hestia lick her hand free of my cum. She blushed when she caught me watching, I felt too proud to be embarrassed.
  "Does it taste good?" I felt compelled to ask.
  "It"s kinda sweet?" Hestia answered, using a finger to get the cum on her thighs. There were a lot of reasons why oranges were my favorite food and this was one of them. Once she was done, she turned her attention back to my now flaccid penis. "Do you feel better now?" She asked, so eager to please I wish I could overcome the refractory period with sheer force of will.
  "I feel like a new man," I stated honestly, starting to pull up my pants. Buttoning them up, I turned to Hestia. "Thank you," I said, grabbing her hand, it was so small compared to mine I just now noticed. I gave it a reassuring squeeze, "I"m sorry you had to do that-"
  "No! I mean," Hestia began, fidgeting where she sat. "We"re a familia. I...really want to be a good goddess," she admitted quietly, letting me bring her in close, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as her head rested against mine. "But I can"t do much to support you yet."
  Annnd now I felt like a total asshole. "Hestia, it"s fine. I know you"ll do your best, so if it makes you uncomfortable, then you don"t have to do stuff like that." My empty balls disagreed with me but it was easier to ignore them now that I had the lion's share of blood to my upper head.
  "I didn"t feel uncomfortable," Hestia said a little too quickly to be the truth. "I"ve just never done anything like that before," she said, her blue eyes glancing up at me. "Are all...p-penises so big?"
  Huh. So that"s what pride felt like.
  I tried to wipe a grin off my face. It was a stupid testosterone thing, but hearing a beautiful girl compliment your dick, well, there as nothing quite like it. "Ah, no. Mines a bit bigger than most," I admitted since I made damn sure that was the case. Hestia nodded, one of her hands fiddling with the hem of her dress.
  "I can"t do much to support you yet," she repeated quietly, "but I can at least do this much. I promise I"ll do whatever I can to help you!" She declared, louder this time. She pushed off my shoulder, twisting so she could look me in the eyes. Her bright blue eyes burned with an intensity I couldn"t describe,
  I nodded, giving her hand another squeeze. "Alright. How about this then -- we support each other as much as we can. Promise?" Hestia smiled at me, nodding before she slammed me with a hug, squeezing my ribs with all of her strength.
  "It"s a promise!"
  Becoming an adventurer was a lot like getting a normal job, I thought, signing my name for what felt like the tenth time. There were tax forms, liability forms, disclaimers and so on. Some of it had to be filled out by Hestia later, but it was a fairly thick stack of papers that more or less covered every angle to say "if you die down there, it's not our fault."
  It was really ordinary. It was kinda disappointing, in a way. I mean, I didn"t want to fight a lion with my bare hands to earn the right to become an adventurer. It would just be more fitting than filling out tax forms.
  "Almost done?" Misha asked, the Guild employe that helped me yesterday, stepping into a private room available for these kinds of things. I shifted through the papers, searching for a missed signature and finding none. Stacking them back together, I held them out for her to take.
  "I think so," I said, watching Misha shift through them before giving me a nod.
  "Looks good to me! Your goddess will need to fill some of these out, but you can pick those up later since you"re heading down into the Dungeon." She said as I stood up, she was a few inches short to reached my chest, only an inch or two taller than Hestia.
  And, just like that, I was an adventurer.
  "I"m going to be sticking to the first floor for now, so is there anything I should know?" I asked, getting a serious nod from Misha. She walked over to a desk, grabbing a few sheets of paper then passing them over to me. It was a map of the first floor.
  "Don"t underestimate goblins," Misha started, her tone deadly serious. "They call war shadows the rookie killers of the upper floors, but that"s not entirely true. More rookie adventures die by the hands of goblins on their first days because they don"t think they"re a threat. They"re small, more so than normal for you, so rookies think they"re safe behind their armor and shields. Right up until a goblins jumps up to tear their throats out."
  I nodded, her words hitting a little close to home. I was guilty of pretty much what she said, word for word.
  "Take it slow. You don"t have backup, so don"t take any risks. At all. Not on your first day. Take the goblins on one at a time, if you find yourself getting outnumbered, I want you to stop fighting and run away." Misha ordered, her pale brown eyes boring a hole through me.
  "Don"t fight more than one goblin and run away if I get over my head," I repeated. Misha stared at me as if she were trying to see into my soul to find out if I was just saying what she wanted to hear. "Promise."
  Oddly enough, that seemed to reassure her- oh, right. The vague protagonist line I fed her as an excuse. "Good. After your done with the goblins, cut the magic stone out of their chest, it"ll be right about here," she said, poking the center of my chest. "To be honest, they won"t be worth much, but you might get lucky with a monster drop. With one of them, you could get a real big meal at a nice inn."
  Ah. So rookie adventurers pretty much lived paycheck to paycheck, day by day. Maybe that influx of funds I purchased was more useful than I thought.
  "Got it. Anything else?" I asked, very aware of the short swords at my hips and how my armor clung to me. It wasn"t uncomfortable per say, but I wasn"t used to wearing it.
  "We"ll be here all day if I told you every trick of the trade," Misha said with a light laugh, probably saving those tips until she was sure I wouldn"t go down once and never do it again. "What I can do is recommend that you get armor for your arms and legs, and maybe a shield. We have some available for purchase, or finance, but..." She looked a little sheepish. "I don"t think we"ll have anything in your size, though..."
  I chuckled, "that"s fair." Making myself this big might have been a mistake, but I couldn"t bring myself to regret it.
  "Just remember what I said." She stressed, earning another firm nod from me. I had absolutely no intentions of dying down there. Once was more than enough for me.
  "I won"t, and thanks," I said, getting a grin from her.
  "I"m just doing my job. Make sure you do yours and come back," she returned. With that, Misha left the room, taking my papers with her, leaving me behind. I stepped out after her, turning to my right to see the staircase that led down into the Dungeon. For a second, I just stared at it.
  I was about to risk my life. I realized, my feet moving of their own will. I was calmer than I thought I"d be, setting foot on the stairs. Gamer Mind didn"t appear on my Skill list, but right now, I couldn"t imagine that I didn"t have something keeping me calm as I descended into hell. It was either that or dying had broken me of my fear of death.
  The staircase leads to an almost mineshaft looking drop, the stairs clinging to the side. They were wide, dully gray stone. No decorations of any kind. It struck me as odd earlier, now I realized it was intentional. This wasn"t a place for finery. This was a place where boys become men.
  Finally, my feet reached the first floor. It almost looked man-made, the floor was tiled stone while the walls were stone slabs. The halls were illuminated by a dull yellow light, giving the place an eerie feeling. I looked left, then right, then at my map. Doing a mental coin toss, I chose left, stuffing the map into the coin purse I emptied out at home, then pulling my longsword free of its sheath.
  The halls were large enough that the light above didn"t fully illuminate them. Shadows gathered in the corners, my eyes searching them for a goblin to leap out at any moment. The same for the walls and floor, knowing that monsters spawned from them. The only sound was my own footsteps that echoed, my breathing soft and light. Even now, my heart wasn"t pounding as I walked down a hall worthy of a horror movie.
  Then I heard it. The sound of a wild animal messily ripping into a meal almost drowned out the sound of meat tearing apart, blood splattering on the ground. My grip tightened on my sword, softly tiptoeing to a corner before I peeked out ever so slightly.
  A goblin crouched next a body, its hands in its stomach and gorging itself on the contents. The body was short, so either a small child or a pallum, the hobbits of this world. A torn backpack leaked its contents, bigger than what was practical for a fight. A supporter.
  I let out a low breath, stepping out from where I peeked and towards the goblin. It stuffed its face, blood trailing down its arms, as it noisily ate. I doubt it could hear me if I wasn"t sneaking up on it. I came to a stop directly behind it, sparing the corpse a glance to see that it was a black-haired pallum. Not Lili. Good.
  Raising my longsword up high, I brought it down directly on top of its head. It managed to make a strangled pained noise, my sword sinking through its skull and all the way down to its collar bones before it fell over dead. As far as fighting went, I hoped all of them were that easy.
  Kicking its corpse to the side, I looked at the dead pallum. Nothing identified what familia he was with, his blood-soaked clothing ruined and ripped. I spotted a slash on the back of his legs, hamstringing him, but I couldn"t tell if it was done with claws or a sword. So, he might have been murdered.
  Right. Not going to touch that issue with a ten-foot pole. Instead, I turned my attention to his bag. Ripping it open further so everything spilled out, a grin found its way onto my face. "Lucky," I cheered, grabbing a deep red vial. A health potion.
  Well, lucky for me.
  I looked at it, spotting other vials in the bag along with basic medical supplies, rope and other useful items in a pinch. "Inventory," I said, making a screen appear in front of my face. My grin grew as I shoved the vial into it, seeing an icon appear. As much as my gamer abilities had in common the falna of this world, I still had some of the cornerstone aspects.
  After shoving the entire bag into the screen, leaving no trace there ever was a bag, I dismissed the window. Alright. I had an inventory. How about everything else?
  "Status," I said aloud, seeing another screen appear in front of me.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 1/1,000,000
  Strength: 0
  Endurance: 0 (+3)
  Dexterity: 0
  Intelligence: 0
  Sense: 0
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  (Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.)​
  One goblin was worth one exp point. Only 999,999 left to go. And what was up with my endurance stat? Where was the +3 coming from? stats weren"t updated instantly like normal. Hestia had to do that for me like in the anime. And I already had a skill! Neat.
  "Where is that plus +3 from?" That hardly counted as a fight, so- oh. This morning. I pressed on Endurance to read the definition of it, my grin becoming a full-blown smile. Enduring Hestia"s ministrations, holding myself back from erupting, that counted as grinding endurance. A huff of laughter escaped me. "If I want to munchkin this, then I need to start edging myself."
  And you know what? There were a lot more important things in this world than efficiency. Like orgasms.
  As for my last stat, I pressed it to figure out if it meant Sense in the sense of common sense, or Sense in the sense it meant my senses. Try saying that five times fast.
  Finally, I turned to the corpse of the goblin. Unfortunately, it didn"t vanish in a puff of black ash and leave behind its magic stone like it did in the anime. This one I was less sure about. "Options?" I spoke and, to my delight, another screen appeared. Then, to my annoyance, I saw that the options were rather barebones. No music options or master volume control or anything of that nature. Though, I did find what I was looking for.
  "Autoloot on," I muttered, pushing the yes button to save my changes. Now the goblin vanished with a puff of black ash, leaving no trace that it was ever here.
  "Awesome," I said, nodding to myself. That made things a lot more convenient. And way less gross. Sparing the corpse one last look, I turned around and started walking again. It was only the first floor, eventually, someone else would find him and take him up.
  It didn"t take me long to find my second opponent when I saw a wall in the distance begin to crack, a clawed hand punching outwards through it. A goblin drug its way out of the wall, I took the time to make sure that there weren"t any others. By the time I made sure we were alone, the goblin landed in a heap.
  Its dark green skin, bright yellow toad eyes looked at me. For a second, we stared at each other, unsure who was going to make the first move. Then the goblin rushed at me, barely reaching my waist in height. Those claws, on the other hand, were perfectly poised to tear into my stomach.
  I sucked in a breath, my heart started to pick up, waiting for it to near. It lashed out at me, its razor-sharp claws arcing towards my thighs, only to be blocked by my sword. I diverted the blow, then jerked my blade back, slashing at its exposed stomach. It cried out in pain, blood splashing out as I yanked my blade to the side.
  Pressing my lips into a thin line, I drove the tip of my blade into its eye, killing it. It dissolved into dust, the only traces of it left was staining my longsword. Okay. I could do this. One at a time, to get a feel for adventuring. I...I needed a goal.
  How about...fifty exp...until my stats get to ten...I make enough money to treat Hestia...or five hours. If I was lucky, I could get all three done.
  My goal set, I began to stalk through the eerily quiet halls. Now that I know what it sounded like, my ears were seeking the sound of rock breaking and pebbles falling to the floor. I walked for some time, the tension that steadily built up each second that I wasn"t attacked made those seconds feel like minutes. Already, I couldn"t begin to guess how long I had been down here for.
  Then my ears caught the sound of the click-clack of pebbles hitting the ground. Another goblin pushed its way out of the walls. I settled in a mockery of a fighting stance, waiting for it to come to me. It attacked blindly, wildly slashing its claws long before it reached me. I took in a deep breath, waiting for it to lunge at me, then dodging out of the way. It opened itself up to a counter, but I didn"t take it.
  If I was going with a warrior build, then dexterity shouldn"t be a high priority, it was just one of the more difficult ones to train well. Since holding out on cumming for a few minutes could give me three stat points, then I would imagine that dodging when my life was on the line would give more. Not only that, it would let me learn just how stat points were rewarded. Did the amount go up the more danger I was in? Or did how hard I tried to dodge determine if I was awarded a stat point? Perhaps it was how close of a call it was?
  At the moment, there was too much I don"t know about my newfound ability. This was the perfect time to change that.
  The goblin growled, saliva dripping from its malformed teeth. It lunged at me again, attacking at my legs. This time, using the flat of my blade, I diverted its claws so I could sidestep it. Misha"s warning rang in my head like a bell, but when I dodged it again, making it howl with frustration, I couldn"t stop myself from comparing it to a child. An ugly, stupid child with very sharp claws, but still a child that was easy to lead.
  It growled in growing anger, stomping its feet when I dodged it yet again. Its attacks became faster, wilder, no plan or thought behind its actions other than desperation to kill me. My confidence grew, letting its attack get closer and closer until I inevitably screwed up and felt its claws scrape across my leg, carving lines into my pants. It lashed out again, encouraged by its success, only for me to jump back.
  "Status," I said, pushing the screen off to the side. I couldn"t take the time to analyze it, but I did see a (+5) next to Dexterity and a (+4) next to Sense. Endurance went up by (+1) while Intelligence also went up by (+1). Was that because my stats were so low or because this went by Danmachi stats, where 999 was the theoretical max until Bell broke the game by being so thirsty. Hestia had said that new adventurers see a lot of growth early on - is that what this was-
  I heard more pebbles falling behind me, forcing to abandon my experimentation. The goblin lunged at me, jumping into the air to attack my head, just like Misha warned, only it couldn"t jump high enough. I reacted instantly, lashing out with my longsword like it was a baseball bat, catching the goblin on its side. My muscles weren"t for show, its spine offering little resistance as I cut it in half. The two halves hit the ground, vanishing to dust, as I whipped around to see the goblin jump up at me.
  I threw myself to the side to put some distance between us. My heart started to hammer at my ribs. It was still one on one, but it nearly got the drop on me. The other goblin landed on all fours, leaping up at me, its claws poised to take out my eyes. I met it halfway, using its momentum against it to make it plunge itself onto my sword. It turned into dust almost instantly.
  For a moment, my longsword hovered there, my heart hammering away at my ribs. It rapidly slowed down now that the danger had passed, allowing me to take in a deep breath of air. That wasn"t even a close call. Not really. I was toying with the first, and I doubt that a second would have changed much. Was I taking them too seriously? Maybe? It was better than not taking them seriously enough, though, so it was fine.
  I glanced down at my leg, seeing a little blood staining my blue jeans where the first one scratched me. To my displeasure, there wasn"t smooth skin underneath. I didn"t heal instantly, damage only being done to my health bar. Speaking of which, "health?"
  99/100 HP. This time the knowledge of how much hp I lost appeared in my mind instead of on a screen. Probably so it wouldn"t distract me in a fight. Actually, now that I was looking for it, I realized that the knowledge was always there in the back of my mind. Useful.
  Still, a single point of hp wasn"t that big of a deal...and it was at the same time. It was just a scratch, a kinda deep one, but it represented a full point of health. A hundred of those scratches and I would be dead. In a way, right now, I was at a disadvantage. A glass cannon without all the power.
  "Okay...I need to be more aggressive," I said, lowering my sword. I could find out more about my stats later. Right now my goals were to get fifty exp, grind some stat points, and make enough money that I could treat Hestia to a nice date night. No pussyfooting. As soon as I saw the goblin, I needed to murder those little monsters dead.
  Wiping some sweat that built up on my brow, I straightened up and started hunting again. Another goblin was wandering the halls. I rushed at it, my long legs covering the distance between us in seconds. I was on top of it before it had a chance to react. Another kill for me.
  It was next to impossible to keep track of the time down here, I realized as I continued to stalk through the halls. I couldn"t tell if I had only been down here for minutes or hours..."Time?" I tried, seeing another screen pop up to tell me the date, time. Convenient. Apparently I had only been down here for an hour. If felt a lot longer.
  Now that I thought about it...I shoved my map into my inventory, then said, "map." Like I hoped, a map appeared, marking my position with a little blue dot. Sadly, it didn"t show where any enemies are, but it was still better than what I had. My eyes found another staircase that would take me to the second floor.
  "I"ll just check it out," I said, moving my map so it was out of sight. If only to see what I could expect when I intended to go to a lower floor.
  The next three hours were spent slowly making my way towards the second floor. I explored the deadends, circled about, and took the long way. Goblins came in a steady stream, maybe they would have ganged up on me but I ended up killing them too fast. Slowly but surely, my exp began to climb, as did my stat points.
  Then I spotted it down the hall. A section of the wall was missing that looked no different than a normal turn. From the angle I approached, I saw dull gray stairs like the one I walked down on earlier. I came to a stop in front of it, staring down at the second floor of the Dungeon. If the first floor could be called a tutorial, then the second floor was the first level. Only it was a dark souls game in this analogy.
  I lifted one foot, considering it. Then a huff of laughter escaped me, "Nah," I dismissed with a shake of my head. That was a really stupid idea. Turning around, I started to walk back, only to pause when a sound reached my ear.
  The sound of pebbles hitting the ground followed by small thumps. Goblins. As in more than one of them. I turned to my right, spotting five goblins spawning. Turning to my left, I saw another three. My eyes widened, my grip on my sword growing so tight my knuckles were bloodless.
  Why now? What changed? It was tossing them at me pretty much one at a time, and all of a sudden it drops eight on me at once? Wh-
  Right. I forgot. The Dungeon was alive. It desired the death of everyone that stepped foot in it. I forgot that it would lead you on a trail, weakening you every step of the way, and right when you were at your weakest, it would throw everything that it could at you. I forgot that it was always easier to dive deeper into the Dungeon but it would make it impossible to leave.
  That was a lesson I wouldn"t soon forget again.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. I hope you enjoyed!
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  My Stories: Gone Native: Earth Saga (DBZ/DC Comics), Risk It All (Young Justice/Gamer), Fool's World (F/SN), Legends Never Die (Ahistorical/CKIII Gamer), Castoff (Berserk/Witcher 3)
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  She touched a penis. No matter what she did to distract herself, from tidying up, to reading a book, to trying to sleep, no matter what, Hestia"s thoughts drifted back to that thought. It wouldn"t leave her head, playing on a loop or creeping up on her each time she managed to distract herself. Without fail, each time her face began to burn.
  "Gah!" Hestia groaned, double face palming as she threw herself into her bed. A broom clattered to the floor, now forgotten, as she died of embarrassment. She kicked her legs up into the air, cringing so hard they kicked up and down. She had touched a penis. Full on. She grabbed it. And rubbed it and- "Ughh!"
  The memory of what she did wouldn"t stop replaying in her head. Never in a million bijillion quintillion years would she ever have thought...that...would happen when she snuck into his bed last night! Hestia never would have done it if she knew what would happen!
  She just wanted to cuddle her new child is all! Hestia has tossed and turned for hours, her excitement keeping her up. Jericho"s deep, even breathing certainly didn"t help. For weeks, she slept alone in this abandoned basement, and the silence was unbearable. During the first few days, it was only her pride as a goddess that stopped from crawling back on her hands and knees to Hephaestus, begging to just spend the night there so she wouldn"t feel so alone.
  And then there was suddenly someone else other than her in this hovel. Hestia had nearly woken him up when she finally abandoned sleep with a frustrated shout, tossing her covers up to see that the couch was far to small for him. His legs hung off, almost at the knees. Jericho really was huge, easily the biggest human she had ever seen.
  Hestia"s face burned even hotter as if she were trying to cook her hands that still covered her face. She had watched him sleep for a time, poking at his cheek to make sure that he was really real. And he was. He was larger than life, powerfully built, and he was real.
  And he was kind, the feeling of his hands on her feet, practically enveloping them, as he rubbed away the pain in her legs came to mind. Her face burned even hotter because of it. He bought her flowers than found their new home in a vase she went out and bought because there was no way she was going to let his gift wither away and die. Above all else, he chose her as his goddess.
  Jericho was huge, almost unnaturally so. That alone would be enough to interest some gods. He looked so strong and powerful, his body made up of nothing but defined lines and hard planes. Hestia couldn"t imagine any familia rejecting him from his appearance alone. When the found out how kind, gentle and thoughtful he was, they would never let him leave.
  And she touched his penis. "Ughhh!" She groaned again, curling up into a ball and wanting to disappear. She did a lot more than touch it! She-she-she...!
  Hestia blushed all the way down to her toes. "He must think I"m some kind of harlot! Like Freya or Ishtar, or...or...or Loki!" She heard rumors about how the latter constantly molested her children. Freya"s familia might as well be her personal harem, that slutty goddess offered herself to anyone caught her eye. Ishtar, well, her familia were all prostitutes!
  She couldn"t stop herself though! When he was asleep, Jericho looked so inviting and she really wanted to just hold her child! But, when he woke up...!
  "Ahhh!" Hestia yelled, her cry of horror muffled by her hands. She threw her head back, folding herself until the back of her head practically touched her feet, probably pulling something as she cringed. Hopefully to death. Her memories were all to cruel to replay the exact moment she realized what had been pressing against her stomach.
  She was a virgin goddess! For thousands of years, she rejected all suitors, none of them ever so much as laying a finger on her. At first, when Hestia was much younger, she wanted to save herself for her soulmate, her perfect other half, just like the stories. Then it was because every single god wanted to sleep with her because she was a virgin, for bragging rights that they made the big three virgins in Heaven the big two. Then it was because they were all in on a bet on when she would lose it and to who.
  Virgin goddesses weren"t supposed to touch penises!
  But he was hurting! All gods could tell when a mortal was lying to them and he lied when he said that it didn"t hurt. And...and when her back was killing her, her legs felt like they were filled with lead and her feet ached, Jericho helped her. Hestia had practically melted under his touch, the stress of a long day, no matter how great it ended, erased. She...all...she wanted to help him like that.
  "And I messed up his blessing," Hestia groaned, curling back up into a ball. The most basic thing that a god could do, she somehow found a way to mess it up. She hadn"t thought that was possible. If anyone found out about that, then she was done for. She"d actually die of humiliation, only to go back up to Heaven and be mocked there since the overworked gods still there had to find their enjoyment wherever they could.
  A sigh escaped her. As much as she regretted it, Hestia knew exactly why she did it. Already, she owed Jericho so much. He chose her as his goddess. For messing up his blessing. For the flowers and the foot massage and for being so kind to her. So, when he, she wanted to make it stop.
  It wasn"t until it came out of his pants that it dawned on her what she offered to do.
  Slowly, Hestia lifted the hand that did the deed off her face, still blushing down to her toes. She stared at it for a moment, recalling how he had felt in the palm of her hand. Hard like steel wrapped in velvet, so warm and thick that she could barely wrap her hand fully around it. Hestia stared at her hand, practically seeing the seed that spilled on it.
  Hestia could swear she could still taste it, no matter how much water she drank. It was thick, clinging to her tongue and throat. It tasted sweet. Hestia wasn"t sure if she liked the taste at all, but she didn"t think she hated it.
  "He probably thinks I"m a slut," Hestia repeated, her heart falling. She crawls into bed with him and then she touches his penis within a single day of knowing him. It was hilarious in a way that really wasn"t funny. She was a virgin goddess that acted like a harlot. All the other gods would laugh until they cried if they ever found out.
  Then she brought that hand down onto her face. Hard. Her cheek stung, but it was the kick she needed to get out of bed. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself," Hestia ordered herself, pushing herself to her feet. She couldn"t change the past, well, not without using her arcanum, so there was nothing she could do about it.
  "I"ll just have to prove to him than I"m not like those other floozy goddesses!" Right, this was no time to feel sorry for herself. Hestia closed her eyes, finding the blessing that connected her to Jericho. It was still there.
  "He should be in the Dungeon by now," Hestia muttered, wondering if her first child was standing somewhere beneath her. He wasn"t. He promised that he wouldn"t go past the first floor, and it wasn"t anywhere near as big as some of the others. Each floor got bigger the further you went down, the first was only the size of a couple of blocks, while the deeper floors were the size of countries.
  If he was down there risking his life, then she could do something other than dying of cringe. With a surge of motivation, Hestia threw open her closet, revealing its sparse contents, and grabbed a well worn light blue coat. "I should tell Micha and Hephaestus the good news," she spoke aloud, an old habit from when she was alone to fill the silence.
  Hestia left her home with a pep in her step that was only slightly forced, striding out of the ruined church and into the city. It was a little after noon, so the city was in full swing as she made her way towards the heart of Orario. Humming a tune to herself, Hestia"s eyes bounced between stores, stalls, and people.
  Her gaze lingered on a roll of cloth displayed behind a glass window. Between her savings and Jericho"s, they had a little over 2000 valis. Which wasn"t a lot. They didn"t have money to throw around on pointless things.
  But Jericho only had the clothes on his back, so was it really a pointless expense?
  Hestia made a note to stop by later to see how much it would cost to get a tunic and a shirt in...XXXL size. At least then his normal clothes could be spared the wear and tear they would collect in the Dungeon since they were far too nice for it.
  Her trek through Orario was uneventful, letting her enter the tower of Babel without any trouble. Hestia"s eyes glided over the staircase that lead to the Dungeon. An impulse struck her to run down them, to find her child just to make sure that he was okay. Again, she checked the bond between them and found that her blessing was still there. He was okay.
  "Stay safe," Hestia whispered, turning away to step onto a lift. Pulling one lever that would take her to floors 200 and above, then another to bring her to the 230th with the minimum amount of difficulty, the lift jerked for a moment before it began taking her up. As the lift climbed, Hestia fiddled with her gloves, made sure her ribbon was perfect and smoothed out her dress, wishing for a mirror.
  After what felt like an eternity, the lift came to a stop, the doors sliding open to reveal a richly decorated hallway. Smooth marble floors, white painted walls with large panes of glass every couple of feet to display ridiculously fine weapons and armor. Sets of armor made of adamantine, trimmed with mithril, imbued characteristics like Featherweight, or Durandal to make it unbreakable...
  "Y-you could buy a hundred million jabamarukuns with that kind of money," Hestia knew that prices inflated to an insane degree for first-class adventurers since they needed first-class gear made by first-class smiths, but it always shocked her every time she saw a price tag with more zeros than she wanted to count. Hespustus must be rolling in valis...
  Shaking her head to get rid of the stray thoughts, Hestia continued down the hallways, trying not to think about how out of place she felt surrounded by so much wealth. She walked towards Hephaestus"s office, treading a path she walked countless times before. She passed smiths by, or potential customers, smiling at them as she walked.
  "Isn"t that Hestia?" One of the muttered just loud enough for her to hear.
  "Hm. She lasted longer than I thought she would."
  Hestia twitched when she heard them talking behind her back. Instead of turning on her heel to shout at them that she wasn"t here to mooch off Hephaestus, Hestia kept walking. It was hard to yell when she knew, deep down, they weren"t wrong. But things have changed!
  Reaching Hephaestus"s office, Hestia wasted no time throwing it open, "Hephaestus, guess-" She started, beaming joy out of every pore, only to be interrupted by her redheaded friend. A beautiful woman sat behind a desk, a mountain of papers piled upon it, with a large black eyepatch that covered some of her forehead and cheek.
  "You aren"t getting a single valis from me," Hephaestus cut her off, her voice monotone and blunt. That took the wind form Hestia"s sails, making her wilt practically instantly.
  "I"m not here for money!" Hestia shouted forcefully, getting her friend"s attention. A lone red eye bore into her as if she could see if she was lying since the lie detector all gods had didn"t work on gods. When they first came down from Heaven, it was one of the only advantages they allowed themselves to have over mortals, a safety net to stop something...unfun from happening.
  "Oh?" Hephaestus asked, leaning back, suddenly looking much more welcoming. She wore a white dress shirt, her sleeves rolled up past her elbows, the exposed flesh covered by black long arm covers to protect her when she applied her trade.
  Hestia nodded quickly, planting her hands on her hips, puffing out her considerable chest. "I have a child now! The Hestia familia has officially begun!" Hestia declared, laughing confidently. An expression of surprise appeared on Hephaestus"s face, but there was a smile playing at her lips.
  "Did someone finally give in?" Hephaestus teased lightly, poking fun at the fifty or so times she was rejected.
  "No! His name is Jericho and he asked me to join," Hestia stated forcefully, crossing her arms and looking sharply to the side. She heard Hephaestus humm at that. Cracking one eye open ever so slightly, Hestia saw her friend"s lone eye narrow considerably.
  "Did he?" Hephaestus questioned, leaning forward, brushing a hand through her untamed red hair. "Tell me about him." There was something in her tone that Hestia couldn"t quite describe. That didn"t matter, though, not when she could boast about her first child.
  "He"s really big!" She kinda felt bad about always using that as his main description, but it fit too well. It was the first thing that anyone would notice about him.
  "...Big?" Hephaestus echoed, her eye narrowing even further as she interlocked her fingers, not quite managing to hide the frown tugging at her lips.
  "Hm! And he"s really sweet. He bought me flowers when he asked to join," Hestia gushed, skipping over to Hephaestus. "Then he let me have all the jabamarukuns to myself because he knew that I skipped my lunch and break. Oh, and he gave me a foot rub and it felt amazing!"
  Hephaestus looked at her for a moment, her gaze growing more intense with every word that she said. Was she jealous? She should be!
  "It sounds like you"re rather fond of him already," Hephaestus observed, propping her head up by a gloved hand. "And it looks like I lost some money. I put a thousand valis that you"re first familia member would be a girl."
  "Hephaestus!" Hestia cried, annoyed but not surprised. She pouted for a moment, then nodding to her first statement. "I do like him," she said, taking a seat in one of the soft leather chairs in front of Hephaestus"s desk. They really hadn"t gotten the chance to get to know each other yet, but he seemed exactly what she hoped her first familia member would be like.
  Then she grabbed the hem of her dress, fingering the edge of it, a nervous habit she picked up at some point. "But, that"s not the only reason why I came here today," Hestia started, seeing Hephaestus"s guard went up. As much as she wanted to, she couldn"t blame her friend for that.
  Hestia bowed her head, her hands going to her knees, bending them slightly to create the image of complete submission. It wasn"t the dogenza that Takemikazuchi had taught her. That was her secret weapon. Taking in a deep breath, Hestia begged, "please teach me how to be an excellent goddess like you!"
  "...what?" Hephaestus asked, sounding more confused than surprised.
  "I-" "managed to screw up giving a blessing." "I want to be able to care for my child like you do yours! But...I can"t. And I don"t want any money or anything like that, I just..." in hindsight, it might have been a good idea to figure out exactly what she wanted before coming here. "I just want him to be able to rely on me and right now he can"t."
  A sniffle escaped Hestia, "I can"t give him potion or armor or anything that he actually needs! I can"t do anything!" All she could do was provide a place to sleep that he didn"t fit in. "So please, teach me your ways!"
  Hestia bowed even further, hearing Hephaestus let out a tired sigh. Whatever it took, she would do it. Any skills she needed to learn, Hestia would master!
  "Did Takemikazuchi teach you that?" Hephaestus asked, sounding exasperated.
  "...he said you wouldn"t be able to say no with this technique," Hestia answered honestly.
  "What a troublesome guy," Hephaestus muttered under her breath, a deep sigh escaping her a moment later. "Fine, stop bowing. I"ll help you a little bit."
  Hestia jumped to her feet, throwing herself at her friend, uncaring of the stack of papers that got in the way of her hug. "Thank you! Thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou! Thank you so much, Hephaestus! You"re the best-!" Somehow, Hephaestus managed to slip in a hand between their faces to push her back.
  "Be careful! Some of those were important!" Hephaestus shouted, but Hestia could tell she didn"t mean it. She might not be able to use her arcanum, but Hephaestus was still a master smith and that meant she was strong. If she wanted to, Hephaestus could easily shove her away.
  "You"re the best Hephaestus!" Hestia ignored her, trying to bring her friend even closer. That Hephaestus didn"t push her away was telling that she didn"t want to. "I love you!"
  "Alright, alright, enough," Hephaestus said, her cheeks a dusted pink. "I don"t have much time today, Loki is coming soon and I don"t want to deal with the two of you in the same room." Instantly Hestia let go as if she were burned, darting back to her chair with a look of disdain on her face.
  "Ew," Hestia said, more or less summing up her feelings about the trickster goddess. If she could be called a goddess at all with that flat chest of hers. "Good idea," Hestia commended, putting her hands in her lap, looking like the perfect student.
  Hephaestus sighed, scooping up some of the papers that were knocked astray, "We"ll, if it makes you feel any better, Loki"s familia is going on an expedition soon. She"ll be causing every else trouble then." Again, Hestia grimaced. By that, Hephaestus meant there would be a pranking spree in Orario and no man, woman, or child would be spared. It always happened when Loki"s familia delved into the Dungeon, trying to reach floors that had never been seen before. Worse, since she was one of the most powerful familias, none would dare to strike back at her.
  Not yet, at least. One day, and one day soon, Hestia would make that flat chested goddess pay for all the wet willies, whoopie cushions and buckets of water perched on top of a door.
  "Well then," Hephaestus started, leaning back into her chair. "Since I"ve never done this before, is there anywhere you"d like to start?"
  "How about...the blessing I gave him?" Hestia asked, trying to stealthy nudge the conversation in the direction that would tell her how she managed to-
  "Oh, you want me to show you how to hide his blessing?" Hephaestus guessed, earning a blink out of Hestia. Then another one. And another one. And one more to be sure. Then her eyes narrowed into slits.
  "Hide?" She echoed, tilting her head.
  "To make the blessing invisible to everyone unless you"re using your blood or Status Thief," Hephaestus explained, knocking the breath from Hestia"s lungs.
  "You can do that?!" She shouted, though not quite enough to miss how her friend sighed in exhaustion.
  "You little-!" I shouted, feeling a goblin latch onto my leg, its razor-sharp claws biting into it, slicing through my blue jeans like they weren"t even there. I grabbed it by its head with my free hand, yanking it off me at the sacrifice of 3hp, before I slammed it against the Dungeon walls. My muscles proved they weren"t just for show, the goblins head cracked open like an egg, then its body became ash.
  With my other hand, I slashed at a goblin that tried to seize the chance to go to my head. The two halves lasted long enough that they stopped another goblin from taking out my hamstrings, letting me skewer the little bastard. It didn"t die instantly. Twisting my blade, the monster howled in pain, then I swung with all my strength. The flat of the blade stopped me from cutting it in half, then at the apex of the swing, the goblin flew off.
  It slammed into another two goblins hard enough that it reduced one of them to ash, the sounds of bones breaking and pained cries filled the not so empty halls of the Dungeon. Rushing forward, I brought a foot down on the remaining goblin that survived the throw, crushing its head underneath my sneaker. Hot blood flooded my shoe a moment before it was coated in a layer of ash.
  Goblins, despite their size, were a lot like rabid dogs. It"s easy to think all it would take is a good kick to drive them away, that since you were so much bigger and stronger, it would be easy to deal with them, but I learned that couldn"t be further from the truth. Especially when there was more than one dog attacking you, taking bites out of your leg and chipping away at your health.
  "I hate you. I hate you all so much," I hissed, spotting another goblin. Grabbing my longsword with both hands, the handle not being big enough so I ended up ripping the pommel in my hand, and swung the sword like a bat. It cut the goblin in half, adding yet another magic stone in my growing collection.
  My legs hurt. Looking down at them, I saw over a dozen cuts where they managed to get me, each one burning with pain. Again, the movies lied to me. Getting deep cuts like the ones that covered my legs hurt like a mother -- there was no way action heroes pretty much get a leg chopped off then keep walking on it with only a small limp to remind the audience that they were hurt. It hurt so much I wanted to curl up into a ball and die.
  "Fuuuuuuuuuuck..." I groaned, sucking in a deep breath. The adrenaline helped drive me forward, along with the fact that if I stopped more would swarm me and I really would die. "Map," I bit out, swallowing a slew of curses. The screen appeared, telling me that I was still on the right path to get out of this hellhole. It wouldn"t be long now. A few more turns and I would be free.
  Another goblin crawled out of the walls, the Dungeon intent to cut me off, but a quick punch to the back of its head killed it. I spared a glance at the empty hole, half expecting a portal to the depths of hell, but there was only a small crevice just large enough to fit a goblin.
  "Come on," I told myself, forcing my legs to move a little faster. Almost there. I rounded a corner, another goblin grasping at me, only to be met by a backhand that knocked it away. In the distance, I saw the exit. Along with another three goblins milling about, likely waiting for an adventure to kill. With my new weight and me abandoning any thought of stealth, all three of them whipped around to look at me.
  Gritting my teeth, I gripped my sword even tighter, rushing towards them. I could hear another goblin struggling to keep up with me, quickly left behind thanks to my long strides. Before long, I was on top of the goblin, swinging my sword with reckless abandon. The goblins attacked just as recklessly, my sword beheading one of them while the others went for my legs.
  One latched on, biting into my thick with deceptively long fangs. Snarling in pain, I slammed the pommel of my sword against the top of its head, caving it in. The last goblin circled around, going for my achilles tendon. Only my very recent experience with the tactic warned me that it was going to happen, letting me turn around in time that it carved a bloody line into my calf instead.
  Anger surged in my chest, fueled by pain. Grabbing the goblin by the head, I picked it up before throwing it down. Not killing it, but hurting it. It screamed in pain, my snarl of primal anger twisting into a satisfied smile as I stomped on its head. The satisfaction of hurting something that hurt you, the satisfaction called vengeance. All that crap about vengeance being hollow was just that -- total crap. At the moment, watching the goblin turn to dust, vengeance was fulfilling as all hell.
  Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the last goblin running towards me, undeterred by the violence. I gripped my sword, ready to run at it just so I could throttle the little monster, only to realize what that would mean. Going back into the Dungeon when I was already at the exit.
  "You get to live this time," I told it, hoping that the next adventurer that came down murdered the ever-loving fuck out of that goblin as I walked up the stairs. I walked up the steps, then stopped at the third step, turning around to look at the entrance to the Dungeon. The goblin came to a stop at the first step, looking at it, then at me, then at the step again. It hissed at me, stomping its feet, angry that I wouldn"t let it take a bite out of me. It looked like the entrance to the Dungeon was a hard barrier that monsters couldn"t knowingly walk through. Good to know.
  You know what? Screw that goblin. With that thought driving me forward, I took two quick steps and kicked the monster in the face hard enough that it flew away. God, that was satisfying. I hate monsters.
  "Right," I said, taking in a deep breath. "Let"s see the gains." Summoning my inventory as I walked, I saw that I had over thirty magic stones, two goblin fangs, and three goblin claws. Neat. Hopefully, that would be worth a whole lot to make all this crap worth it.
  "Status," I said, reaching into my inventory screen, grabbing hold of the magic stones to start shoving them into the empty coin purse attached to my hip.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 42/1,000,000
  Strength: 0 (+1)
  Endurance: 0 (+11)
  Dexterity: 0 (+9)
  Intelligence: 0 (+1)
  Sense: 0 (+5)
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.​
  Huh. I thought with how my legs were cut into ribbons, I would have picked up some kind of physical resistance skill. I was hoping for it actually. Well, at least I made some gains with Endurance and Dexterity. Intelligence and Strength were lagging behind already. Strength, I guess, is because I started off so strong so I wasn"t pushing myself to my limit with it. Intelligence was probably because I wasn"t really using my head much down there.
  "I need some armor for my legs," I mused, walking up the stairs, stepping past another adventurer, who kinda just stopped and stared at me. Which was fair. My health was at 55 of 100, so I was technically nearly half-dead at the moment. On the first floor. Yeah, that couldn"t fly.
  "I need to do some grinding too," Hestia said that I could do physical exercise to gain stat points. With Gamer"s Body, if I went full masochist, I could be much more effective in gaining them. Doing push-ups while wearing weights while I read textbooks as Hestia beat me with a broom. Stuff like that.
  At the same night. To be blunt, most of the will-be-money hanging off my waist was going to treat Hestia to a special night. Was that smart? No. No, it was not. Should I be spending this money on leg armor, potions or other useful things that make sure I wouldn"t die on the first floor of the Dungeon? Yes. Yes, I should.
  Was I? No. No, I am not.
  Reaching the top of the stairs, I saw that the Guildhall was in full swing. I was too new to know when the busy and slow times were yet, but it seemed that adventurers liked to sleep in, and by mid-day, they started dungeon diving. A few glanced in my direction as I made my way over to the tellers, unstringing my hard-earned winnings from my belt. Coming to a stop in front of a glass window, a metal slot for me to dump the magic stones and drop items in with a Guild employee standing on the other side.
  It took a minute for the teller to catalog everything, but he dropped a handful of coins into his end before pushing it through. "Your total is 1500 valis."
  As much and then some as what I started yesterday. If flowers were 25 valis and a jabamarukun was 10, then an expensive meal should be somewhere in the hundreds. Which made sense given Bell"s reaction when he went to the Hostess of Fertility. Using that thread of logic, a meal costing 400 valis, in addition to the others that cost around 200 was really cutthroat.
  "Jericho!" I heard a familiar voice call out. Turning left, I saw a crowd of people. After a few seconds of thinking that I had imagined it, I saw Hestia pushing her way through the crowd. Walking over to meet her halfway, the adventurers that she was trying to squeeze past suddenly gave way when I approached, trying very hard not to look at me.
  It was kinda hilarious. If only they knew I was technically one foot in the grave already.
  "Hestia? What are you doing-" I started, only to be cut off when Hestia zeroed in on my legs, a gasp ripping from her throat. A pained hiss escaped me when she started to poke at the wounds, fretting over them, but unsure what to do about it. Looking down at the wounds now, the blood had spread, peppering my pants with dark wet spots.
  Huh. That was a lot of blood but I felt...fine? No lightheadedness or anything. The wounds hurt, so they weren"t just for show, but if I had lost that much blood then surely I would feel some side effects by now. Was this Gamer Body"s effect?
  "It"s fine Hestia, it looks worse than it actually is," I said, getting a disbelieving look from her. Right. Lie detector. I need to get a lot better at telling half-truths. "It hurts, but it"s not going to kill me or anything. I"m going to be fine once I get a few bandages on." I hope.
  "How...?" Hestia said, looking at the crimson blood on her fingertip. I felt some heat rush to my face, acutely aware of how everyone around us was at least listen with one ear. It was impossible not to. I was easily a foot and a half taller than anyone else here and Hestia was a goddess. It was impossible not to notice her.
  "I, uh," I started, trying to say this that didn"t make me sound like a trash tier noob. There wasn"t one. Goodbye pride. I enjoyed you while I had you. "Well, I reached the entrance for the second floor- I didn"t go down it," I quickly added, seeing Hestia"s Look. "but when I tried to turn back, I got swamped with goblins. I think I killed about thirty on my way back alone."
  Hestia"s eyes went so wide that if they weren"t filled with a bone-chilling fear it would have been hilarious. "Thirty of them?" She echoed, her voice faint.
  "Not all at once," I clarified, keeping my voice low. I"m not sure why I bothered. I heard someone snickering behind my back, so it wasn"t like I could stop the secret that I wasn"t a badass mega warrior...well a secret. "Usually on about five or six at a time." Yeah, judging from that look, I didn"t exactly assure her fears.
  "The Dungeon isn't supposed to send that many," Hestia muttered more to herself than to me. I went to place a hand on her shoulder but paused when I noticed that there was still some blood on my hands. Instead, I dropped to a knee...I was still a head taller than her. I"m starting to think making myself over seven feet tall might have been a little much.
  "I"m fine, Hestia. I promise. Most of it was because of how tall I am -- I think I bought the wrong armor since everything on the first floor can only go for my ankles." I said with a lopsided grin, hoping to get one in return, but her lips were pressed into a thin line, a grimace on her face that looked out of place. "Once I get used to the height difference then it"ll be no problem at all."
  "Jericho, you could have died," Hestia cut to the matter bluntly, her hands bunching up into fists. Her voice was oddly calm, a harsh contrast to the naked worry and fear in her gaze.
  I wish we weren"t doing this in front of so many people. Pushing that thought to the side, I gave her a slow nod, trying to think of something to put her at ease. "I could have," I agreed after a second, an answer coming to mind. I doubt it would solve the problem, but it would certainly help.
  A sigh escaped me, feeling far more mentally exhausted than physically all of a sudden. "Hestia, if I"m going to do this, then I"m going to get hurt. That"s just part of the job." I pressed forward when her lips parted to tell me that I didn"t have to do this. "So let me add something to the promise I made."
  "I promise that, no matter what, I will not leave you alone," I swore, drawing...inspiration...from the promise between her and Bell. Hestia sucked in a breath, telling me that my words struck home. Her bottom lip started to quiver, warning me of incoming waterworks, so I hammered the point home. "Just...believe in me a little, okay?"
  Hestia tried to say something but it was incomprehensible as the waterworks came. She threw her arms around my neck, sobbing for all to hear. I heard some snickers and awws at the scene we made over Hestia sobbing in my ear. Yeah, it was time to split.
  "It"s okay, it"s all okay..." I soothed, wishing I could at her back but my hands were covered in blood. "Do you want to go home?" Great, now it sounded like I was talking to a small chil-
  "Mm-hmm," Hestia managed to get out, clinging to my neck with a surprisingly strong grip.
  " going to let go?"
  Right. I don"t know what else I could have expected. Unless I wanted to stay here, in a busy lobby, under the scrutiny of dozens of hardened adventurers and Guild employees, until Hestia calmed down then I would have to do something about this. With a lack of better options, I started to stand, feeling Hestia"s arms wrap around me even tighter, before I swept one of my arms under her legs to pick her up.
  Hestia just sniffled in response, squeezing me for dear life. Bringing myself to my full height, over everyone's heads, I saw Misha talking to a brown-haired elf -- Eina, Bell"s canon advisor. Misha caught my glance, giving me a cheeky smile and a wave as I walked through the crowd. Feeling more than a little embarrassed, I gave a small wave back. Misha said something to Eina that made both girls laugh. Probably at my expense.
  Making a quick exit out of the Guild with significantly less dignity than I came in with, I hastily walked down the steps and into the main plaza. Where there were even more people. Of course, there were. Oh well, nothing I could do about it now.
  "So," I said in a low voice, carrying Hestia through the busy streets. She sniffled, trying to get a hold of her emotions. "I think I had a pretty decent day in the Dungeon all things considered. I made about 1,500 valis to celebrate with-"
  "No," Hestia interrupted, sniffing as she adjusted her grip so her face wasn"t muffled by my shoulder.
  My heart went still. "No?" I echoed, afraid of what she was saying no to.
  "W-we need to save up until you can buy some armor for y-your legs," Hestia said, her voice oddly firm despite how thick it was with emotion. "And pants since yours are all ruined. And potions and bandages and a whole lot of other stuff!" Hestia decided before burying her head into the crook between my shoulder and neck.
  Ah, dammit. There goes that plan. the same time...yeah, it was a lot smarter. I really shouldn"t think with my dick when my life was on the line. It was just...kinda hard. Not my dick. Maybe it was because my untimely death was so fresh, but it felt as if I had to make the most of this new lease on life. And so far, it was going great. Almost perfect really.
  "Yeah, you"re right," I admitted however begrudgingly. "How about this -- after we go patch my legs up, I"ll check in with Misha to see if she can give me a lead on where I can get some decent armor for cheap." I offered, mulling over the issue myself. Maybe I should look into finding Welf Corozo. Actually...yeah, that was a really good idea. I"m certain he would be willing to make some decent armor for cheap.
  "Misha? Is she your guild advisor?" Hestia asked, her tone still thick with emotion but her sobs had subsided. That was good. We got fewer odd looks as I steadily took us home.
  "I think so? She didn"t really say anything about it, but she"s the one that - ah, shoot," I muttered, "I forgot to pick up the forms that you had to sign." I realized with a frown. Well, Misha looked like she understood my situation when I head out, so I wasn"t worried. "I"ll pick those up while I"m at it. Does that sound good?"
  Hestia sniffled before she answered, "it does...and I"m sorry for crying. It"s just..."
  The anime really undersold how hard it was for Hestia before canon, I thought, stepping off Main Street. It did really explain why Hestia grew so attached to Bell, and to me, in such a short amount of time. That had to be why she broke down crying so often, completely overwhelmed with what I hoped was happiness.
  "You don"t have to apologize for a thing," I dismissed, walking down the road that would take us home. "I get it. It must have been pretty hard for you, huh?" Hestia responded by sniffling loudly, another sob trying to escape her. "You"re not alone anymore, Hestia. And you won"t be again if I have anything to say about it."
  I half expected Hesta to start crying at the cheesiest of cheesy lines, instead, she squeezed down on my neck hard enough that I started to choke. "Jericho?"
  "Thank you."
  Ducking low to enter the basement, I walked towards the bed as softly as I could. Leaning over it, I gently deposited the slumbering goddess onto the bed, earning a soft mumble of protest before Hestia curled up into a ball. I grabbed the blanket I used last night and placed it over her.
  I don"t know if it was her emotional outburst, but something had tuckered her out.
  "Guess that works out for me though," I muttered softly, walking back to the couch as I gingerly pried off my pants to expose bloodied legs. I wasn"t scared to wake her up. Hestia was out like a light. Summoning upon my inventory, I grabbed the bandages I looted from the supporter.
  "Do I have an Observe skill?" I asked myself, trying to ignore how much worse the pain felt now that I was actually looking at the wounds. Some of them were kinda deep. Most of them would need stitches...
  I stared at the white bandages for a long second, analyzing how bandagey they were, only for nothing to happen. Nothing from my status, so either I didn"t have Observe, or I couldn"t get it yet. Maybe it was tied into my Sense stat somehow.
  With an internal shrug, I started wrapping the bandages over my leg- "Oh," I uttered, feeling the pain instantly lessen from a wound on my upper thigh. I checked to see that the wound was still there but it was a little smaller, if only by a fraction. My mind drifted to my unseen health bar, curious.
  56/100 I kept the bandage there, waiting a moment, constantly aware of my health bar, then smiling when it ticked up to 57. Then 58. Then 59. Each time the wound hurt less and less and by the fourth tick, when I looked underneath a bloodied bandage, I saw that it was gone.
  "So, bandages restore 1 hp a minute," I muttered, moving on to the other wounds that covered my legs. That was...honestly kinda terrible. For starters, I had no natural regeneration. I couldn"t exactly stop to bandage up in the middle of a fight. I didn"t have a Bleed status effect or anything, but I couldn"t imagine there wouldn"t be a drain on my hp with a bad enough wound.
  I grabbed a rag, dipping it into a tub of water to wipe down my legs as the last few cuts healed. If my health got low enough, it would take over an hour for me to fully heal. Which was great in terms of reality, but really bad in terms of gamer mentality.
  "I guess I"ll have to stick with potions," I mused once my lower body was clean. Though, it would be a question of how effective they were, or if they instantly restored health. I recall that they did in the anime and light novels, so I was hopeful. Still, the only way to know for sure would be to test it.
  With no other clothes, I had to put on my bloodied jeans, careful not to stick a foot into one of the many cuts in them. Teenager me would have liked how they looked. Teenager me was also an idiot.
  I started to walk back out, intent on taking care of my errands as soon as possible, only to pause when I reached the door. Glancing over at Hestia"s slumbering form, I walked over, a hand outstretched...that I gently placed on her shoulder to bring up her blanket.
  There was no need to rush anything. Hestia trusted me. Doing something stupid like molesting her in her sleep was a bad move all around.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. I hope you enjoyed!
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  My Stories: Gone Native: Earth Saga (DBZ/DC Comics), Risk It All (Young Justice/Gamer), Fool's World (F/SN), Legends Never Die (Ahistorical/CKIII Gamer), Castoff (Berserk/Witcher 3)
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  Versed in the lewd.
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  Bit of a setup chapter and setting up the relationship between the SI and Hestia. Things start to pick up next chapter, I promise.
  I"m not hungry. I haven"t been hungry since I found myself here, I thought as I walked through the streets of Orario. Between dying, fighting and just walking around the city, by now I should be starving. And yet, I wasn"t even peckish despite not eating for a day and a half. Not so much as a cracker or apple or anything.
  Same with being thirsty. I was really thankful that I picked Natural Deodorant because I must have sweated gallons down in the Dungeon. Steel armor didn"t exactly breathe, after all. Without Natural Deodorant, I would absolutely reek. Maybe I already did -- I was nose blind to my own scent, and unless it made sweat smell like flowers or something. Hopefully, that was the case.
  "Gamer Body," I muttered aloud, walking back towards the Tower of Babel. I was still figuring out how it worked, but my Skill had changed me in ways I hadn"t really expected. Could I ever get hungry? Thirsty? Did I need to sleep? I mean, I could, but did I need it? I hadn"t felt tired when I fell asleep last night, so I might not need any of the most basic needs of humanity. I could still do them, but I didn"t need them.
  That, I wasn"t sure how I felt about.
  A sigh escaped me as I ran a hand through my black hair, pushing it out of my face. I know it looked good, but maybe I should have picked a shorter hairstyle. Or I should put it into a braid or something. I had short hair for most of my life, putting any real effort into my hair was a new experience for me.
  Straightening out my appearance, my nice button-down a harsh contrast to my torn and bloodied blue jeans, I started to trudge up the stairs and reentered the Guild. I scanned the crowd, seeing some familiar faces. Too many familiar faces. Right. I should have waited longer to come back here. That way the crowd that witnessed that scene would have cleared out.
  "Hello Jericho," I heard someone call out to my right. Glancing over, I saw it was Misha. Her eyes darted to my legs, likely spotting the bandages visible between the tears to cover up the fact that my legs were fine. Best keep how fast I heal under wraps for as long as I could.
  "Hey," I greeted, "sorry about leaving. Hestia..."
  Misha laughed lightly, "you don"t have to apologize, I understand. Your goddess seems to worry quite a bit about you already," she noted, her tone warm.
  "She does," I agreed with a lopsided smile. "Thank you for pointing me in her direction. I really do appreciate it."
  Misha shook her head, "no, I"m glad just glad you were able to keep your promise." She said, her eyes darting down again at my pants, "though, she might have a reason to be so worried." She commented lightly, gesturing at my lower body.
  "Eh, it looks a lot worse than it actually is." I dismissed, feeling more than a little embarrassed. It was just...goblins did this to me. The weakest monster there was. "I, ah, kinda got swarmed by a bunch of them on my way back."
  Misha frowned, "swarmed? By how many?"
  I shrugged, "about eight of them spawned when I reached the entrance to the second floor. Then groups of three or more kept popping up on my way back." Now Misha looked flat out worried, making me frown right back at her. "I"m guessing that"s not normal?"
  "No, not at all. Well, not for the first floor at least," she explained. "Were they pre spawned or did they come out of the walls? Did you wear any kind of monster bait? Can you tell me exactly how many spawned, or even just a general guess? I haven"t heard of any unusual monster mobs from other rookies-, so did you happen to kill them as well?" Misha asked rapid-fire questions, her tone suddenly going all business.
  "Uh," I started intelligently. "They were coming out of the walls, no, around thirty or so on my way back and I killed them all," I answered, earning a firm nod from Misha as she made a note on a pad that she pulled from her vest. Then she paused, looking up at me.
  "Thirty?" She questioned, looking surprised. Huh. Maybe I could salvage some of my dignity. Apparently what I dealt with was well outside the norm. I mean, it wasn"t good because the Dungeon was making an extra effort to murder me, but, you know, it means I sucked a little bit less than I thought I did.
  "Yeah, somewhere around there. I killed just over forty in total," I summarized with a nod. Misha hesitantly wrote that down, unsure if she could believe me. I hoped she would give me the benefit of the doubt. The last thing I needed was for her to think I was lying to impress her or something.
  "But, you are right that Hestia should be worried. Is worried. I was actually hoping to get my hands on some leg armor before I went back down there since everything on the first floor can only chew on my ankles." I said, nudging us away from the topic.
  Misha nodded, "I looked into our stock after you left with your goddess, but we don"t have anything in your size." She said, earning a small blink from me. That was surprisingly attentive of her. "You"ll have to contact a smith about making a custom order."
  I nodded, "I figured I would have to." At 7"5, 325 pounds of muscle, it was just a fact of life that most stores would have any ready stock for me. "Since you helped me with Hestia, I was actually hoping you could help me find a smith. A Welf Corozzo?" I asked with a smile that I hoped came off as charming.
  Misha cocked an eyebrow, "already looking to get your hands on a magic sword?" She teased, making my smile grow.
  "As much as goblins irritate me, I"m not annoyed enough nuke them with hellfire. Yet," I returned. "I"ve just heard good things about his light armor, and, uh, he"s in my price range," I explained, stretching the truth.
  It worked going by Misha"s nod. "I can help you with that. It"ll take a second to find where his workshop is, but since he"s a member of the Hesphustus familia, odds are it"ll be somewhere outside of the city walls." That made sense, from what I remembered Welf lived in a shack that doubled as a forage.
  "And," I started, making Misha pause, "could I also get some reading material know, how not to die in the Dungeon? I"m not really sure what I would need to know..." I admitted, earning another firm nod from Misha.
  "Yeah, easily! Actually, I could arrange some study lessons if you're serious about it," Misha offered, getting a nod from me.
  "That sounds great. Thank you," I agreed.
  "Great, now let me get your forms and books," Misha said, dashing off behind a counter, out of sight, with a pep in her step. I saw Eina follow her not long after. With nothing better to do, I took a seat in the waiting room, sinking into a too soft couch to the point that there was probably going to be a permanent indentation of me.
  After twiddling my thumbs for a few minutes, wishing I had a phone or something to entertain me, Misha came back with a tall pile of books in her hands. Her hands cupped at her waist, the tower stretched all the way up to her nose. Quickly getting up and taking the stack from her, I noticed that the forms were on top.
  "It"s a little much," Misha admitted, "but everything in here is really valuable information on the upper floors. If you know all of it inside and out, I promise you that you"ll have a much easier time if you apply what you learned in the Dungeon."
  "I"ll learn it all," I promised. Not only would it help me, you know, not die, but there was the possibility of skill books. Even if there weren"t any, then these should help me start grinding my Intelligence stat.
  "Good! And this is the address to Mr. Corozzo"s workshop. I don"t know if he"s in or not, though," Misha said, placing a note with the girliest handwriting I had ever seen on top of the pile. "Anything else?"
  "Nothing comes to mind. Thank you again for all your help Misha," I said, starting to turn to leave.
  "It"s what I"m here for!"
  I smiled a goodbye, walking out of the Guild with a new destination in mind. As soon as I could, I dumped all of the stuff into my inventory before summoning my map. Now that I wasn"t in the Dungeon, the map was a lot less complete. It was a vast map that was mostly left blank except for the paths I had walked.
  The blip that marked Welf"s workshop was ways out the way, giving me a general direction but not much else. Exactly like a typical RPG.
  I slowly made my way through the city, taking my time to explore the other districts to get as much of the map filled in as I could. Looping back to fill in a small blank spot in a game was annoying, doing it in real life would be infuriating. Shops eventually gave way to a housing district, then to a park, then to more shops, then more houses. Eventually, I saw the walls of Orario grow near, a massive ornate gate cut out to let people leave.
  "Ais! Look at these! You"d look ssuuuuuuper cute with them," a loud voice managed to cut through the general chatter of the city. Glancing over at the source, interested by the name, I saw a short deeply tanned girl, dark brown hair that brushed against her shoulders. She wore a white tube top that covered a modest bust. Very modest. A tan skirt was tied off at her waist, the back of it dipping down to her ankles while the front was tied into a bow.
  She was speaking to a slightly shorter golden-haired girl. Her hair dipped down to her lower back that was left exposed. A white dress covered her front, dipping down to loop around into a short skirt that was black on the back half. Her slender legs were covered by royal blue boots, leaving only a couple of inches of thigh exposed.
  Ah. Ais Wallenstein and Tiona Hiryute. Loki familia. I think at this point, both of them were Level 5s.
  Ais said something back that I couldn"t hear, her golden eyes blank as her expression. Tiona was far more expressive, waving around a pair of earrings, making her own numerous golden necklaces clink loudly.
  "Come on! We"re about to spend two weeks in the Dungeon, they won"t be here by the time we get back." She protested, holding the earring up on each side of Ais" head, her hands were in the way so I couldn"t see what they looked like.
  Ais said something else, her lips moving but I sucked at lip-reading. And I lacked a subtitles function.
  Tiona groaned, passing the earrings back to a disappointed looking vendor. "No fun. They would have looked really nice on you," the tanned girl pouted, puffing out her cheeks as she crossed her surprisingly defined arms. The two of them started to walk my way, Ais" eyes going forward, then flicking up to look at my face.
  She blinked once and other than that, there was nothing else. I walked towards the two of them as they chatted -- well, Tiona chatted at Aiz. During the split second we walked past each other, I half expected one of them to say something. Neither did, leaving each other in peace.
  Neat. I met more main characters. Well, met might be a strong word, but the point stood.
  Still, two weeks until canon would start since they were coming back from the expedition at the start of the anime. Though...speaking of main characters, what about Bell? Shouldn"t he be showing up soon? He and Hestia met...on chance, hadn"t they? She was looking for her first familia member, she saw Bell get rejected, then accepted him into her own.
  Except she wouldn"t be looking for her first familia member. So she wouldn"t run into Bell. So Bell was...
  "Hm," I hummed, stepping out of the city, letting my map guide me. Should I try to find him? Bring him in? He was the protagonist after all. More than that, of all the harem protagonists in anime, he was one of the few that I actually liked. Mostly because if there was ever a justification for a harem obsessed horndog, then being raised by Zeus was it.
  I thought about it as I walked towards Welf"s workshop. I gave it a good long think. There were good reasons for including him. It wasn"t guaranteed that he would get Liaris Freese, which was probably the most overpowered Skill in this setting. Once he leveled up a couple of times, between the two of us, the Hestia familia would be fairly formidable. Not to mention that he had the attention of several important gods, like Zeus and Hermes. the same time...well...Hestia fell in love with Bell in canon.
  "I need to stop thinking with my dick," I told myself, putting a pin in the issue for now. Welf"s workshop was completely unassuming. The grass that surrounded a small building was tall, hiding a stone path. The house itself was compact, only a brick chimney and piles of wood marked it as anything other than a hastily built shack.
  "At least he"s home," I muttered, spotting smoke coming from the chimney. Walking up to the door, I heard the sharp ring of metal banging against metal. I knocked on the door, a little harder than normal to make sure that he heard me, before stepping back. The sound stopped instantly, letting me hear a low curse.
  "Uh, just a minute! I"ll be right there!" Welf yelled out, almost drowned out by something hitting the floor followed by an even louder curse. I heard him stumble his way to the door before it slid open with a bang, revealing a soot streaked man around my age, his short red hair plastered to his face with sweat.
  "Uhhhh..." Welf gaped, his gaze looking up and up and up until he looked me in the eyes. "can...I help you?"
  "Yeah, actually," this time I came prepared. "I was hoping to commission some armor from you. For my legs. But if I came at a bad time...?" I trailed off, slightly unnerved by how Welf kept staring at me.
  "Er, no," Welf said, straightening up to his full height, bringing him my chest. "I was just finishing up a piece, armor from me...?" He stumbled out, looking lost. Then his eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why?"
  He was suspicious. Corozzo magic swords were apparently the equivalent of a nuke in a high fantasy world. I couldn"t imagine how often he must have been bothered by people with good and ill intentions to make one for them. What I did know was that his constant refusal had cost him a great deal, and he accepted the price to save his pride.
  "Do you want the truth or do you want me to kiss your ass?" I asked bluntly, getting a blink of surprise from Welf. He dealt with all kinds of liars, tricksters and traitors, all of them hoping to make him create a magic sword for him for one reason or another. I couldn"t imagine that he wouldn"t find blunt honesty refreshing, even if he didn"t like what was said.
  "The truth, then kiss my ass to make it better," Welf decided, getting a genuine smile out of me.
  "The truth is that I"m pretty broke, and I know you don"t have a lot of customers." I started honestly, an indignant expression appearing on Welf"s face. "It"s not that you don"t do good work or anything like that. I just know that since everyone only ever wants magic swords, the armor you make gets overlooked-"
  "More like shoved in a box and left in the back," Welf cut in, grumbling, the indignant expression fading.
  I nodded, agreeing with him. "Pretty much. I need some armor for my legs, and you're one of the few I know can make good armor and would be willing to do it for cheap."
  Welf seemed to mull that over for a minute, wiping sweat from his brow with the oversized sleeve of his kimono thing. Slowly, he nodded, "and to make it better?"
  "I purchased some of your work before and I can"t imagine myself using anything that wasn"t crafted by your hands," I said with a smile, earning a smirk and a huff of laughter from Welf. He nodded again, this time more to himself.
  "I guess I should be more careful what I wish for," he commented to himself, looking up at me again. He stared at me, trying to find any hint of deceit, only to find none. Even still, he asked, "you don"t want a magic sword?"
  I shrugged dismissively, "I became an adventurer about five hours ago. What would I use one on?"
  That got a full-blown smile out of Welf, his expression warming. "You could want to sell it though," he countered, still trying to poke a hole in my story even if he didn"t want there to be one.
  "I guess," I admitted, "but me asking you to make one would imply I have enough money to pay you to make one. And I did mention that I was broke, right? Because that"s kinda important."
  Welf finally gave in, sticking out a hand as a friendly smile tugged at his lips. "Welf Corozzo," he introduced himself. I took his hand, trying to not think about how small if felt in comparison to mine.
  "Jericho," I returned, shaking his hand firmly. My hand might be bigger, but Welf was a fairly accomplished adventurer despite still being Level 1 and it showed. His grip was like iron.
  "Come in, sorry about the mess, I was finishing off a dagger," Welf said, stepping into his sweltering home, revealing a messy workshop. Weapons of all sizes lined the walls, the floor was made of dirt darkened with years of soot and ash, a pile of wood was tucked next to a forage that dominated the small building. Tools of all kinds laid around an anvil with a knife laying on top of it.
  "You said you were looking for leg armor? Anything specific you were looking for?" Welf asked, hastily cleaning things to make everything look a little more organized. I pondered the question for a moment, having not thought about that. Did I want anything specific? I just needed armor.
  "I have a black chest piece already, so I guess if it could match that?" I spoke, earning a nod from Welf.
  "I can do that. What kind of black are we talking about here?" Welf asked, grabbing a long tangled piece of string. He fumbled to untie it, letting me think of how I could describe the color black.
  "It"s...that color," I said, pointing to a patch of built-up soot. It looked about right.
  "I can manage that easily enough. And I"ll need to check your measurements," Welf said, grabbing one end of the string. Without further ado, he placed one end at the center of my thigh and wrapped it around. I shifted, letting it happen and after a moment, I heard him let out a breath. "Not surprised the Guild didn"t have anything for you," he noted, marking the string.
  "What kind of armor are you looking for? Light, medium, heavy? Full coverage?" He asked, going down to my calf.
  "I don"t know to be honest. I just need to keep monsters from chewing on my ankles. What would you recommend?" What did I see myself in the future? What was my end goal? In D&D, I always ended up becoming a walking wall of armor, but that didn"t have to be the case here. I wanted mobility.
  In this setting, there were people as fast as lightning. I didn"t know if having thick heavy armor would offer up the kind of protection that I needed. What"s more, being slow and big was a major disadvantage. Look at every boss battle ever -- the big guy that could deal major damage, but since he never hit, none of that mattered. Then his health bar would get chipped down until it hit zero.
  That couldn"t be my fate. I needed to start taking steps now to make sure that it wasn"t.
  "If maximum protection is what you"re looking for, then I"d have to go with heavy armor. I"ll fully encase yours legs, except for your knees for mobility. You can cover up the weakness with some chainmail," Welf explained, making another mark on the string.
  "Will it affect my mobility?" I asked with a thoughtful frown. I could make up for any loss in Dexterity with training at the moment, but I doubt that would hold for when my stats leave the single digits. From what I"ve seen, most of my stats were going to come from direct combat, exactly as Hestia said. What I used would inevitably become my higher stats.
  But, at the same time, I was ridiculously fragile at the moment. All it would take was a hundred goblin scratches and I"d die. I needed armor. At this point, the more armor the better.
  "Not as much as people think. It"ll weigh you down some, sure, but you"ll still be able to run jump and so on in it. If you"re worried about it, I can leave some space near your waist to make sure you don"t lose any mobility." Welf offered, getting a hesitant nod from me as he took the measurements of my other leg. From the sounds of it, my mobility in heavy armor would be determined by my strength more than anything else.
  "And how long were you wanting for this armor to last?" Welf said, measuring my entire leg from ankle to waist. "Because I can whip something up in no time flat if you"re just wanting it for the first five floors. None of them really have the strength to actually break armor, so I can make it thinner than normal. That"ll shave off some weight if you"re that worried about mobility. After the fifth floor, though, it won"t hold up. Killer ants will rip through it no problem."
  I made it to the entrance of the second floor in a few hours. I did get swarmed by goblins and I handled them with relative ease. The second floor was where more monsters started spawning, in bigger numbers and different types. Things were going to get a lot more difficult on that floor.
  "Eh, don"t do that. Might as well get as much mileage as possible out of it," I said with a shake of my head.
  Welf stood up, writing down my measurements and nodding to himself. "Now for the fun part. Let"s talk price," he said, turning to face me, crossing his arms. "You did say you were broke, so I"m guessing you want it made out of steel?"
  Feeling faintly embarrassed, I nodded. "Whatever is cheapest," I agreed, wanting to cross my arms but not wanting to copy Welf. That would be awkward. "As for price...I"m going to be really honest here, I have absolutely no idea what I should be paying you."
  Welf barked a laugh as he shook his head, "you"re not supposed to be honest when you"re bartering." He reminded more laughter in his voice. He uncrossed his arms, scratching at his short red hair before giving a small shrug. "I tend to favor making light armor, and to cover your legs, I"ll use enough steel for two sets. How about...7,500?"
  ...Wasn"t that nearly the same amount that he charged for the armor Bell ended up wearing? For an entire set of light armor?
  "That"s just the amount of steel, though, right? You aren"t actually making two sets of light armor, so that should bump the price down a little bit?" I said though it came out like a question. Welf nodded at that, pinching his chin with soot-stained fingers.
  "I"m not, but it"s going to take some time to make it. Making good heavy plate takes longer to make than light armor," Welf said. I didn"t think that was true, but I didn"t know if it was or not. It could be. I knew exactly nothing about blacksmithing. "But...I"ll bump off another 500 valis."
  I knew I was going to have to go into debt to this armor, but that didn't make it any easier to swallow. I hated it. I hated it more than words could ever possibly say. Still, I needed the armor if not for the goblins, then for the deeper floors. I could spend a few days without it, grinding up the money then hand it over at once, but then I would be waiting longer to get the armor and I would still have to go into the Dungeon anyway to make money. I would lose days to save my pride.
  I could pay it off in a few days. If I focused, spent a little longer in the Dungeon each day, then I could pay it off in about three days. Two, maybe. That was...that made it a lot easier to swallow. Probably more than it should.
  "Alright, sounds fine to me," I agreed, swallowing my irritation. "I don"t have all of it on me right now, but here, take this as a down payment," I said, holding out my earnings for today. Welf took it, checking inside.
  I half expected him to make a comment about the pitiful amount but it seemed admitting that I was broke stopped him. Thankfully. I really didn't want to blow through our savings already.
  "Appreciate it, big guy. I'll go ahead and start on it. Should be done in about five days or so." Well said, tucking his newfound wealth away.
  "Sounds good. See you in five days then," I said, shaking Welf"s hand again and saying goodbye. I stepped out of his workshop, as poor as I started this morning, and the door slid shut behind me. I looked up at the sky, seeing the sun was still firmly hanging above. Checking my time, I saw that it was nearly 3 o'clock.
  "It's been a long day," I missed, walking back towards the city. Part of me wanted to head back home, crawl in bed with Hestia and let the rest of the day pass me by. My laid-back instincts told me I had done enough for one day.
  If I hadn't spent over 5000 valis that I didn't have, I might have gone home. Instead, my eyes found the Tower of Babel, the white spire stretching up until it pierced the clouds. With a tired sigh, I set a waypoint.
  As long of a day as it has, it wasn't over yet.
  "Don't be burnt, don't be burnt, don't be burnt-!" Hestia whispered desperately, flipping a piece of meat suspended over a wood fed stove with her finger, revealing a dark brownish color with darker lines where it sat on the grill that kept it out of the fire. A breath heaved out of her, practically deflating her as she pinched the meat and dragged it off the grill and on to a plate. It looked like it belonged there, she thought happily as she whipped her hand back and forth to cool her fingers.
  I should look like it belonged there. Especially when she splurged a little to buy a nice cut of steak from the Ninsun familia. She had it all planned out perfectly in her head; Jericho would come back from a long day of errands, tired and hungry, then he would be greeted by the smell of her delicious food before he descended the steps into their home.
  She would have it all laid out for him, ready to eat with a warm tea to help wash it all down. He would light up, smiling at her in a way that showed off his startling white teeth, and he would eat every single last bite because it was too good not too. After he was done, he would look at her and say something like 'that was the best thing I have ever tasted.' Or something like that.
  Jericho seemed to have a habit of saying exactly what she wanted to hear, even when she had no idea she wanted to hear them so desperately.
  With a pep in her step, she took a small dishrag to wipe up the stray juices from the meat, a nice pile of broccoli next to it along with a potato cut up in wedges topped with a generous helping of salt. She cut open the steak to see a nice pink color, telling her that it was fully cooked. She was lucky that Hephustus was kind enough to treat her to special meals like this back when she lived with her.
  She brought the plate over, setting it down next to a steaming cup of tea. Then she ran back to the door, standing on her tiptoes as if that would make up for the near three feet hight distance before she rushed over to make things a little more symmetrical, turning the plate so the steak facedthe door. Hestia ran back again, nodding her head in satisfaction as she darted back to the couch, idly noting that she could feel indent where Jericho had slept last night.
  Again, memories of what happened this morning replayed in her mind, making her blush and fiddle where she sat. Then she let out a small, depressed laugh, "what must he think of me?" She wondered, fiddling with the hem of her dress. Hestia had good guesses. "A crybaby and a harlot," she decided dejectedly.
  What else had she done since meeting him? She...touched his penis and ended up crying her heart out twice in the day they"ve known each other. Whereas he seemed to impress her more and more every time he opened his mouth.
  But that would change now! She cooked a perfect meal to convince him that she wasn't some floozy. With this, she took her first step to show that Jericho could rely on her. She might not be able to go down with him into the Dungeon or buy him expensive gear, but at the very least, she could do this much.
  Hestia was broken from her thoughts when she heard the sound of a heavy stone door grinding wood, the false wall moving away that hide their home.
  "Oh," Hestia lunged to her feet, scrambling up to her feet as she smoothed out her dress, straightening her bow and fixed her hair. It took a moment, but luckily, Jericho was so tall that she had just enough time to make herself presentable. When he entered their home fully, he looked over at her with an easy smile, and she found herself smiling back at him. "I made you dinner!" She blurted, wincing at her delivery.
  "Thank you, Hestia, I haven"t eaten all day," Jericho said, shifting something in his hands. Unfortunately, he wasn"t lying.
  Then she noticed the pile of books in his hands. Instantly, she went to grab some of them, eyeing the covers, "101 ways to kill goblins?" She read aloud, setting the pile of books off to the side. The others were in the same vein -- monsters and how to deal with them.
  "Hm, Misha let me borrow them. I figured I needed every advantage I could get," Jericho said, taking a seat in front of his meal. Hestia traced the spines of the books, fighting off a twinge of jealousy. This Misha girl was simply doing her job as Jericho"s guild advisor. If she should be annoyed with anyone, it should be herself for not thinking of it first. "There are also some forms for you to fill out."
  Hestia spotted them, turning to face Jericho to see him grab a knife and a fork. He went to cut into his steak, only to pause. In that split second, Hestia"s heart jumped all the way from her feet to her throat and nearly leaped out of her entirely. Jericho turned to her, bowing his head, "Thank you for the meal. Did you already eat?"
  "I did," Hestia lied. "Did you find out anything about some armor?" Hestia asked, changing the subject as she pretended that she wasn"t watching Jericho cut into his steak like a hawk. He cut a sliver off, popping it into his mouth and...his face lite up as he chewed, swiftly swallowing to cut off another bite
  "This is great," he complimented before he answered, making her feel so light she could fly. "I did, I commissioned some from Welf Corozzo. They should be done in about five days," he said, swallowing and following it up with a sip of his tea. "It"s going to cost about 5,500," Jericho said, earning a wince out of her like he punched her in the stomach. She tried to hide it but apparently he was watching her like she was him.
  "It shouldn"t be a problem," Jericho dismissed, reaching to his belt after taking another bite of his steak and another sip of his tea. He pulled out a coin purse that looked like it had some weight to it. "I made a down payment of about 1,500 and I made another 1000."
  Hestia"s eyes went so wide they could have fallen out of her head, "you made 2,500 valis in one trip?!" She couldn"t stop herself from shouting, stunned by the number. That much! She barely made 500 valis a week at her stall! Did all adventurers make that much?! Her stunned amazement faded somewhat when Jericho shook his head, shoveling a couple of potato wedges into his mouth before washing it down with more tea.
  "No, I went back to the Dungeon after I talked to Welf-"
  "You went back down there?" Hestia interjected, stepping forward. "But you"re hurt!" She reminded him, looking down at his ripped and torn pants, or rather the white bandages that laid underneath. His pants looked to be in even worse condition now, another half dozen of cuts between each leg.
  Jericho chewed his vegetables for a moment before swallowing them down with some trouble. After drinking more tea, nearly leaving his cup empty, he nodded. "I did, but I"m not hurt," he explained, earning a bewildered look from Hestia. What did he mean he wasn"t-
  Hestia eeped when Jericho stood up, unbuttoning his pants. She felt herself blush all the way down to her toes, watching him shrug off his pants, her shock turning to concern when she saw the blood. Then it became shock again when he peeled off one of the bloodied bandages, revealing smooth skin underneath.
  "What...?" Hestia whispered, her feet carrying her forward. She traced a line where she thought the wound would be based on the bloodstain on the bandage. There was only smooth skin under her finger. "Did you drink a health potion?" Had he run into Micah? She hadn"t told him that Jericho was her familia member yet, but knowing him, he was probably handing out potions at a street corner.
  "I think it"s because of my Skill Gamer Body," Jericho explained, peeling off the other bandages to reveal more smooth skin underneath. His colorful underwear marked with hearts was bloodied at the hem. He would need new underwear too, Hestia made a mental note even as her mind tried to wrap her head around this.
  "I...think that makes sense. I don"t know what else it could be," Hestia admitted, feeling like she was in completely over her head. If he drank a potion, then this wouldn"t be surprising at all. Depending on the quality of the health potion, even fatal wounds could be healed by drinking one. But to heal this fast because of bandages?
  Her mistake was taking on entirely new consequences that she hadn"t foreseen. Hestia was worried that she might have impacted how he could level up, or what those other stats would mean, but this was...her blessing had changed his body. A good change, one that let him heal so quickly without needing expensive healing potions, but that wasn"t what worried her.
  How else had his body changed? What else had she unknowingly done to her child?
  "Don"t look so worried," Jericho instructed, gently grabbing her hand that still touched his lower thigh. "This probably one of the best things that could have happened. I"m still figuring the Skill out, but I"m not really seeing a downside. To any of it," he spoke truthfully, putting the edge of her worries at ease. The rest of them still lurked under the surface.
  He squeezed her hand, finishing his meal in silence for a few minutes before continuing. "How about we update my status? I think I made some gains," he said. Hestia recognized it for the change of topic that it was, but she gave a shallow nod all the same. He flashed a smile at her, pulling off his tanktop. After he took it off, for a few blissful moments, Hestia forgot her worries.
  "I think you"ll need to get on the bed," Hestia pointed out when he started to lay down on the couch, his legs hanging off at the knee. She would imagine it would be really uncomfortable when she got on his back. Jericho nodded, getting up, and moving to her bed, and she was forced to swallow a laugh. Even then, his legs hung off.
  She climbed on top of him, fetching the pin to prick her finger. His status was tattooed in the center of his back, she would fix that soon enough. With a drop of divine blood, light rippled out across his back like water, her falna glowing as it lifted off his back, revealing his new experiences. She coaxed the experiences into numbers, increasing his stats and making him grow stronger.
  "Done," Hestia said, pushing a piece of paper to his back, making the flight fade as his status was copied to it. Peeling the paper off, Hestia looked at it.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 82/1,000,000
  Strength: 2
  Endurance: 13
  Dexterity: 10
  Intelligence: 2
  Sense: 6
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 1% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.​
  Hestia"s eyes zeroed in on a new slot called Development Abilities. Abilities that could be improved similar to a stat, making them grow stronger the more they were used and their effectiveness increasing each time the user leveled up. There were plenty of common ones like Blacksmith, or Mixing, each rank up letting the user create more impressive things. Then there were more rare ones, like Mystery, that let the user create things that were worthy of legends.
  The issue was, it was supposed to be impossible for a level 1 to have one. Development Abilities could only be gained from level 2 and up.
  She couldn"t tell anyone about this, Hestia realized with no small amount of panic. The other gods wouldn"t just accuse her of cheating and send her back to Heaven, but Jericho would be in danger. As much as they would shout at her for messing up, breaking the game balance, they would wage war against each other to have Jericho in their familia. Hestia couldn"t even go to Hesphstus, because as much as she was her friend, the red-headed god would know that Hestia had accidentally upset the delicate balance in the city.
  Numbly, Hestia got off Jericho as her mind raced. What did she do? Did she just keep hiding the truth and hoped no one noticed? How long would that last? Jericho would have to get his Status confirmed by the Guild when he inevitably leveled up...
  "Oh, Physical Resistance?" Jericho said, looking over her shoulder down at the slip of paper, blissfully unaware of how lost Hestia felt. "That"s going to be useful," he commented, her bed shifting under his considerable weight. He smelled like cinnamon. And, despite herself, Hestia agreed.
  Taking less damage? Did that mean if he got it up to 100%, would he be immune to physical attacks? She heard of Magic Resistance and Abnormal Resistance, but never physical resistance. That Skill alone would plunge the city into chaos if anyone ever learned about it.
  "And Massage," Jericho said, not sounding surprised that there was a Skill there. Probably because he didn"t know Skills weren"t that easy to get. Skills were meant to be slowly shaped, coaxed out of the child"s soul through repetition.
  But, maybe this was a good thing. It couldn"t last, but for now, it meant that Jericho could advance at an incredible pace. Maybe he would be strong enough to protect himself when this inevitably blew up in her face.
  "I think it looks pretty good for my first status update," Jericho decided, smiling down at her. Hestia smiled back at him, trying to push her troubled thoughts to the side. He didn"t know. To protect him, she couldn"t let him know. When the gods came knocking, demanding that she go back to Heaven, he would be able to answer honestly that he had no clue about her mistake.
  "It does, I think it"s really good progress for a day"s work," Hestia said, folding the paper. She would have to burn it later. She looked up at him, and only then did it dawn on her that she was sitting on a bed with a man wearing nothing but his underwear.
  "And it was a long day. I"m glad it"s over," Jericho said, earning a look from her. Hestia saw that it was nearly 10 o'clock, cooking had taken a lot longer than she thought it would. Still, she was glad for it. At least then her day seemed to go by fast.
  "Don"t worry about it, it"s your day off. I"ll take care of the dishes," Jericho offered, getting up before she could. "And, do we have a way to wash my clothes? They need a good soak." He asked, distracting her from her growing insecurities.
  "Um," Hestia hesitated, before nodding. "We do! I usually just fill up a bucket and lather them up a little bit before letting my dress soak overnight. Here," Hestia explained, gathering up his clothes. It was hard to believe that all they were was a pair of pants and a tank top. They barely fit in her washing bucket.
  "Thanks," Jericho said, finishing off the dish and grabbing a bar of soap. Hestia noticed the embarrassed expression on his face, and when he caught her look, his face got redder. "Well, all of my clothes need to be washed. All of them," he clarified, gesturing to his underwear as well. That would mean he would sleeping naked- oh.
  "R-right," Hestia said, looking away down at his now soaking clothes. He was telling her this because he didn"t want her molesting him in his sleep like she did this morning. "T-then I"ll go ahead and go to bed!" Hestia decided, standing up and all but sprinting to her bed. She dove behind the covers, the only sound she could hear was her heartbeat thundering in her chest.
  Then she heard the sound of cloth on flesh, a subtle sound that she never would have paid any mind to. She noticed it now because there was now a naked man standing less than ten feet away from her. Hestia swallowed thickly, the image of his hard penis at the forefront of her mind. Would it be hard again? Would...she have to rub it again?
  If she was going to look, then she missed her chance. The sound of the couch groaning underneath Jericho"s weight echoed throughout the small room. After he settled in, Jericho let out a breath, likely blowing out the candle that illuminated the room.
  "Goodnight Hestia," Jericho said, prompting Hestia to poke her head out of the covers. She looked over at him, seeing that he curled up slightly so his legs weren"t dangling off the edge. Though, his knees were by a dangerous amount.
  "Goodnight Jericho," Hestia returned, wide awake as she settled against her pillow. The events of the day running through her mind. Not just what happened this morning, but what happened at the Guildhall. The promise he made rang in her head like a bell.
  She smiled lightly, turning in her bed so she could look at her child. It was a bad angle, but she knew that his wild mane of hair would be covering some of his face. And underneath that thin blanket was a sculpted body left bare.
  "Thank you," Hestia whispered underneath her breath. What exactly she was thanking him for, not even she knew. Though, if she had to guess, it was because she didn"t feel alone anymore.
  And she never would again.
  Edit: Hestia can now cook and there was no five-hour delay so the food didn't get cold.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. I hope you enjoyed!
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  My Stories: Gone Native: Earth Saga (DBZ/DC Comics), Risk It All (Young Justice/Gamer), Fool's World (F/SN), Legends Never Die (Ahistorical/CKIII Gamer), Castoff (Berserk/Witcher 3)
  Completed Stories: Going Native (DBZ/DC Comics), Power Corrupts (Gamer SI), See No Evil (Young Justice SI)
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  Unfortunately, Hestia hadn"t climbed into bed at some point during the night. I awoke alone on my couch, and after a few minutes of failing to re-enter the blissful realm of unconsciousness, I got up to see that I was alone in the room as well. A note was folded on top of the coffee table, my name scrawled across it in messy handwriting. Picking it up, I flipped it open to see:
  Went to work, be back at 5. Your clothes are drying up top.
  Take care!
  Looking at the time, I saw it was barely past 6. "She's going to have a long day," I missed, tossing the note into my inventory. Twelve hours. You never knew how much you needed something until it was gone. Never thought I would be missing labor laws, of all things. "But, I guess it'll give me a chance to use my Massage Skill."
  Wrapping the blanket around my waist, I stood up, my back popping like a machine gun. A groan escaped me, as I popped my neck as well, "ugh, the next thing I"m getting is an actual bed." I don"t know where I would put it, but sleeping on the couch that felt three sizes too small was murdering my spine.
  I looked around for a moment, somewhat at a loss on what to do. It was still early, so maybe I should head down into the Dungeon? I was still 4000 in the hole, so I might as well start making some cash ahead of time. The last thing I needed was to wait until the last minute to make it all, only to fail, then not get my armor.
  Still, my gaze found the pile of books that I needed to thumb through. I preferred fiction, but if those self-help books could save my life, then I should read them sooner rather than later. Meh, I should go check my clothes before I decide on anything. Tying the blanket at my hip, leaving one leg dangerously exposed, but it covered all the important bits.
  Ducking low to walk back up the stairs, I pushed away a false wall that served as a door to reveal the ruined church. In the low light, it looked a lot creepier. The stone felt rough underfoot, so I was careful where I stepped. I don"t know if Gamer Body would protect me from tetanus, and the only way to find out was no way to find out.
  "Where is the clothesline?" I muttered, wiping the last vestiges of sleep from my eyes. It was weird, it didn"t feel like I needed sleep but waking up in the mornings was just as hard as it was before. I searched the interior of the church, only to find nothing. Did she mean that it was outside?
  Stepping out, I looked around, spotting the clothesline on the side of the building. There was a slight problem, though.
  It was empty.
  "Er," I started, blinking at it with some confusion. Did they get blown away or something? It didn"t storm last night, so I don"t see how they could have. Even then, my clothes were big enough that they wouldn"t have gone far if they did get blown off the line. "Am I looking in the right place?" She wrote that they were hanging up, but she didn"t mention that they were on the clothesline.
  "Hurry it up!" I heard a high pitched voice yell out, bringing my attention to what looked like a small kid in the distance. Which then lead my attention to another small kid running towards the first carrying a bundle of...were those my pants? Dark blue and ripped in a dozen places -- those were my pants. That kid was stealing my pants!
  "H-Hey!" I called out, quickly giving chase. The one running off with my pants looked over his shoulder, revealing young-looking kid with dark brown hair, a face covered in scratches and smudges of dirt. His eyes widened comically when he saw me running after him, rapidly closing the distance between us thanks to my significantly longer legs. "Get back here! Give me back my clothes!"
  Instead of dropping my clothes, the brat turned around and booked it towards the other two kids down the street. One was holding my dress shirt while the other was holding my tank top and boxers. The first was a young girl with straw blonde hair, while the other looked like an elf. They looked torn between waiting for their friend and running for the hills.
  The first kid had a pretty big lead on me, but I closed it with every step. I raced down the street, barely believing what was happening. They were stealing my clothes. Why, of all things, were they stealing my clothes?!
  "Hurry Rye! This way!" One of the punks shouted, running behind a building into an alleyway. The elf looked at her, then at me chasing the first punk down, before quickly deciding to cheese it.
  "Don"t leave me!" Rye, I"m guessing, shouted back, barely slowing as he rounded the corner, missing my swipe at the back of his shirt by an inch. He darted into the alleyway, gasping for breath. I rounded on the kid, grasping at him again, his stubby legs unable to keep up with me. He seemed to realize it to as he grabbed the edge of a barrel as he ran past, tipping it over to slow me down.
  "Just stop kid and give me back my pants!" I shouted after him, nearly tripping over the barrel as he darted out of my reach. He dared to look back at me, his eyes so wide they could have fallen out of his head before he darted...into the wall? What? Cursing loudly, I scrambled after him, moving a curtain that fed moths for months to reveal a hole.
  "He"s coming! He"s coming!" One of the punks shouted, followed by the sound of footsteps that grew fainter by the second. I didn"t even bother trying to fit down the hole, into what looked like some kind of cellar. I looked at the building, standing up and sprinting around it, intent on catching them on the other side.
  Sprinting around the old half-decayed building, I rounded on the other side just in time to see one of them disappear down another alley. I ran after them, cutting across a street, ignoring an odd look I got from one of the few inhabitants that lived in this part of the city. I must look quite a sight -- only a thin short blanket to protect my modesty, and only barely at that.
  Reaching the alley, I turned into the alley, to see that it lead to a dead end. I smiled briefly to myself, expecting to find the punks trapped. That smile was quick to fall when I realized when I was the only one in the alley.
  "God damn it," I hissed, searching for where they slipped into. I found a wooden door cellar at the end of the alley, but when I grabbed it, it was locked on the other side. They must have locked it behind them. With a growl, I ran around the building again, intent on cutting them off now that I was so close.
  I turned the corner, searching the streets for any sign of the punks...but this time, the streets were devoid of any life. My heart started to fall to my stomach, "no, no, no!" I muttered, searching the alleys for any trace of them. There was none. "This cannot be happening to me," I cursed, looking at the building I just ran around. Could they still be inside? They had to be!
  I ran over, reducing the door to splinters when it got in my way. Thankfully, it didn"t look like anyone"s home, so I didn"t just commit a crime. I tore through the abandoned house, searching for the cellar. When I found it, I found it locked with a thick padlock. Snarling with anger, I grabbed it and pulled, ignoring how rust bit into my hand. Eventually, with a loud groan, it broke free.
  "Look, I don"t want to hurt any of you, just give me back my clothes," I said, swinging the doors open to empty cellar. "No!" Instantly, I spotted another tunnel carved through one of the walls. I dropped to my knees, looking down it only to see darkness. I couldn"t tell where it went.
  I lost them.
  "Ugh," I groaned, dragging a hand down my face. How did this happen? I- no, I lost them. I wasn"t going to see those clothes again. I needed new ones. Standing back up, I looked down at my makeshift skirt. Tied off as it was, the blanket covered it dangly bits, all the way down to my knee. The blanket wasn"t big enough when I slept with it, and now it seemed painfully small.
  I was going to have to buy more clothes. Which would cost me money. Money that I didn"t have. Should I dip into our savings? I"m sure Hestia would understand when I explained what happened, but how much would it cost? A lot, given my size, and I didn"t know enough to stop myself from getting ripped off.
  Very aware of the 1000 valis in my inventory, I ran a hand through my hair, noting that some grease was starting to build up.
  Looking down at myself, I shook my head. "Fuck it," I muttered crossly to myself, stomping my way out of the cellar. I needed money for armor and clothes. I needed to go down into the Dungeon. I pulled my sword and scabbard from my inventory before I stepped out of the building. I turned to the Tower of Babel and started walking, silently fuming every step of the way. I strode forward with a single-minded focus, uncaring that I didn"t have my armor in my inventory or my shoes. All because I wanted to cover my tracks about my inventory, so I had to be seen with them on and taking them off at home.
  Thankfully, it was still fairly early so the city wasn"t in full swing yet. Though, that didn"t mean that the streets were empty. Far from it. I earned more than a few looks from those I walked by, ranging from outright amusement to sly smirks to scowls to wolf whistles. From men and women. When I made myself this hot, I really didn"t think I"d end up walking through a city half-naked.
  With burning cheeks, I walked up the stairs into the Guild. I"m not sure if the gods in Heaven could hear my prayers, but I was praying my heart out to them any way that I didn"t run into anyone - annd there"s Eina. The brown-haired elf eyes zeroed in on my pretty much as soon as I stepped through the doors.
  I offered her a smile, snapping her out of whatever stunned dazed she was in. I can"t imagine she saw many adventurers that were stupid enough to enter the Dungeon half-naked. Without any armor on. Gods, I was so stupid. Eina seemed to pick up on my stupidity from where she was standing because she was quick to cut me off.
  "Um," she started, not sure where to start. Which was fair. I had a whole situation going on.
  "Kids are evil," I supplied, more or less summing up my feelings on children going forward. "They stole my clothes. My only set of clothes. And now I"m going into the Dungeon in a blanket to make money so I can buy new ones and not default on the armor I purchased." I said, not, I was angry. Fuck those k- actually, just fuck it.
  "O-oh..." Eina muttered, giving me a pitying look. Not the kind of pity that would give me the clothes off her back, not that they would fit, but telling me that she wouldn"t do anything about my problem. "Are you absolutely sure you want to do this? I understand you"ve made some progress in the Dungeon, but going down there without armor is reckless."
  I don"t think she would accept the reasoning that I forgot my armor and as too pissed to go back and get it as an excuse.
  "I really don"t have much of a choice at the moment," I said, some of my frustration leaking through. I needed money. I hated needing money. Since I moved out of my parent's house the day I turned eighteen, I struggled to keep my head above water. I managed it by pinching every penny hard enough that it bruised. And now, in the span of a day, I was around 5000 in debt. At least.
  Eina pushed up her glasses, an expression of disappointment hovering around her. "I can"t stop you, but please, reconsider. Have you considered taking out a loan?" She offered, trying to nudge me off my path.
  I shook my head. I spent my entire life, my last life, without ever going into debt. The idea galled at me -- I had my reasons for never wanting to go into debt. Being in as deep as I was to Welf was already too much for me, I could accept it only because I knew I could pay it back quickly. Racking up further debt with the Guild? No, I couldn"t do it. Especially when there was a much simpler option in front of me.
  "I know what I"m doing is stupid and dangerous," I admitted freely. "But I"m doing it. I"ve gotten pretty good with dealing with goblins, I won"t go past the first floor, and if I do find myself in a bad spot, I"ll turn tail and run." I said, hitting all angles of attack. Unfortunately, my words didn"t make her magically okay with what I was doing but her shoulders slumped in defeat.
  "Please be careful. Misha would be really upset if you..." Eina trailed off, getting a nod from me.
  "I don"t plan on dying any time soon. I"ll be as safe as I can," I said, stepping past her, hearing her mutter something under her breath but I couldn"t make out what. It didn"t matter. I had a goal and I was going to see it through. I walked into the Dungeon, unsheathing my sword and depositing the sheath into my inventory. As soon as I stepped foot in it properly, a goblin lunged at me.
  I cut it in half, gaining the first magic stone of the evening.
  For hours, I vented my frustrations on the goblin, slaughtering them in droves. I felt the effects of my status update -- my body felt a little more nimble, my hearing was a little sharper. Goblins came at me in groups, but none came close to taking a bite out of me this time. It seemed between my status update and getting used to their attack patterns, I could dispatch them with relative ease.
  I beheaded one goblin, before bringing my sword back down and bisection another with the backswing. Two more kills, two more magic stones. My breathing was steady as I walked over the rough stone ground. Maybe I should have gone back for my shoes and armor, I just hadn"t been able to stop myself from coming straight here.
  Even hours later, I still felt the anger simmering in my chest. I was robbed by a couple of kids. I couldn"t catch up with them, and then I lost them. That was pathetic. Because of it, I was in the Dungeon wearing a blanket. I looked like an idiot. I sure felt like one. "When I get my hands on them, I"m gonna...!" I brought my sword down on another goblin, finishing the thought.
  A sigh escaped me, knowing that I was lying. Pushing my hair out of my face with some irritation, I said status to summon the screen. I tsked when I saw my pitiful gains. A (+1) to Endurance and Dexterity after killing nearly thirty goblins. All in an hour"s work. Between the monster stones and monster drops, maybe I would have enough...
  A sigh escaped me as I found myself wandering to the second floor. I should keep grinding. For one, I was still pissed, and two I might as well make as much money as I could at once. I wandered the halls, slaughtering whatever goblin dared to spawn near me until another hour ticked by.
  Then I heard the sounds of chatter echo through the empty halls. Of wooden wheels on stone, the wood creaking with every bump. I looked up, eyes narrowed. Who could that be? It sounded like there were a lot of them.
  Soon enough I had my answer. I saw a short man, bright blonde hair, with blue eyes that stood out with his dark purple shirt. He carried a spear that was twice the size of him on one shoulder as he looked up to chat with an elf walking beside him. She was taller than him by a head and shoulders taller than him.
  She had long mint green hair, dull green eyes with sharp pointed ears that poke out of her hair. She wore a high collared coat that stopped midthigh with a cream-colored cloak on top of it. She carried a magic staff in her hands, it almost looked like a spear but teardrop crystals branched out of it, connected by a silver hoop.
  Finn the Braver and Riveria Nine Hells. Both Level 6 adventurers. They chatted with each other, paying me no mind as I stood off some distance away, watching not only then pass by, but over a dozen others. I saw more familiar faces as they trailed by, wagons of supplies protectively placed between them. I saw Ais and Tiona, along with Tione, Tiona"s twin sister. Along with Bete, a silver-haired sour attitude werewolf, another blonde elf. Lefiya, the elf that had the hots for Ais.
  Where were they all going? With the...oh. They were going on the expedition, weren"t they? The one they were coming back from at the start of canon.
  Which meant that I was two weeks away from the start of canon.
  "Hey, why aren"t you wearing pants?" Tiona yelled out, spotting me as I stared at the passing expedition to the deep floors. I didn"t keep up with Sword Orario, but I did read the early bits. I knew they were walking into a horde of new monsters that were made of a powerful acid. I don"t remember anyone dying, though, so it should be fine.
  "Long story," I summarized, not having to fake the exhaustion in my tone. I didn"t feel tired at all, but I was already done with today. And it was only 8 o"clock. "If you want to hear it, then don"t die." I offered with a wave, earning a giggle from the amazon.
  "I won"t!" Tiona said, waving back at me before she descended down to the second floor. I watched them go down, something settling on my shoulders like a heavy weight. I stood there, long after the final member of the Loki familia went down, just staring at the entrance to the second floor.
  Pressing my lips together into a thin line, I muttered, "status."
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 123/1,000,000
  Strength: 2
  Endurance: 13 (+1)
  Dexterity: 10 (+1)
  Intelligence: 2
  Sense: 6
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 1% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.​
  My jaw clenched when I read my experience points. 123 exp. Out of 1,000,000. Two of my stats were in the double digits, barely. I had one decent Development Ability, but it was a long way from being useful even with the Durable trait I picked up at the character creator. Maybe it was good progress. I had only been in the Dungeon three times now, but that didn"t matter.
  I had two weeks until the start of canon. In a month after that, Bell would have maxed out stats and then some before reaching level 2. Two weeks after that, he would reach the eighteenth floor, deliver the final blow to an enhanced monster that was level 4 with nearly maxed out stats again.
  At the rate I was going, it would be...about 27 years before I reached level 2.
  That wasn"t good enough. That wasn"t anywhere near good enough. Hell, should I go find Bell, let the rails of canon continue as they were, and let him be the protagonist? He was apparently much better suited for it with his utterly broken growth. Before he got that stupid Skill, didn"t he go down to the fifth floor in like a week?
  I blew out a frustrated breath, the simmering anger starting to boil in my chest. If I was going to find Bell, then it had to be soon. He was probably out there, in the city, wandering about to find a familia that would take him in. If I was going to find him, then I had to start looking now. With the Skill Realis Phrase, he would turn the Hestia familia into a powerhouse. And...
  My gaze shifted to the second floor. At the rate I was going, it was going to take way too long for me to level up, much less be useful when canon events started to tick by. I needed to set a goal. I needed...
  I found myself walking towards the second floor even as any sense of rational thought railed against the idea. I didn"t have my armor. I was mostly naked. I should spend this time looking for Bell. Instead, I walked down the steps down to the second floor with a sense of grim determination.
  "One thousand exp," I decided, looking to my right and left for monsters. I wouldn"t leave here until I had 1000 exp. At least. No matter how long it took. I didn"t need to eat or drink, and I had a health potion for emergencies and bandages for breaks. I had no reason to go back up. Until I reached that goal, I wouldn"t leave the Dungeon.
  Nodding to myself, I started to stalk the halls, bringing up my map function to make sure I didn"t get lost. It didn"t take long for me to find a monster, they likely spawned in response to the Loki familia, but they were too afraid to challenge them. I knew that monsters could feel fear since that"s why the minotaurs fled to the upper floors in the first place.
  This one wasn"t a goblin. It was nearly the same size, generally the same build, only that it had a dog-shaped head. Dog fur, dark brown eyes, with razor-sharp claws. A kobold. It barked at me, running on all fours, determined to take a bite out of me. Instead, I plunged my sword down into it before it could come close, making it vanish in a puff of black ash.
  Just like killing goblins. I heard more barking up ahead, looking up I saw another three were running at me. Clenching my jaw, I strode forward to meet them halfway. My bloodied sword lashed out, slicing through one as it jumped at me, the cut continuing until it slammed into another kobold. The third went for my legs and reached them when I kicked it in the face hard enough that its snout crumpled. I stabbed it in the head, killing it.
  My nostrils flared as I summoned my status again, this time the number had ticked up. They were still one exp each. I was going to be here all day.
  And that was okay.
  For hours, I stalked the halls of the second floor, killing any monster I came across. The second floor was bigger than the first by half, it took me nearly two hours to completely map it out. After that, I slaughtered my way through the halls with a single-minded focus. At some point, I stopped bothering to check my exp after every kill. I didn"t need to.
  233/1,000,000. I nearly doubled my previous exp but I wasn"t even a third of the way to my goal. It just wasn"t enough. It wasn"t even close. I spent nearly five hours down here and I accomplished practically fuck all.
  A growl escaped me as I slashed at a lizard monster. I had no idea what it was, and, frankly, I couldn"t care less. If it took me five hours to gain 100 exp, then I was going to be down here for nearly two days. Hestia would be worried sick.
  I stabbed a kobold, kicked another in the face before stomping on its head until it became ash. Blood coated my legs, splattering over my blanket. Sweat dripped from my forehead, my breathing deep and even. I felt the edge of being exhausted, but nothing that couldn"t be solved with a quick break.
  Leaning against the entrance, I took in deep breaths to regain my stamina. Stamina potions were a thing. I needed to look into those. Which would take more money than...well...I might have, but the fact remained that it was another expense. How much would they cost? A 100 valis? 200? More? Expense quickly racked up as an adventurer, it seemed.
  Wiping the sweat from my face with a blood-spattered arm, I walked down the steps to the third floor.
  I hadn"t really noticed it on the second floor, but the number of monsters slowly ramped up with each floor. There seemed to only be a few types of monsters on the uppermost floors, goblins, kobolds, and those lizard things. It was an idle observation as a mob of ten of the monsters raced towards me, a mix mash of species to make things interesting.
  Running forward, I threw myself at them, my sword slashing through two of them while I struck out with a foot. The rest circled me, attacking at my exposed legs, and at this point, I learned to expect it. As they jumped at me, I jumped into the air over them, tucking my legs up to ensure they went under me. I nearly bumped my head on the ceiling, but I cleared the distance. As I began to fall, I landed on two goblins, my weight killing them.
  A kobold managed to land on all fours, lashing out at me, catching my thigh. I hissed in annoyance more than pain, grabbing the monster by the scruff of its neck before launching it at the remaining monsters all the while I struck out with my sword. The kobold slammed into two goblins, knocking them off their feet and giving me time to deal with the last remaining three.
  With the backswing, I finished off the one I kicked in the face before I kicked a lizard thing in the throat hard enough that it was reduced to ash. The last upright goblin tried to lunge at me, plunging itself onto my blade. As it was reduced to ash, I raised my sword up high, gripping it with both hands, and swung down with all my strength. My blade caught the three remaining monsters, all of them neatly clumped together, slicing all the way through all of them with a single swing.
  "Hah," I breathed, pushing my hair out of my face, sweat plastering it to it. My chest heaved, my blood thundering in my ears as my heart hammered away at my ribs like it was trying to escape. I looked down at my thigh, seeing three claw marks bleeding freely. I pulled a bloodied bandage from my inventory and placed it on there. Over the hours, I learned that bloodied bandages were worse than normal bandages, taking twice as long to restore a single point of health.
  109/110. I was still good to go.
  Taking in a long slow breath, regulating my breathing as I continued to walk down the halls. I noticed with each floor I descended, everything looked a little...rougher. The floors were tiled a little less completely, almost like someone gave up halfway through at some points. The walls were left bare, displaying rough rock. The lights were dimmer, the shadows darker, making the darkness feel suffocating.
  Slowly, my stamina returned, my breathing grew more even as I walked. My feet were sore from so much walking, another three hours ticking by as I cleared the third floor. From the look of it on my map, I was only halfway done. By the time I was, Hestia would be off work and at home. She probably wouldn"t be worried at first, but the longer I stayed the worse she would.
  "Ten o"clock," I decided, my brisk walk turning into a jog, slashing at a goblin that leaped at me. I had until 10 o"clock to earn 1000 exp. It was...flat out impossible. I counted my kills, I knew exactly how much exp I had gathered over the hours.
  445/1,000,000. Still less than halfway. It was around 1 o"clock. If clearing this floor would take me another three hours...then I could always fully clear it later. I needed to go down deeper, where more monsters spawned to quickly farm the exp. Just one floor down, no more. I was doing really good so far. Great, really. I could handle one more floor. Easy.
  With that thought in mind, I made my way to the fourth floor.
  The fourth floor wasn"t so bad, I realized. There were monsters, a sharp uptick in them, but they were manageable. Instead of groups of 3, I got groups of 5. Or groups of 10, when I found myself at a dead end, there were around 12 or 15. I knew their attack patterns at this point, more importantly, I knew not only how to dodge them but how to counter-attack as well.
  The floor itself was rougher, almost completely bare of the manmade feel the first floor had. The only traces I found of it was sometimes the floor almost looked like it had a pattern to it. It was like I was walking through a cave now. A very large cave system because the fourth floor was twice the size of the third, it would take me hours to fully map it out. Instead, I just kept pressing forward, intent on gathering as much exp as I could to accomplish my goal of the day.
  "But," I said, spotting the entrance to the fifth floor, "even if I do get a thousand exp a would still be about three years before I level up." Worse, if my current time wasn"t improved on, it would take nearly twenty hours to do it. Pretty much all day, spent down here, mindlessly fighting. To reach level 2 in years.
  I looked at the edge of my sword, noticing the nicks and flattened edge in some places. It was in desperate need of sharpening. Another thing I needed to take care of.
  A tired sigh escaped me as my feet carried me to the fifth floor. Above all else, I needed more exp. Or, rather, I needed monsters that gave me more than one exp a kill. Even two exp a kill would cut the time this took in half. More monster mobs were helping, but it wasn"t enough. At the rate I"m going, I could live down here and I wouldn"t make the gains that I needed. The gains that Bell made by wanting to fuck Ais.
  And you know what? I"m not okay with that. You know what? Fuck Bell. How is it right that he gets a stupidly broken skill that lets him go from a no-name scrub to beyond fucking plus ultra max level stats in about two weeks? All because he fell in love with a girl that saved his dumbass.
  Do you know who could have really used that Skill when she was being beaten and tormented by adventurers? Lili. Why couldn"t her hate for adventurers, or desire for freedom trigger a skill equal or greater to Realis Phrase? Do you know who also could use that Skill? Ais. She spent the last decade of her life trying to grow strong enough to kill the big bad evil dragon and save her mom.
  How was it right that Bell got this amazing Skill and no one else did? Was Bell really so goddamn thirsty for Ais that he apparently wanted her more than everyone else on the planet wanted anything? I knew the answer. It was because Bell was the protagonist, so of course, he gets the extra rare super-duper powerful Skill that completely breaks the setting because his dick is just that fucking big-
  I shook my head, half to clear it of stray thoughts and half exasperation. "No point in thinking about it now," I muttered, descending to the fifth floor. Bell was probably still wandering around the city. Or he got picked up by another familia. Or, better yet, he flat out didn"t exist. Of all the harem protagonists I"ve come across, he was one of my favorites but now that his bullshit was put in perspective? Fuck that guy.
  I sped through the fifth floor in a little over an hour. Apparently, the secret was to make right turns until you reached the entrance to the sixth floor. Immediately I noticed that the sixth floor was different. Everything had a cold blue hue to it because of the lighting and any man-made trace was gone. The halls were more of tunnels, much larger and wider than what they were previously.
  Stepping onto it, I gripped my sword a little tighter. If I remember correctly, this was the floor that new monsters start to spawn. War Shadows and...cyclops frogs, or something. Either way, it meant that I had to keep my guard up.
  The first monster the sixth floor threw at me was a goblin, of all things. I dispatched it with ease, a single swipe of my sword as I began to map the floor. My blanket was growing heavy with blood, stiff on the upper parts where it began to dry. I was going to need a serious shower after this was done.
  I aimlessly wandered the tunnels, taking right turns where I could. An old tactic born of over a decade of experience when dungeon diving in RPGs. Minutes passed in silence, only the sound of my feet on stone sounding impossibly loud before I picked up on the sound of croaking. I took in a steadying breath, trying to peer through the darkness ahead to see what it contained.
  The croaking got louder, nearer as did the sound of thumping as the frog began hopping towards me. It landed underneath a cool blue light, revealing a deep green toad with a massive eye. It was bigger than the other monsters, though not by much. If the goblins were about two feet tall, then the toad was closer to three. Still, it made for an easier target.
  Instead of rushing it, I settled into a mockery of a fighting stance, waiting for it to make the first move. The frog blinked its massive eye, croaking, the skin underneath its jaw ballooning out before it hopped forward once. Then again. And again. And another time. Every muscle was taut, ready to spring into action. When the monster"s mouth cracked open, I was already moving.
  Just like a normal frog, its tongue shot out of its mouth at speeds I could only follow because I knew it was coming. It raced through the spot I stood a mere moment ago. It was gone just as fast at it shot at me, forcing me to keep moving as it attacked again. It missed by inches, close enough that I would swear that I could feel some of my hair get blown out of place.
  With one final massive step, I stabbed the frog in its massive eye, making it squeal for a quick second before being reduced to ash. No sooner than that it was dead, I summoned upon my status screen, hoping that it gave me more than one exp.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 783/1,000,000
  Strength: 2 (+2)
  Endurance: 13 (+4)
  Dexterity: 10 (+5)
  Intelligence: 2
  Sense: 6 (+4)
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 1% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.​
  A wide smile split my face, reinvigorating me. All of a sudden, it was all worth it. "They"re worth three exp," I said, feeling so relieved that it was hilarious in a really sad way. Three exp was absolutely nothing yet it was three times better than what I was getting before. I guess it"s true what they say -- feed a dog four times a day and he will be angry if only fed three times. Feed a dog three times a day, he will always be thankful for a fourth.
  My smile fell when I heard more croaking. Looking over, I saw another frog. And another one behind it. I dismissed the windows and started moving, sprinting towards the frogs as their mouths cracked open. Making myself a giant was proving to be a hindrance again, since I was such a large target, between the two of them, there was no way I wasn"t going to get hit.
  I made eye contact with the second toad, trying to gauge where it was going to try to hit me. I had no idea. At all. So simply held my sword in front of me, hoping that it-
  My thoughts were thrown off track when something slammed into my chest hard enough that I was knocked off my feet. I gasped, hitting the ground hard, any breath in my lungs exploding out of me in a gasp. The two sides of my chest hurt, marked with blood. Through the sudden pain, I looked over at the frog and saw blood leaking from its lips as it mewled pathetically.
  It went for my chest and got its tongue split by my sword. One thing they never mention in the movies -- a sword isn"t wide enough to make something split apart far enough that they two halves would sail harmlessly by.
  Ignoring the dull ache in my chest, feeling like I got kicked by a horse, I scrambled forward to put an end to them before they could do the same to me. I threw myself to the side, feeling the wind wash over me as the first frog narrowly missed. Rolling to my feet, I crossed the distance between us and plunged my sword into the monsters. They seemed to have no close rang defense, so it was a simple task to kill them.
  "Ugh," I groaned, grasping at my chest. Looking down, I already saw a bruise forming. And that my blanket had gotten untied during the fight, so I stood nude in the Dungeon. Gods, I really was an idiot. No wonder my Intelligence stat was 2.
  After tying my blanket back to my waist, I glanced back at the exit. No. Not yet. A thousand exp. At least. Plus, I still had a few hours before Hestia started to get worried.
  I was almost there. Just over two hundred exp left until I reached my goal. I could do it. I had to.
  Hestia collapsed face-first into her bed, a sigh of relief escaping her, but she wasn"t able to properly relax because her spine had a sharp pain in her lower back every time she tried. Her legs ached, her muscles burning from overuse while her feet felt like they were hollowed out then filled with lead.
  She reached out to grab her pillow, dragging it under her head as she shifted her back so it wouldn"t hurt so much. The smell of a sack full of jagamarukuns was typically a welcomed scent, but if she never smelled the delicious snacks again, it would be too soon. After today, Hestia never, ever, ever wanted to look at them again.
  Customers...there were just so many of them! And they never stopped coming! All-day, Hestia doubted that she had less than ten people waiting in line for a scrumptious jagamarukun. During the lunch rush, it was closer to twenty. She moved as fast as she could, she said the company motto with a smile like a broken record, but still, she got the occasional customer that got really mad that he or she had to wait.
  It was a really long, really bad day and she wanted nothing more than to fall asleep. Maybe cuddle with Jericho as she fell asleep. Instead, she was greeted by an empty home.
  "I wish he would have left a note," Hestia muttered, crawling underneath the covers. Where was he? She hoped he would have stayed in to read, but the pile of books looks like it hadn"t been touched. His armor was still here, so he couldn"t be in the Dungeon-
  Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard knocking at the stone false door that lead to her room. Hestia went stiff, unsure who would knock at her door. It couldn"t be Jericho. Maybe it was Hesphstus? It had to be. Who else could it be?
  Throwing off her covers, Hestia winced as she pushed herself up to her feet. Everything hurt and everything sucked. Even still, she pushed herself forward to push open the door. Instead of being greeted by her redheaded friend, she saw a girl with dull silver hair and eyes dressed in a lime green maid outfit with a white apron. She was pretty, somewhere around Jericho"s age.
  "Hello?" Hestia greeted, looking down to see three children. A brown-haired, sullen-looking boy that found his shoes very interesting. A young girl with blonde hair that looked like she was about to start crying. A younger child, an elf, stared up at her dully.
  "Hello, goddess Hestia," the older girl greeted, curtsying. "My name is Syr Flova, these are Rye, Fina, and Roux," she said, a sweet smile on her face as she pushed the children forward. "And they owe you and your familia member an apology."
  Hestia blinked, tilting her head as she tried to puzzle out what they would need to apologize for. The boy stubbornly refused to look at her, while the girl, Fina, made eye contact with her for an entire second before she threw her head back and started sobbing.
  "I"m sorry! I"m sorry!" Fina wailed, fat tears running down her face as she acted like she was apologizing for the end of the world. Hestia reached out to her, unable to bear the sight of a crying child, and hugged her even though she still had no idea what she was apologizing for.
  "It"s okay, shh, shh," Hestia soothed, rubbing calming circles into Fina"s back as she looked at the others with a bewildered expression. It was Roux, the elven child, that answered her unspoken question.
  "We"re sorry for stealing Mr. Tall Guy"s clothes," Roux said, holding out...Jericho"s tanktop, underwear and socks out for her to take.
  "What?" Hestia asked, that being the very last thing that she expected for the child to say.
  "The children wanted to play a prank of your familia member and stole his clothes earlier this morning," Syr began, clarifying the situation instantly. However, her expression was too serious to be making a couple of kids apologize for what amounted to be a harmless prank. It didn"t take Hestia long to figure out why. "They meant to hide them from him for a little bit then return them. But, your child...went into the Dungeon."
  "Oh," Hestia muttered, a sinking feeling in her gut. Why would he do that- money. Jericho would be worried about money. He owed Welf several thousand for his leg armor, and he would be worried about buying new clothes. So, he would go into the Dungeon. But without his armor? That... "foolish..."
  "I"m sorry! We just wanted to be funny! And now he"s in the Dungeon without any armor and...and...and he"s dead!" Fina wailed into her chest, holding onto Hestia for dear life. Her words made Hestia"s heart go still in her chest, her attention going to her blessing to see that it was still there. Jericho was alive.
  "He"s alive," Hestia reassured, pulling back to look down at Fina. "You might not have noticed, but Jericho is pretty strong. There"s no way some goblins would be able to hurt him! He"ll be just fine. I promise," Hestia swore, desperately hoping that she wasn"t lying. To go into the Dungeon without armor, without clothes apparently, even on the first floor for a rookie adventurer that was one less than a day...
  "...Really?" Fina asked, sounding hopeful. Rye looked up sharply, not as disinterested in apologizing as he tried to seem. Roux just blinked, his...or her expression revealing nothing.
  "Really. I bet when he gets back, he"s going to find this really funny." Hestia promised with a bright smile, far more genuine than the ones she wore towards the end of her shift. "I bet he"ll feel really silly too."
  "See," Syr began, placing a hand on Roux and Rye"s shoulders. "Goddess Hestia is very understanding, you don"t need to be afraid." She nudged Rye forward a little, making the boy shot a glare up at her before he turned to Hestia.
  He shifted from foot to foot, unable to meet her gaze. Hestia smiled lightly, placing a hand on his cheek guiding his gaze to hers. His eyes had a red tint to them, fighting back tears, his bottom lip quivering. Even still, he puffed out his little chest, trying to make himself appear much bigger than he actually was. "I-It was my idea, so i-If anything bad happens to him, then I"ll take responsibility. I promise!"
  Hestia simply smiled, the children completely unaware of what their words were doing to her emotions. Thankfully, Syr seemed to pick up on it by gently prying Fina from Hestia. "I took the time to stitch up his pants," she informed, passing Hestia Jericho"s clothes. Hestia glanced at the stitching to see that it was nearly flawless. She...should have done that for him.
  "Thank you," Hestia said, taking Jericho"s clothes. Syr smiled at her as she took back a reluctant Fina. "For bringing these back. And for apologizing," she said to the children.
  Syr nodded, "to make up for it, I can treat you to a meal if you would like. I work at the Hostess of Fertility, over on Main Street. And I"m sure the children will want to apologize to Jericho personally, hmm?" She offered, turning her attention to the children at the last bit. Rye looked down, while Fina nodded her head, sniffling lightly as Roux just nodded.
  "I think he would appreciate that," Hestia said, waving goodbye as they children and Syr turned around to leave. She watched them go, Fina turning around to wave goodbye at her, and before long they were far down the street. Now that they were gone, a stone of worry settled in her stomach.
  Her blessing was still there, so Jericho was alive. She had a hard time believing that he would fall to goblins, but he was down there with no armor or clothes. Hestia couldn"t stop herself from worrying. With a sigh that seemed to deflate her, Hestia gripped his clothes to her chest as she descended down the steps. The soap worked a little too well for her liking. They didn"t smell like him.
  She collapsed into her bed, curling up into a ball as she watched the day glass begin to trickle down. Sand began to fill it, steadily climbing past lines that marked the hour. 6 o"clock. 7 o"clock. 8 o"clock. With every hour, her worry grew. He was only on the first floor, so what was taking him so long?
  Was it just a slow day? Did he lose track of time? Or was he lying on the Dungeon floor bleeding out? She couldn"t imagine that goblin could seriously hurt him, but what about other adventurers? Lok"s familia went on an expedition today. What if one of them did something?
  Hestia clutched his clothing closer to her chest, trying to put her worries at ease with faith in her child. Jericho was strong. He promised that he would never leave her alone. He would return to her. She had to believe that. She had to believe in him. She...she had to believe he was coming back.
  "Right," Hestia said, forcing herself out of bed. She had to believe in him. Coming home so late, he would probably be tired, but maybe he would like something to eat before he went to bed? What could she make? Something...easy to make. Hestia realized now that she was a little overly ambitious cooking for the first time on the lower world. She should start smaller...a sandwich?
  Hestia wiped her eyes of stray moisture, if she was going to cook then she needed ingredients. Opening up the cupboard that served as their pantry, she found only dust bunnies. She would have to dip into their savings again, but Hestia was happy to. She would just pick up more shifts to cover what she spent.
  Now, what did boys like to eat? Hestia wondered, practically sprinting down the road to the markets. To her disappointment, she didn't see Jericho making his way some.
  Boys like to eat meat. And potatoes? Those were manly foods, right? Wait, she was making a sandwich. Umm... cheese was manly? What would Jericho want after a long day that she could make? A lot of things came to mind but when she looked at the pitiful amount of valis in her purse, that eliminated a lot of options.
  In the end, she settled on getting ham, cheese and bread.
  To her growing worry, Jericho still wasn't back yet. His falna was still there, so he was alive. She had to trust that he would be back soon.
  Taking in a deep breath, Hestia glanced at the day glass to see that it was nearing the tenth hour. Hestia prepared the food, able to take her time since nothing could burn if she didn't go fast enough. Within a few seconds, she had two ham and cheese sandwiches. But...wouldn't it taste better hot? A nice hot meal was what she always looked forward to during her lunch, even if it was jagamarukuns that she deep fried earlier.
  "Don't burn," Hestia ordered the sandwiches, shredding the ham so it would cook a bit easier. Hestia doubted that she so much as blinked during the five minutes or so it took to cook. By the end of it though, under her vigilant gaze, neither side of the sandwiches was burnt when she played them-
  As Hestia plated the food, she heard the familiar sounds of Jericho trying to softly push the stone door open. Hestia shot off her bed like a speeding bullet, racing up the steps before Jericho could fully open the door. As soon as she saw him, she slammed into him hard enough that he stumbled back a step, knocking the breath from his lungs.
  She squeezed him as hard as she could, burying her face into his stomach, fighting back tears of pure relief. A few moments passed, and she heard him sigh, a hand caressing her back. "I worried you. I"m sorry," he said, his voice low and rumbly.
  Hestia"s throat was too clogged up with emotion to say anything, so she nodded.
  "I"m fine, I...not going to lie and say that I didn"t do something stupid. I did do something stupid. I got my clothes stolen by a couple of kids, I ran across the Loki familia in the Dungeons and I...felt frustrated with my progress. I mean, they were going to the deep floors while I was stuck on the first floor dealing with goblins." Jericho muttered softly to her, his words calming her as she listened.
  "You went down to the second floor. Without any armor," she guessed, making Jericho go still. He heaved a breath, telling her that she wasn"t going to like what he said next. She was right.
  "Sixth floor," Jericho corrected, her gaze snapped up to him. The sixth floor?! On his second day of being an adventurer?! "I"m fine," Jericho was quick to reassure her as if he could. Hestia pulled back from him, intent of finding every single scrape and cut. Only then did she noticed that he wore his blanket, that was worse for wear, with no small amount of blood spattered over the bottom half.
  "I"m fine," Jericho repeated, placing his hands on her shoulders to calm her down. "The worse that I got was some bruising on my chest, but its already gone," he said, gesturing to himself. Hestia looked at him for a moment, something giving way in her chest that made her feel exhausted.
  "What were you thinking?" Hestia asked, letting Jericho lead her into their home.
  "I wasn"t thinking," Jericho answered, guiding her to her bed. "I was frustrated with- are those my clothes?" He asked, spotting the pile of them peeking out from underneath the covers. Hestia nodded, a hand going up to his massive hands on her shoulders, gently starting to massage them. It felt fantastic. .
  "The kids that stole them brought them back. They wanted to play a prank on you, but you went off into the Dungeon. Without any armor," Hestia answered, turning to face him. Her tone did the trick because he looked properly chided.
  "I overreacted," Jericho admitted. "I realized that we were already in debt and I couldn"t stand the thought of us going any deeper. I meant to just go to the first floor, but then I saw the Loki familia." Jericho explained, not defending his actions, she noted. "I just...expected more from myself." He finished, earning a nod from Hestia.
  They had that in common, she thought.
  "I understand," she decided, accepting his apology. A sigh escaped her, the tension leaving her body with it. "Just...don"t scare me like that again. Promise?" She requested in a small voice as Jericho"s hands began to massage her shoulders.
  "I promise," Jericho swore as she leaned into his touch. That Massage Skill...was really good. Hestia liked it. She liked it a lot. "Now...what smells so good?" He asked, his thumbs working on her upper back, the knots of tension she hadn"t known were there were slowly being rubbed away.
  "I made you dinner," Hestia blurted, wincing again at her delivery as she crossed her fingers as she eyes the sandwiches, looking for some imperfection. It was a little crisper around the edges, but they looked-
  "They look great," Jericho said, going towards them. Hestia tried not to stare at him when picked one up, and took a bite. He made a noise of appreciation that nearly made her heart jump out her throat before he turned to her, smiling with crumbs on his lips.
  A breath of relief escaped her as Jericho ate, the sandwitches practically vanishing off the plate into his stomach. If she had somehow messed that up too then she was going to end up crying, she knew it. As soon as he was done, he drained a glass of water, turning back to her. She sharply looked away, pretending that she hadn"t been paying attention, but his hands on her shoulders told her that he knew.
  "They were fantastic, Hestia," Jericho said, making her humm with joy. "Thank you for making them for me," gently massaging her shoulders again. It felt wonderful. "So, how was your day?"
  "It was fine," she was hardly going to complain to him after the day that he had. Jericho chuckled, working a little lower to between her shoulder blades, her head rolled back to rest against his hard stomach.
  "I had a rough day, but that doesn"t mean you didn"t too. Remember what we promised?" Jericho murmured, his dark blue eyes gazing into her own when she cracked them open. "We support each other. You had a long day. Your back is pretty much a giant ball of tension. Let me take care of that for you."
  Words of protest were heavy on her tongue. He just left the Dungeon -- if anyone should be getting a massage, it should be him. Instead, Hestia found herself nodding mutely, enjoying the feeling of his powerful hands gently working the stress from her body.
  Jericho smiled, "then hop on the bed. And, uh, let me get changed." Jericho said, letting go of her. Hestia instantly missed the feeling of his hands on her shoulders, but she hopped on the bed all the same. Jericho reached out to grab his underwear, the sound of the blanket dropping to the floor seemed incredibly loud.
  He was naked behind her. Hestia"s faced burned at the thought. She buried her face into her pillow to hide the evidence.
  "Do your legs hurt again?" He asked, hopefully fully dressed. Hestia peeked out from her self imposed suffocation, taking a deep breath to calm herself. Though, she had little luck with her heart pounding in her chest.
  "They do," Hestia admitted, closing her eyes. "I didn"t get a break again. Or lunch," she admitted, almost wishing that she could take the words back as soon as she said them. She was complaining about standing around all day when Jericho had been fighting for his life. On the sixth floor. He-
  Any trace of rational thought was blown away when she felt his hands on her feet. A soft breath escaped her, she clenched her pillow as he pressed down on the center of her foot. Jericho laughed when he heard it. "I guess the Massage Skill is the real deal," he said, sounding too amused for his own good.
  "It isss," Hestia breathed, taking in deep breaths as she let herself relax for the first time today. Her child was safe, and hopefully, he learned a lesson from this.
  "I guess I should be focusing on Strength and Dexterity. Maybe look into getting some oils," Jericho mused aloud, focusing on her heel.
  "No, I don"t need anything like that," she protested firmly, doing her absolute best not to imagine his oily hands on her feet. How would that feel? She couldn"t imagine that it didn"t feel good. No, great. Getting a normal foot rub felt good, add oils to the mix and the combination had to feel great.
  "I actually made a fair bit today," Jericho responded, massaging her toes. "I can pay off my armor tomorrow. Might get a sharpening stone while I"m at it and some potions. The rest, Hestia, is going to be spent on you." Jericho decided, moving on to her other foot. A gasp stole her breath away before she could argue.
  "What would you like?" Jericho asked, making sure every last bit of soreness was through expelled from her feet. Then his hands traveled up her leg, massaging her calf. For a moment, Hestia couldn"t respond, the only thing she was aware of was his hands on her legs. And how good they felt.
  "We should save it," Hestia protested, her heart rate starting to pick up even faster. Despite her words, she couldn"t stop a dopey smile on her face that was thankfully hidden by the pillow. He wanted to buy her nice things. It was so sweet.
  "But I want to spend it on my goddess," Jericho argued. He said goddess differently than he normally did, Hestia noted as she basked in the feeling of his hands massaging her calf. Lower. Hungry, even. It made her blood feel hot in her veins. Not the kind of hot that she felt when she was particularly embarrassed, but like her entire body was going to overheat. It seemed to pool in her lower gut, where her belly button was.
  Hestia didn"t...dislike it, she decided.
  "I want to buy oils to give you proper massages every single day when you get off work," he said, his hands going to her other calf. "To get out all the stress that builds up because of customers. I want to buy you shoes, and dresses...and books."
  Hestia perked up at the last one, her mind drifting when she imagined what he said. Every single day? This? That sounded...amazing, she thought as she took in shallow breaths through her nose. Her heart was still pounding at her ribs, her body felt so hot, and everywhere Jericho touched felt like electricity was coursing through her.
  "Books?" She echoed, the last one bringing her back down to the lower world, helping her focus on something other than his hands slowly making their way up towards her thigh.
  "Hm. Books. I know I don"t look like one, but I"m actually a pretty big reader," Jericho said, earning a giggle out of her. He certainly was a big reader. "Oh, is that funny goddess?" He asked the way he said goddess sending...something through her. Almost like a shiver that made more heat pool in her stomach.
  "Do you really like reading?" She asked to cover up her bad pun. His hands glided over her thighs, replacing the aches with pure pleasure.
  "I do. Mostly fantasy books, and some si-fi when I"m in the mood," he answered, his hands gliding up, switching between her thighs. They inched upwards, her blood growing hotter with every inch. Was she sweating? She hoped not. The very last thing she wanted right now was to gross out Jericho.
  "What"s si-fi?" Hestia muttered, Jericho"s hands going still for a moment before they continued to work their magic.
  "They"re stories about the stars, and those that travel them," Jericho said, his hands climbing higher. They traveled over her upper thighs, his thumbs tracing her inner thigh. Hestia felt herself clench...down there...when she realized that his thumbs were mere inches away from touch her most sacred place.
  Impossibly, her heart started to beat even faster. She was so incredibly aware of his hands, feeling them massage upwards, kneading her flesh to rid it of any tension. Each time he pressed down, his hands would move just a little higher, each time bringing him closer and closer and closer to her sacred place.
  Should she say something? It wasn"t like he was doing it on purpose! No, she couldn"t say anything. If she let him know how much she was enjoying it, then he would think of her like she was a slutty goddess like Freya! He was just trying to make her feel good.
  "Wh- ah, what stories? Can- can you tell me one?" Hestia requested, fumbling with her words. His hands traveled upwards, his thumbs inching upwards- "ah," a breath escaped her, a sound that she never made before escaping her throat before she knew what it was. His thumbs pressed against the sides of her panties, his hands pushing up the hem of her dress to expose her butt.
  His hands continued to massage her, pressing down on her inner thigh while his hands massaged her hips. He...was just giving her a massage. His thumbs traced where her panties met her thighs, ghosting over her flesh, making it rise in gooseflesh in response. Her breathing became harsher, more ragged, as she tried to calm her heart that felt like it was about to jump out of her throat.
  "Of course," Jericho said, completely unaware of the effect his hands were having. His thumbs were so close to her sacred place, tracing the outline of her panties all the way to her butt. Not touching it exactly, but so close she could swear he felt his hands on it. She clenched again at the sound of his low voice, gripping her pillow until her knuckles were white.
  "Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a young boy." Jericho began, his hands massaging over her hips. His thumbs traced the inside of her thighs, and when he squeezed down, Hestia swore she felt her lower lips part. She tried to listen to the story, but his hands proved to be too big of a distraction. His low rumbly voice wasn"t helping either.
  "Young and foolish, he lived his entire life on a farm. He dreamed of one day leaving it, to hop on a ship that would take him across the stars, but deep down, he knew he would never leave his home. It was where his parents lived, and where their parents lived and where their parents lived, and, one day, it would be where his children lived." His voice wasn"t helping at all. All she could think about was how close his hands were to her special place, a place none had touched except for her.
  What would his hands feel like if he touched her there? She wanted to know. It would feel good. It had to feel good. His hands would take care of the burning ache between her legs like he did the ones in her feet., she couldn"t...
  "Until one day, the boy"s world came crashing down around him. His family died, killed by an evil empire that stretched across the stars. And on that day, he learned that he was not destined to live and die on that farm. A goddess," Jericho muttered, that word making a shiver race through her as she clenched again at how he said it. How could a word make her feel so good? "Appeared before him. Beautiful. Short with long black hair, her eyes were the same color as the purest sapphires. She wore a white dress-"
  A giggle escaped Hestia, her chest light. "You"re describing me," she pointed out, a smile in her voice. He thought she was beautiful.
  "Oh? Am I? Hmm," Jericho said, and she could hear him smiling behind her. "I"m not sure. Let"s turn you over to find out." He said, making her eyes go wide before he turned her over with such ease. Hestia didn"t fight it, but she clutched her pillow, letting it cover her face. "That won"t do. I need to see if your eyes are the same as the purest of sapphires." How could he say something so ridiculous so seriously?
  With a hand, he gently placed it on her wrist. He didn"t pry it away, simply massaging her wrist as his other hand ghosted over her thigh. Then it came to a rest on her hip, the tips of his fingers resting on the side of her butt. Her breathing was ragged, her chest heaving -- she couldn"t let him see her like this. Like some...
  "Let me see your face, my goddess," Jericho said, using those words again. His hand left her wrist, going to her waist to join the other one, though only for a second. He traced her sides, the tips of his fingers barely touching her ribs, as the palm of his hand barely brushed against the side of one of her breasts. Despite herself, Hestia felt her grip to lessen on her pillow.
  She swallowed thickly, feeling Jericho"s hands caress her arm, traveling to the pillow, and when he grabbed it, Hestia allowed him to take it. The first thing she saw was how he seemed to take up her field of view, towering over her. It might have been scary if she didn"t see his smiling face.
  "Ah, you do," Jericho said, sounding surprised. "I suppose I was describing my goddess," he said again, his hand going up to caress her cheek. A thumb lightly traced her parted lips as she stared up at him, unblinking. Slowly, her gaze dipped down to see that her nipples poked through her dress, pebbled against the thin fabric.
  Beyond that, Hestia saw his penis again. He wore his underwear, but his hard thing was too long to keep it trapped. It pushed one leg of the underwear up, standing straight up as much as it could. Hestia couldn"t look away. She knew of sex, if only from naughtier books and tales from others. She knew that...was supposed to somehow fit inside her. As she gazed at it, half expecting it to rip through the cotton at any second, Hestia couldn"t imagine that working.
  "Don"t worry about that. Tonight is about you, my goddess," Jericho whispered to her, his hands moving across her body. The hand on her thigh shifted, a knuckle-dragging across her-
  "Ah!" Hestia managed to get out before the dam of heat in her gut, the coil of pleasure became undone. Pleasure raced through her like a million volts of electricity, her mind going white as her hips jerked upwards, sounds that she never made escaping her lips because she couldn"t stop them. Distantly, Hestia was aware that she was really...wet down there.
  Through her pleasure hazed mind, she spared a worry that she had accidentally wet herself. Even the prospect of that humiliation was far gone as white-hot pleasure raced through her. She grabbed Jericho"s arm, squeezing down with all her might, her hips jerking again to seek out more of his touch.
  Slowly, Hestia came down from her high, her legs trembling from...whatever that was. She greedily sucked down deep breaths of air, her face flushed as she blinked to clear her glassy vision. Jericho was still above her, gently tracing her lips with a thumb. She should say something, anything, but she didn"t have the words. Her mind couldn"t form them. Instead, she gazed up at him, her body shaking from the aftershocks.
  "Was that your first orgasm?" Jericho asked, laying next to her. Hestia blinked slowly, her mind sluggish. Was this an orgasm? Really? Maybe...maybe slutty goddesses were on to something...
  "Y-yes?" Hestia managed to get out, her gaze slowly dipping down. It swept over his chest, stomach and...penis before it landed on her lower body. She could see a wet spot on the covers, she could feel it on her skin, soaking her panties to her -- she-
  "You squirted," Jericho said, getting her attention before she died of embarrassment over wetting the bed. "It"s nothing to be embarrassed about," Jericho said, reassuringly caressing her arm. Hestia looked at him, her mind full of fuzz. Slowly, she nodded, shifting slightly. "But, we should clean you up before bed."
  Again, Hestia nodded, not trusting her voice. She could catch a cold or something. She didn"t think that when she didn"t move to clean herself up, Jericho would lean over her to grab a towel that he borrowed from the Guild showers. What was he going to do with that-
  Any rational thought came to a screeching halt when Jericho leaned over her, hooking his thumbs underneath her panties, and pulled them down. Her eyes went wide -- he could see her-! No, he couldn"t. His gaze never left hers, his dark eyes unusually intense as he pulled her soaked panties off of her. Hestia couldn"t so much as breathe, unable to even blink as she stared back at him.
  Then, slowly, he bundled up the towel before he pressed it between her legs. He started at her thigh, gently wiping upwards, then going to the other thigh, then he-. A...moan...tore itself from her throat at the contact, her body sensitive in a way it never had been before. Still, Jericho gazed at her as he cleaned her lower body. It only lasted a few seconds, less than a minute, but it felt like an eternity. When he was done, Jericho tossed the blanket to the side.
  "Did you enjoy that, my goddess?" He asked, smoothing her dress back down so that she was covered. She was starting to suspect that he knew what that word did to her.
  She should say no. What would he think of her if she admitted that she had? This was meant to be a simple massage, and she turned it into something else with...with...her wanton lust!
  "Yes," Hestia heard herself say, unable to lie. She never felt anything like that before. It was...mind-blowing. Her eyes dipped to his penis, her hands twitching towards it. "Should I...?"
  Jericho grabbed her hands, "no, not tonight. Tonight was about your pleasure," he whispered huskily. That should be good, but it wasn"t. She wanted to hold it. She wanted to feel the hard pillar of flesh in her hands.
  He started to get up, to go sleep on the couch like normal, but Hestia stopped him. She gripped his muscled arm, she knew what she wanted to say, but not how to say it. "Please," she started, her voice soft enough that she could barely hear herself. "Stay with me?"
  Jericho paused, then settled back down. A hand snaked underneath her, picking her up with what should be frightening ease, before depositing her on top of him, in the same position they woke up in on the first night. To keep her out of the wet spot she created, Hestia tried to rationalize to herself.
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  His penis was touching her butt. That was the first thing that Hestia noticed as the grips of sleep slowly released her. She felt it through the thin cloth of her dress, the tip of it just barely holding on by the hem to separate the two. If she moved upwards ever so slightly, his penis would be touching her bare bottom. If she moved up enough, it would be touching her...
  Would that count as sex? Or was it already too late to still call herself a virgin goddess?
  Her face warmed as memories of last night came back to her, the second thing she thought about after waking up. Jericho"s hands on her body, his knuckle accidentally scraping against her sacred place and the mindless pleasure that came after. The...orgasm.
  She should regret what happened last night, Hestia tried to tell herself as a sigh of contentment left her. Her cheek pressed against her child"s chest, his powerful frame able to rise her just a little bit every time he took a breath. He meant to ease her aches and relieve her tension with a massage, but she turned it into...what happened. Jericho didn"t seem displeased with her, or anything, but she couldn"t imagine what happened was his intention.
  Idly, Hestia looked up at his sleeping face. Even as she rested on top of him, there were times when she found it hard to believe that Jericho was real. Sometimes it was like he was too good to be true. Like last night, for instance. He absolutely terrified her when he admitted that he went down to the sixth floor. Without armor. But, his hands...
  Another sigh of contentment left Hestia, deflating her as she settled against his chest- Only to go stiff as a board when she felt her dress shift forward just enough that his penis lightly smacked against her butt.
  Not enough to... do anything, but the warmth coming off it was impossible to ignore. If it went down a couple of more inches, it would be prodding at her entrance. A place none had ever penetrated before. Not even herself.
  That...should horrify her. For centuries, she prided herself on being a virgin goddess. If only to rub it in the face of those that tried to sleep with her. She was one of the big three, among Artemis and Athena. Considering she had nothing else going for her, it was pretty much the only thing she could take pride in.
  And yet, despite it all, despite what Jericho might thing of her wanton behavior...she kinda wanted to move up a little. Just to see what it felt like.
  Then Jericho"s eyes cracked open, and her idle fantasies came grinding to a halt. For a moment, she stared at him, feeling caught in the act. As if he could somehow know her innermost thoughts.
  "Morning," Jericho greeted, an easy smile on his face, one hand gently caressing her back. "Sleep well?"
  "Mhm," Hestia hummed, nodding her head, finding herself smiling back. "You? I"m not too heavy or anything, right?
  Jericho chuckled a low rumble that vibrated her. It was a shockingly pleasant feeling. "No, I slept great. He shifted underneath her, letting her feel the powerful muscles underneath, only for him to stop a split second later. Judging by how his eyes widened a little, he realized where his penis was poking her. "I"m-"
  "It"s fine," Hestia reassured, heat rising to her cheeks. It was just resting there, between her cheeks. She could swear it seemed to be growing larger by the second. Hestia swallowed thickly, looking away from Jericho, unable to meet his gaze. "Would me to...?"
  There was a beat of silence. Hestia tried not to fidget where she laid, knowing that would only make things worse. For both of them, maybe. That beat of silence seemed to last an eternity and a half, but eventually, Jericho"s hand continued to caress her back. With his other, he gently guided her gaze to his, exactly how she had done to Rye yesterday.
  His dark blue eyes seemed to burn with how intensely he gazed into her eyes, "I do." He said, making her heart throb in her chest. He wanted her to touch it. To do what she did on the first morning they spent together. Last night, towards the end, she wanted to do it too. Now that the time it was actually here, the task seemed so daunting.
  Slowly, Hestia nodded, pushing herself off Jericho, raising one leg off him to make sure...nothing happened down there. Already, she almost missed the warmth his penis gave on her butt. She tried to ignore that thought as she pushed the covers off both of them, revealing his lower half. At some point during the night, his penis had slipped free between a gap in the front of his underwear.
  Hestia looked at it, her breath quickening before she slowly reached out to grab it with her ungloved hand. It was thick, her small hand just barely able to fully encompass it, and warm. It felt like a rod of steel wrapped in velvet, his penis unyielding as she squeezed down experimentally. It was long too, making her hand look small in comparison.
  She started to move her arm back and forth, small movements that focused on the top half near the head as he showed her. The skin bunched and smoothed out with her movements -- it didn"t look like it would feel good, but maybe it was like a massage? Hestia couldn"t bring herself to look away from what she was doing, her short strokes steadily getting longer.
  "That feels great, my goddess," Jericho said, the tips of her fingers tracing her spine. At that, Hestia managed to shoot him a look, even as her hand kept moving. Jericho was grinning at her -- he totally knew what calling her his goddess did to her! She puffed out her cheeks, but that only made his grin grow. "Keep doing that. You"re making me feel so good, my goddess."
  Yeah, he definitely knew. Even still, Hestia continued to stroke his penis, throwing herself into the task. She was making him feel good. Hopefully as good as he made her feel last night. Or better. Maybe it would feel better if she used both hands?
  She grabbed it with her other, stroking him with both hands at the same time. Her breast shook with each moment, having to get her entire body into it. Her gaze flicked to Jericho"s face to see a look of bliss on his face. His eyes glancing upwards, catching him looking at her swaying breasts. Hestia though he would look embarrassed, or stutter out an apology. Instead, his eye just looked...hungry.
  "Try spitting on it," Jericho ordered, his hand still tracing her spine, gooseflesh rising wherever he touched. The sudden order made her pause.
  "You want me to spit on your...?" How was it that she could touch his penis like a brazen harlot, but saying the word gave her so much trouble?
  "To lubricate it," Jericho answered, his hand dipping low to the small of her back. She wondered if his hand would go lower, beneath her dress to her bare bottom. With her blood running so hot in her veins, Hestia wondered if she was hoping for it or not.
  "Okay," Hestia agreed, thinking that made sense. She leaned over his penis, from the angle she looked down at it, it weird. A wide flared head with a little slit at the top -- almost like a mushroom, in a way. Gather spit in her mouth, she let out fall out of it directly on top of his penis. Her spit coated it, a hand spreading it down his shaft.
  Then she started to stroke him again, her hands gliding over his wet shaft, and her face burned at the naughty sounds that her hands were making now. Before was the sound of flesh rubbing flesh, now it was...Hestia didn"t even know what to compare it to.
  "That feels really good," Jericho said, his hand climbing up her back. "You"re doing amazing." He muttered lowly at her, showering her with praise that made her stroke him that much faster and harder. Her hands glided over the length of his penis, from base to the tip. She felt it throb under her grip, seeming to grow even larger.
  "Does it really?" Hestia heard herself ask as she looked over his penis, trying to see if any precum was leaking out. Her spit gave it a glossy look, so it was impossible to tell.
  "It does," Jericho reassured while his hand dipped low. His hand rested on the small of her back, but his fingers rested a little lower, almost touching her butt. "Keep going. It won"t be long before I cum," he told her, making her heart beat as fast as a hummingbird"s. She nodded, keeping her pace going and felt him throb in her hands.
  She pumped him faster, and faster, the sounds her hands were making only barely managed to drown out the sound of her heavy breathing. It throbbed again in her hands, making her squeeze it a little tighter in response. She spat again on it, re-lubing her hands, as she stroked him how he showed her.
  The longer she did it, the more Hestia found that she enjoyed it. The sounds of the act sounded so naughty, how the heat seemed to pool in her stomach around her bellybutton. Above all else, every time she glanced up at Jericho, the blissful expression he wore, knowing that it was her that made him wear that expression, that"s what she enjoyed most of all.
  "I"m about to cum Hestia," Jericho warned, giving her enough time to put a hand over his head to stop his cum from spraying out all over the bed. And her. She felt the first rope of it coat her hand, slamming into her with actual force. The second rope hit her just as hard, her free hand still gripping his throbbing penis. By the time the third rope came, hot cum dripped from her hand onto her other.
  A fourth shot came, weaker this time, or maybe her hands were just too coated to tell. A fifth shot came, and then a sixth, each on weaker than the last. With one final throb, his penis shot one last shot over her hands. Jericho let out a slow breath, his head resting against a stone wall.
  "That was amazing, my goddess," Jericho said, making a shiver run through her. She felt his penis softening under her grip. Letting go of it, it didn"t flop downwards immediately, but it made a slow descent as it softened. Hestia turned her attention to her hands, seeing the seed that covered her palm, with a ring of it on her other hand.
  It was a solid white, and it felt so thick when she moved her hand a little. She could recall what it tasted like from the last time -- it wasn"t bad, but it hadn"t been good. It coated her tongue, a unique flavor that she couldn"t compare to anything, that seemed to linger no matter how many times she swallowed. If it wasn"t for the sweet flavor it had, Hestia would say that she didn"t like it at all.
  "Here, let me wipe that up for you," Jericho said, leaning over to grab the blanket that he used to clean her last night. For a moment, Hestia considered licking it from her palm free of his seed like she did before, but now that there was an option other than ruining his nice shirt, she wanted to take it. She held her hands out, letting Jericho wipe them free.
  Now that she was done, Hestia found that her tongue was tied in knots. She touched his penis again. And-
  "What are your plans for today?" Jericho asked, distracting her from her growing mortification with her behavior. He wiped her hands free of his seed, tossed the stained blanket to the side, but his touch still lingered on her hands. Hestia welcomed it.
  "I," Hestia stated, unsure. Should they talk about what happened? Or was she just going to make it weird? Jericho seemed at complete at ease, a harsh contrast to her bundle of nerves. Well...if he wasn"t going to bring it up...then she wouldn"t either. "I have to work today. In a little bit," Hestia answered, glancing at the day glass.
  It was five o"clock. In the morning. What were they doing up so early?!
  "Hm. What time do you get off?" Jericho asked, massaging her hands. Hestia savored the feeling of his large hands on hers -- it was almost like comparing a child"s hands to an adult. Yet, he managed to be so gentle. Now that she thought about it, that more or less summed Jericho up rather nicely.
  "Around eight or so, it"s going to be a long day," Hestia said, leaning into his touch. More than twelve hours on her feet. She was going to need a massage when the day was done. Any joy she might have found at the thought was replaced with worry as she looked at Jericho, "are you going into the Dungeon?"
  "I am," Jericho agreed, his voice turning serious. "I don"t want to jinx myself, but the first five floors are manageable. The sixth...if I wear my chest armor, then I won"t have any trouble with the frog things. I haven"t come across a war shadow yet, so I can"t say anything about them -- but, I think I"ll go down to the sixth floor again."
  He wasn"t lying. That fact stopped her from shouting at him that he should stay on the first floor until he was wearing enough armor that he couldn"t fit through the door. He hadn"t seemed hurt last night, but that could be because his body healed so fast. Though, that didn"t explain why he was so confident that he could go down to the sixth floor.
  Hestia took a bracing breath that she let out slowly, curling her hands around Jericho"s. "No further than the sixth," she told him, her tone grave. Jericho believed in himself, and she would a poor goddess if she didn"t believe in him just as much. "With your armor. And, before you go, I want you to stop by Miach"s store to buy some potions. Okay?"
  "That sounds like a plan to me," Jericho agreed, squeezing her hands with his. "Do you know if they"re open now? I should get down there as soon as I can, get as much done as I can before you get off." The promise he made last night rang in her head like a bell, her lips tugging up into a smile.
  "They won"t be open for a few more hours, but you can probably get in if you knock and tell Micah who you are. He"s a real big softy," Hestia said, letting go of Jericho"s hand when he moved to get up. Knowing Micah, he would probably shove potions in Jericho"s hands by the handful.
  Jericho grabbed his pants, looking at them with some confusion that she was quick to answer. "A girl named Syr stitched them up. She brought your clothes with the children that stole them to apologize..." Hestia trailed off, seeing Jericho go still as he put his pants on. "Are you...still mad?" She hazarded a guess, sounding uncertain.
  He buttoned up his pants before answering, "more at myself for not being fast enough to catch them. And for overreacting," Jericho answered, turning to face her. Her gaze drifted over his sculpted chest, leading to his powerful arms before she responded.
  "She offered a free meal at the Hostess of Fertility, the children can apologize to you there if you want." It could even be called...a date. She blushed at the thought.
  "The kids are fine so long as they don"t do it again," Jericho said, going to grab his tank top-
  "Wait, let me update your status first," Hestia stopped him. If he had such a long day yesterday, then he should have something to show for it. Not to mention that it would make his next trip to the sixth floor easier.
  "Good idea," Jericho agreed, laying back down on the bed, exposing his blank back made of defined lines and hard planes. The trick that Hephaestus taught her worked. After grabbing a blank piece of paper and a pin to prick her finger, Hestia updated his status.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 1,033/1,000,000
  Strength: 5
  Endurance: 25
  Dexterity: 20
  Intelligence: 2
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 2% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.​
  His Strength and Dexterity stat had practically doubled. And he had over a thousand exp? Yesterday, he had less than a hundred! It was difficult to tell just how much of a jump his stats got since his template wasn"t the one that she learned, but this had to be good, right? If he was confident that he could go to the sixth floor with half these stats, then he should be safe. Even without his leg armor.
  "Done," Hestia said, climbing off him, scanning the paper one last time before passing it over. "Your Physical Resistance ability got a one percent increase," she informed, "but no new Skill or Development Abilities."
  "Hm. Not bad," Jericho said, glancing at the paper before folding it. He tossed it onto the bed, Hestia glanced at it for a moment before asking.
  "How did you get a thousand exp so quickly?" She questioned, watching him put on his tank top.
  "The monsters on the sixth floor give more exp than goblins and kobolds. I"m pretty sure the deeper I go, the more they"ll give me when I beat them." He answered, going to his armor before putting it on. When she saw him struggle to bend his arm enough to get one latch, Hestia was quick to hop off the bed and do it for him. "Thanks. I"ll head straight down to the sixth floor and spend as much time as I can down there, but I"ll be back here before you get off. Promise."
  "Don"t break it," Hestia said, wrapping her arms around him, her cheek pressed against the cold steel, but she didn"t care. Jericho hugged her back -- well, as much as he could since he was so much taller than her.
  And, with that, her child left for the Dungeon yet again.
  "I need my leg armor," I said, walking through the mostly empty streets, guided by my map towards Miach"s shop. The frogs proved that the lower I went, the more exp I got. Three exp was great for now, but it wasn"t anywhere near enough. If I wanted to keep with the timeline comparable to Bell, then I needed to hit level 2 in about a month from now.
  To do that, I needed to gather about...25,000 exp a day? No, closer to 27,000. So, I would need to kill about...9000 frogs to do it. Or, I could go to lower floors and kill stronger monsters.
  Should I have gone to a different smith? Maybe a level 2 could get my armor done faster. Right now, every day seemed to matter, and if I couldn"t go past the sixth floor without leg armor...then that would put me behind by five days.
  "Or," I mused, spotting Miach"s store. "I could try to run past the next few floors to floor ten." That was where giant monsters started to spawn, and where killer ants stopped. If the anime reflected reality, then I could find myself facing a horde of dozens of them if I wasn"t careful. Without a magic weapon, I doubt I could get myself out of that situation.
  A sigh escaped me as I dismissed the plan. I learned that lesson the first day that the Dungeon was easy to travel into but much harder to leave. I could get to the tenth floor, maybe, but I"d probably find a horde waiting for me on the way up. The only other way I could think of was to increase my stats to the point that they didn"t reflect my level. Which would get progressively harder as they rose.
  There just wasn"t an easy solution, despite all my wishing.
  I came to a stop in front of a glass pane door, knocking lightly before taking a step back. It didn"t take long before I saw a man appear inside the potion store, spotting me. I half expected him to wave me off since they weren"t open, instead, he smiled as he approached to open the door.
  "You must be Jericho," Miach greeted. His long blue hair brushed past his shoulders while his blue eyes matched his hair. "Hestia"s told me a great deal about you. I"m pleased to finally meet you," he greeted with an easy smile. The powerful air that belonged to the gods around him was kind, friendly even.
  "Ah," I didn"t know Hestia had talked to Miach about me yet. "Same here. I hope she said good things?" I said, earning a smile out of the god.
  "If Hestia is to be believed, then you are a saint that"s too good for this world," he answered, gesturing for me to come inside. I did, having to duck to step into the potion shop -- ingredients lined the walls, from monster drops to herbs, to potions to crafting supplies. At the counter was a plane of glass that protected rows of vials of three different colors. Red for health, blue for mana, and yellow for stamina.
  "Well, I"d hate to disappoint her," I said, watching as the god walked behind the counter to retrieve a small satchel. He held it out to me to take and, after a moment of hesitation, I did. Pushing back the flap revealed three health and stamina potions.
  "Take these, please, as a welcome gift," Miach requested, smiling kindly at me.
  There was no way in hell I was going to say no to free potions. "Thank you very much, Miach," I said, throwing on my friendliest smile. "Well, since we"re giving gifts," I started, reaching into my pouch as I summoned my inventory to it, making it look like I was just reaching into my pouch. "Here, take these. It"s not much since they"re from the upper floors..." I trailed off, handing him a few frog tongues and kobold teeth before he could refuse them.
  Miach blinked as he took the still slightly damp tongues, unconcerned by the slime that clung to them. "These are from frog shooters," he observed, looking at me with a puzzled look.
  "They are." So that"s what they were called. Not the most inventive name, but I couldn"t say that it didn"t fit.
  "These are on the sixth floor."
  "They are." I agreed, feeling no small amount of amusement at the growing perplexed expression he wore.
  "Were you in a familia before joining Hestia"s?" He questioned, earning a shake of the head from me as I deposited the potions into my inventory. I still had the one that I looted from that corpse, so I was set for the Dungeon. As much as I could be, at any rate.
  "No. Hestia is my first and only goddess," I answered. It took every ounce of will that I had to not let my smile turn into a smirk. I never would have guessed that those two words would have such an effect on her. She tried her best to hide it, but it was clear as day that she loved hearing the words from her reactions.
  "And you"ve been an adventurer for...two days?" Miach asked for clarification. I nodded, making him frown lightly but not in a bad way. "Then Hestia is very lucky to have you in her familia, Jericho."
  At that, I shook my head. "I"m the lucky one," I stated. As bad as it sounded, dying and coming back was probably the best thing that had ever happened to me. Just this morning, I got a handjob from a god. Last night, I made her squirt by simply accidentally dragging a knuckle across her clit, bring her pleasure that she had never known before. She really was the perfect waifu.
  Life was pretty great, all things considered. All I had to do is get a handle on my exp problem, and I"d be living the high life.
  "Thanks for the potions -- you got a loyal customer out of me. I"ll see you later then?" I said, starting to leave when Micah nodded, waving goodbye.
  "And we are happy to serve you. Give Hestia my regards," Miach said as I left, locking the door behind me. That went rather well. I got some potions out of it, so now I could afford to push things a little further in the Dungeon.
  My stamina returned quickly in the Dungeon, going from exhausted to normal in about thirty minutes. The issue was, that thirty minutes, I couldn"t afford to hunt down monsters. Worse, since the Dungeon didn"t typically leave me alone during that time, it took longer for me to recover. With a stamina potion, in theory, the time frame went from about forty-five minutes to about two seconds.
  With that, I made my way to the Dungeon. Luckily, since it was so early, neither Eina or Misha were working, letting me descend without pause. I blew past the first floor, as I did with the others all the way down to the sixth. I didn"t bother exploring anymore than necessary, the sooner I got down there, the better.
  "Twenty-seven thousand exp," I mused, spotting a frog shooter hopping down the tunnels. I walked towards it, tapping my naked blade against my shoulder. There was absolutely no way I was going to be able to kill 9000 frogs in the...14 hours I allowed myself to be down here for. I probably wouldn"t be able to kill a third of that number.
  "Okay..." I said, striding towards the frog shooter that took notice of me. "Today, I"m going to grind my stats." I would have to make up for lost time later when the monsters I killed didn"t give me single-digit exp. Once I got down to the 10th floor and below, then I could worry about exp. What I needed right now was... "Fifty in Endurance, Strength, and Dexterity," I decided.
  My Intelligence really was becoming my dump stat, still at a pitiful 2. Maybe, after Hestia was done cumming her brains out, I would read one of the books that Misha gave me. Finally, test my theory on if I needed to sleep or not.
  I dodged a tongue that raced towards my chest, sidestepping it with ease I hadn"t managed yesterday. My sword slashed outwards, barely more than a blur to cut it in half before it could return to the frog"s mouth. As the tongue severed, I raced forward with surprising speed to dispatch the monster.
  "A good start," I said, continuing to wander the tunnels. Let"s see if it kept up.
  Hours passed as I mindlessly slaughtered monsters, using whatever trick I could think of to grind my stats with what time I had. Instead of walking through the tunnels, I ran. Instead of instantly dispatching monsters as I found them, I would lead them until I was fighting two or three at the same time. Sometimes, I simply dodged their attacks, ignoring openings to kill them. Other times, I accepted hits that I could have dodged.
  Between my armor, and my 7% physical resistance, I had yet to take a single point off my new 121 total health. It seemed I got a 10% increase in health every 10 stat points in Endurance. It kinda sucked right now, but later on, that would be pretty great. Which seemed to be a theme with my gamer ability, now that I think about it. A lot of the stuff I had right now kinda sucked, but if I grinded them enough then they became great.
  I dodged out of the way of a frog tongue, grabbing it before it could retreat back to the frog"s mouth. Giving it a savage yank, I tried to pull the frog to me, and managed it somewhat even if the outcome was wildly different from what I imagined. Instead of flying through the air, it drug on the ground, trying to withdraw its tongue until it got close enough that I could stomp on its head.
  I pushed myself forward, my legs feeling heavy as I continued to sprint through the tunnels, forcing myself to inch closer to those growing elusive stat points. Strength was a big issue since I started off so strong, my sword not heavy enough to grind the stat, so I had to get creative.
  Another monster spawned in my path, a kobold that I killed with a slash as I raced by, one eye on my map as I steadily mapped out the sixth floor. After spending hours down here, today and yesterday, I still hadn"t found the entrance to the seventh floor. Still, I was making great progress, so it was only a matter of time.
  I rounded a corner before I was forced to skid to a halt when I ran into another dead end. Tsking to myself, I turned around to see monsters spawning from the walls. Goblins, kobolds and...something new. A black, shadowy figure like a shadow was peeled off the ground, almost, crawled out of the walls. A war shadow.
  Sprinting forward, I dispatched a goblin with a swing of my sword while I stomped on a kobold. Another swing of my sword, my sword ripped through another goblin, rather than cut it. I really needed to sharpen it because it was dull as all hell. The war shadow hung back, letting its companions be slaughtered before it lunged forward once I was close enough.
  I shot backward, making its black claws miss my armor by an inch as I swung at its head. My blade lodged itself into its neck, unable to cut all the way through. Seizing upon my moment of surprise, the war shadow reached up to grab my arm, its claws puncturing soft flesh as it carved deep furrows down it. I snarled in response, grabbing my blade with my other hand, bracing it, as I kicked the war shadow.
  The cut finished, beheading the monster as it faded into nothing. Awarding me...5 exp! Perfect! "Now to find more of those," I decided, taking off sprinting again, sweat dripping down my forehead. Despite my efforts, I couldn"t keep my breathing even. Should I drink an endurance potion? No, not yet.
  I continued to race through the tunnels, slowly accumulating stat points and magic stones. Already, I earned more than a thousand exp, but still, it was a long way from my desired goals.
  "Hurry it up, you slow piece of shit. You"re costing me money with all that dragging your feet you"re doing!" I heard a voice shouting in the distance, somewhere ahead of me. An adventurer. I slowed down, trying to pick up where exactly the source was coming from if only to avoid it.
  A hand reached into my inventory, pulling out a stamina potion that I uncorked and shot down in a gulp. It tasted of...lemons? Instantly, I felt my exhaustion fade into nothing, leaving me feeling refreshed if a bit sweaty. So it did work. Perfect.
  "Lili is going as fast as she can, Mr. Ged," I heard a small voice respond, making me go still. Did she say Lili? And refer to herself in third person?
  "Well, it ain"t fast enough. Get moving before I leave you behind," the adventurer continued, his voice growing louder. They weren"t that far away. Should I leave? It was still weeks away from when I was supposed to meet her if I stuck to the canon timeline. It might even be a bad idea since I would be much more prepared for whatever antics Lili would drag me into.
  Despite my thoughts, I found myself walking towards the voices, wiping sweat from my face to make myself look a little less dead on my feet like I was a few minutes ago.
  "Of course, Mr. Ged. Lili will do her best-"
  "Just stop talking and do your job," Ged interrupted, the sounds of his footsteps getting louder. "Sometimes, I don"t know why I bother with supporters. All you do is leech off your know what girl? If you don"t stop dragging your feet, you aren"t getting paid. Hell, you should be paying me for putting up with you instead of letting a monster rip you to pieces."
  Well...that was rude.
  "Thank you Mr. Ged for protecting Lili," Lilli said, her voice sounding actually thankful. That...that, I didn"t like. It was one thing to hear it in an anime, but hearing her sound so convincingly thankful that the jerk hadn"t left her to die was just...wrong. "She"ll keep up, Lili promises!"
  "What did I say about talking?" Ged groaned, sounding like he was just around the corner. From the sound of it, that last comment was more to himself than Lili. He stopped by the corner, revealing an average looking man wearing a dark red trench coat, his long black hair done up in a ponytail. He carried a sword in one hand-- he looked like a competent adventurer if I had to say anything about him.
  He looked left, spotting me instantly. His eyes widened, he fell into a fighting stance, the sword posed to stab me in the face, one hand on the pommel that would give the thrust a little more power. That was...quite the reaction, I guess. A fair one, though. I can"t say I would react any different if a guy my size suddenly appeared right next to me.
  "Who are you?" He barked his demand, hiding behind his shield.
  "Er," I was not expecting this kind of conversation. I figured we"d exchange customary nods to acknowledge that we saw each other, I would steal a glance at Lili, and maybe try to endear myself to her. "My name"s Jericho. Hestia familia." I greeted him, holding my dull sword a little tighter when he didn"t relax.
  "Who"s the Hestia familia?" Asshole demanded to know, his sword poised to pierce my throat with a lunge.
  "We"re a new familia," I answered, jerking my chin at him. "Who are you?" Two can play at this pissing contest.
  "Caishen familia," Asshole answered, not giving me his name. And since I had absolutely no idea who his god was, he probably wasn"t important. "Are you alone?"
  I tilted my head, considering the question. My eyes went over to Lili, who hung back slightly, her bag comically huge compared to her slight frame. In one hand she carried a handheld crossbow, it wasn"t pointed at me but that would change soon enough with reason to. Then my gaze slid back to Asshole. "And if I am?"
  "Well then...I"m just going to have to ask you for your magic stones, is all," Asshole said, his shield hiding his face but I heard the grin in his voice. At that, I hesitated. He sounded confident. Confident enough that he took one look at me and thought he could take me despite being nearly two feet shorter and about a hundred pounds lighter.
  Could he be a level 2? I know they were few and far in between, most adventurers living and dying as a level 1. Not all of them were named in the anime, so I didn"t know if he was or not. Or, maybe, he was an extremely proficient adventurer with high stats. Or, just as likely, he was an idiot.
  I shrugged my shoulders, eyeing where the blade was poised to strike at. "In that case, I"m not alone," I said, forcing my lips to curl into a smile.
  "Too late for that, big guy. I"ve never seen you before. I bet you"re new to this, aren"t you? Bet you thought that since you didn"t have much trouble with goblins and the like, so you thought you were good enough to come to this floor. Now you"re in over your head." Ah, so it wasn"t that he was really strong. It was that he assumed I was really weak. And...well...everything he said wasn"t exactly untrue.
  I was distinctive, to say the least. Had I been a veteran adventurer, I"m sure eventually most would know me by the description "that tall guy." So, he assumed I was a total rookie that came down to this floor without thinking.
  "Hm, maybe." I noncommittally replied, a sinking feeling in my stomach. I don"t think I was smooth enough to talk my way out of this fight. There would be a fight too since there was no way I was handing over my magic stones.
  "So, how about you hand over your magic stones...or I"m going to take them off your corpse," Asshole threatened. I clenched my jaw, considering what I was about to do. Unlike proper RPGs, there wasn't a third option. Well, I suppose that wasn't exactly true...
  "Come take them, then," I spoke, the sword leaping at my throat before I finished speaking. I wasn't surprised. Reacting instantly, I raised my free arm, feeling white-hot pain as his sword pierced my forearm. The pain gave way to fury as I yanked my arm to the side, making him go wide open. Judging from how wide his eyes got, he expected that thrust to stab me in the throat.
  He tried to kill me. I knew the Dungeon was considered a lawless place-- or, rather, it was a place where laws couldn't be enforced. But I didn't expect him to try to kill me. Over pocket change.
  I grabbed him by the face like I did so many monsters before. "Hey, wait-" he started to plead, only to be cut off when I turned sharply and slammed the back of his head against the wall hard enough blood splattered on impact. I held him there, my arm hurt worse than anything I had ever felt. He stabbed me! He tried to kill me!
  I took in a deep breath, letting go of him. His body fell into a heap, his eyes wide but seeing nothing. He was dead. I killed him.
  "Shit," I cursed, more because my arm really hurt. Blood pumped from it, dripping down the sword still stuck in my arm. I could only stare at it with mute horror. I had been stabbed. I was bleeding. A lot. I...I drink a health potion. What was my health?
  106/121. 15 points. I lost 15 Heath points.
  My hand moved to grab the blade of their own will, touching it sent waves of agony coursing through me. Even still, I wasn't the soft city boy that I was a few days ago. I was an adventurer! I...I could pull a sword out of my arm, no problem! It was easy! I...I just needed to pull...!
  "Ahhh...!" I hissed, the blade sliding free, then clattering to the floor. Holy motherfucking shit dicks, that hurt so fucking much! Blood pumped from the wound like a leaking faucet, dripping down my fingers as I reached into my inventory to grab a health potion. It was still attached to my pouch and I dug a health potion from it.
  Knocking back the vial so fast that I didn"t taste it, I felt the pain vanish instantly. The 15 points of health were restored. Looking down, I saw my arm was fine underneath wet blood. So, at the very least, health potions restored 15 health.
  It was only after I dropped the vial that I recalled that I still wasn"t alone in the tunnels. Lili still stood there, her crossbow trained on me. Her gaze was firm, her jaw set. This...wasn"t the Lili for the last half of the first season. This was a Lili that was down to murder me if I made the wrong move. I think I could stop her -- she would only be able to fire once before I was on top of her, so as long as she didn"t hit something vital, I could subdue her.
  With that thought in mind, I held up my hands and took a step back. "I don"t have any problem with you. I didn"t have any issue with him until he tried to kill me," I said, giving her space so she wouldn"t feel threatened. She was just so small though, it was easy to mistake her for a child. A child aiming the fantasy equivalent of a gun at me, but that just made things more heartbreaking.
  At that, Lili looked a little uncertain. She didn"t lower the weapon, though, but she looked less likely to put a bolt between my eyes.
  "I"m not going to hurt you," I swore, trying to keep my voice as calm as possible. "Do you need help going back up to the surface?" I let the offer hang in the air, keeping my hands where she could see them as I kept an ear out for any monsters sneaking up on me.
  "You killed him," Lili observed, her words not sounding like an accusation.
  "I didn"t know how strong he was," I told her honestly. "I couldn"t let him rob me, I couldn"t let him kill me, so I had to end the fight as fast as I could." Her expression was still hard, so I continued with, "I"ve been an adventurer for about two days. My goddess, Hestia, she has no one else. I promised her I wouldn"t leave her alone. I couldn"t let him kill me. And I don"t want to hurt you at all, so could you please lower the crossbow?"
  This was not how I imagined my first meeting with Lili. I never in a million years would have thought our first meeting would be me killing a man in front of her then being held at crossbow point. I should have walked away.
  Then, slowly, Lili did lower the crossbow. "Does Mr. Adventurer promise not to hurt Lili?" She asked in a very small voice- ah. Right. She was trying to play me right now. The anime really did not do her justice in that regard, because without my meta knowledge, I never would have guessed that she was acting.
  "I promise I won"t hurt you. And my name is Jericho. Nice to meet you, Lili, just...wish it could have been better circumstances." I said with what I hoped was a friendly smile.
  "Lili does too Mr. Jericho," Lili returned, her voice adopting an almost childlike quality to it.
  "Lili, would it be okay if I pick up and sheath my sword?" I asked, gesturing to my blade that I dropped to grab Asshole"s head. "I won"t hurt you. I promise." If she was trying to pass herself off as a child, and she could with the ratty beige cloak that covered her, then I needed to treat her like one. I had to pretend that I believed her, especially when there was still a risk of her shooting me.
  "...Lili thinks it"s okay..." Lili trailed off, sounding unsure.
  "Are you sure? I don"t want to scare you either. Well, any more than I have, at least," I tacked on, not exactly helping my case.
  Lili nodded firmly, the wary expression leaving her face, but not her eyes. "Lili is sure," she decided and, cautiously, I picked up my sword and slid it in its sheath at my belt. Its sheath came with a sachel-like bag attached to it, but, uh, my shoulders were too broad for it to fit the leather strap both were attached to, so I was forced to sling it over one shoulder since attaching it to my waist would have been too annoying.
  "Thank you," I said, hoping that this was a good sign. Eventually, my gaze turned to the corpse. To the man I killed. Was it murder? No, I killed him in self-defense. This was on him. He tried to rob and kill me. This wasn"t my fault. " we do with him?"
  "The Guild forbids bodies from being brought up from the Dungeon," Lili explained, walking towards me but staying out of reach. Giving the impression that she trusted me without putting herself at risk. "They say it's to stop adventurers from risking their lives to retrieve their comrade"s bodies, but it's really to stop feuds between familias."
  That was one hell of a lesson. "What?" I asked honestly, looking at her with bewilderment.
  "What happens in the Dungeon stays in the Dungeon," Lili quoted. "Murders happen all the time down here. The Guild doesn"t want proof of them. If an adventurer goes down into the Dungeon alone and he never comes up, then it"s assumed that a monster killed him. If someone brings up a corpse and it's clear that"s not the case, then the familia starts asking questions. Or makes accusations. So, the Guild wants to avoid all that."
  "...Huh," I summarized my feelings on that, turning from her to look at the corpse again. "I might have chosen the wrong profession." The anime did not seem this grim when I was watching it and masturbating to Hestia on rule 34. Wait -- was Lili implying something there? That no one would look into my murder if she killed me here and now? Or was she trying to reassure me that nothing would happen since I killed that guy?
  "Lili doesn"t think so. If Mr. Jericho is already on the sixth floor in two days, he must be a super amazing adventure!" She practically beamed at me like she totally wasn"t ready to plug me a couple of minutes ago.
  "Thank you Lili," I said, feeling a different kind of exhaustion. "Would you like me to take you back up to the surface now?" I asked, still looking at the body of a man I killed.
  Lili fidgeted shyly out of the corner of my eye, "actually, if it would be okay with Mr. Jericho, would he take Lili as his supporter?" She requested, throwing on a puppy dog look that was highlighted by her fake dog ears that jutted out of the top of her head. Her magic spell that made her look like whatever she wanted with the restriction that she stayed the same size.
  That would...actually be inconvenient for me. Auto-loot would have to be turned off so she wouldn"t get suspicious, and she would probably end up slowing me down. Then, on the other hand...well...she was Lili.
  I knew about the bad hand life dealt her and I could relate, in a way. I wasn't tormented and horribly abused, forced to work a step above slave labor to survive, but...ah, well, let's just say I knew a thing or three about shitty parents and the sins of the parents do seem to be inherited by the children. I wanted to help her -- to give her that happy ending that Bell gave her. I wanted to pull her out of that deep pit of depression and hopelessness that was practically suicidal because I was struggling to pull myself out of that same pit for years.
  Dying was what freed me from it. And I didn't want that to be the case for Lili.
  However, Lili saw my hesitance and continued with, "Lili doesn"t want to sound desperate, but Lili needed to support Mr. Ged even if he was really mean. She has rent due soon, and Lili doesn't want to lose her home..." All blatant lies.
  "I...don"t mind at all, Lili. Thank you for...understanding," I finished lamely, not sure what I should say about not judging me for killing a man right in front of her. Worse, I had no idea how she would react to it. She seemed fine with it, which was its own problem, but Lili was proving harder to read than I expected. The only thing I did know was any time she sounded chipper or happy, then she was probably lying.
  "No, Lili thanks you for letting me be your supporter," Lili deflected. "Though, Lili does think that...maybe Mr. Jericho should take Mr. Ged"s sword? Mr. Jericho"s seems to be in really rough shape." She noted, patting her hip where my sword rested. Well...she wasn"t wrong.
  "Please forgive me," I told the corpse of a man I killed as I took his sword from his dead hands. It looked Asian -- a long straight blade, a small hilt that I could only barely fit one hand on, with a tassel hanging from the pommel. I tested the weight, finding it fine. The blade was longer than my sword, so it had that going for it. Plus, it wasn"t nicked and blunt, so it was a definite improvement.
  Turning to face the Dungeon again, I looked down at Lili. Her massive bag the size of two of...huh. If my goal was to grind stats, then I just had an amazing idea.
  Lili tilted her head as I looked at her, trying to not look wary at me.
  "Actually, how about this," I said, crouching down to her level. Well, as much as I could. Lili was a loli. I was a massive guy. I watched enough anime to know exactly what I had to do. I turned my back to her, gesturing to it with a thumb. "Hop on."
  "Lili is confused," Lili informed, not jumping on my back like planned, forcing me to explain.
  "I"ll carry you. I"m trying to push myself down here, you know, train those Endurance and Strength stats. I don"t want to leave you behind, and if I"m carrying you and your bag, then I can train Strength at the same time." I explained, looking back at her with an easy smile on my face.
  "...Lili is still confused...but okay...?" Lili muttered uncertainty, walking up to me. She had to jump to wrap her arms around my throat, holding on tightly. I felt the weight of her and her bag instantly -- Lili wasn"t quite a shoulder loli, yet, but that was fine for now. My Strength stat was going to shoot up with this plan.
  "Alrighty then. Let"s go!" I warned, breaking into a sprint, the sound of Lili yelling in my ear to slow down as I ran was almost enough to make me not think about the man I just killed.
  Hopefully, the fights to come would manage that for me.
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  I"ve made a mistake, I realized as I ran through the halls, my legs aching with every step. Lili probably didn"t weigh fifty pounds soaking wet, but her bag was another matter entirely. It was huge and packed to the absolute brim with what I could only assume were bricks. I couldn"t even guess how much it weighed other than a lot. Worse, since it was on Lili"s back, my balance was pretty much nonexistent.
  "Is Mr. Jericho okay?" Lili asked, from her vantage on my back, her arms wrapped around my neck. I was forced to lean over so she wouldn"t choke me just by holding on. At the very least, it made swiping at goblins and the like easier.
  "I-I"m fine," I said, rivers of sweat falling off me with every movement. I"ve made a mistake but I"m too deep in at this point. If I back out now, after about...ten minutes of this, then she was going to think I was a wimp. Oh, and I want to get those stat gains, of course.
  "Lili isn"t sure she believes that...but, frog shooters up ahead Mr. Jericho," Lili called out at three frog shooters hopped into view. I licked my lips, tasting salt, as I gripped my new sword. Right. Three of them at once. I could manage that. I just had to get in close.
  Taking a bracing breath, I pushed myself forward, ignoring the burn with every step I took. At once all three of the frog shooters seemed to notice me. Which made sense. The ceiling was pretty high, but between my height and Lili"s backpack, I"m sure we made a pretty big target.
  I rushed forward, breaking into as much of a sprint as I could manage but it was far too slow to close the distance between us before they could shoot their tongues. I raised my sword so the flat of it was facing towards them and picked a frog. Their tongues launched out at me at once, and I was too big for them to not hit. The one that I chose smacked into my blade with enough force that my sword nearly brained me, while the other two struck home, hitting just as hard.
  One hit my thigh with enough force that my leg was knocked out from underneath me. The other hit me in the chest, nearly knocking me on my back. I kept my balance only because I expected it, pushing myself up as fast as I could. I could already feel the bruise forming on my thigh, making it flare with pain as I ran forward before they could fire off a second shot.
  I didn"t make it in time. "Mr. Jericho!" Lili shouted in my ear, firing off her crossbow, her arrows punching through a frog"s eye, making it ribbit as it jerked to dislodge the arrow. The other two managed to fire a shot off before I got in striking range. A tongue hit me in the stomach, my armor absorbing the worst of the blow while I managed to block the other. With a snarl of my face, I took the final step forward as I brought down my sword, cutting through the two offending frogs in half with a single swing. After that, it was child"s play to stab the final one to death.
  "Whew," I breathed, wiping more sweat off my face with my unbloodied forearm. That was...good. I took a little damage, but my armor took the worst of it. My leg hurt though, but the pain was fading. Health?
  "Lili thinks it might be a bad idea to fight with Lili on your back," Lili commented as she let go, dropping down to collect the magic stones.
  I wiped sweat off my face, straightening out and my back feeling sore already. "...Yeah," I admitted, taking in a deep breath, cracking my neck. That hadn"t been my best idea. "That bag sure is heavy though, I"m surprised that you can lift it." Now knowing just how stupidly heavy that bag was, it made the sight that much weirder because Lili barely seemed to notice the weight as she began digging up magic stones.
  "That is because Lili has a Skill that helps her carry heavy bags for adventurers. It might look impressive, but Lili is very weak -- that"s why Lili has to rely on strong adventurers like Mr. Jericho." Lili explained, sending me a smile that looked genuine. It was hard to remind myself that I probably couldn"t trust anything she said. Lili, before Bell melted her heart with his teeth rotting sweet fluff, was a self-destructive downward spiral.
  She wanted out of the Soma familia, but she didn"t trust anyone to help her do it. When she saw Bell talking to someone that she had screwed over, she assumed that Bell was going to betray her when he wouldn"t elaborate on what was said, so she betrayed him first. If she had talked to him about what was going on, then a lot of drama could have been avoided, but she didn"t because she didn"t trust anyone.
  "Huh, well, either way it"s impressive," I answered, pushing my thoughts away from the topic. I needed to be aware I couldn"t trust anything that she said, but at the same time I needed to chip away at the wall she built up around her heart. Words were meaningless to her. Action was the only thing that could convince her.
  "Mr. Jericho is kind for saying so, but it"s really not impressive. Most supporters have the Skill -- it"s a shameful Skill if Lili is being honest. It means that all Lili is good for is carrying bags," Lili said, her tone not reflecting her words at all. Even still, it was hard hearing stuff like that. An emotional gut punch. Worse, I had no idea if those were her true thoughts or if she was trying to tug on my heartstrings.
  "That"s not true. You"re a dead shot with that crossbow of yours, and, well, you seem to have a lot more common sense than I do," I said, watching her work. I flashed her a smile when she looked up at me.
  I watched her work, if just because I would learn how to do it the normal way. Lili cut just under their rib cages, right at the diaphragm, stuck her hand underneath the sternum and pulled out a small sliver of a purple stone. The entire process took about thirty seconds, so it wasn"t horribly slow, but compared to auto-loot...
  I walked over to one, kicking it over to copy the movements that she made, I reached in - "Mr. Jericho shouldn"t lower himself to retrieving magic stones. Lili can do this, she"s just a mere supporter after all." Lili protested, earning a look from me.
  "It"s fine, I don"t mind at all," I responded, shoving my hand into a frog"s chest and searched around for the stone. It took a few seconds to find it since it was so small. Pulling it out, the frog was reduced to ash, letting me look at the stone. They were so small, no bigger than a fingernail and about as wide as a pencil. Then I dropped the stone in inventory, disguising it as putting it in the pouch that hung off my belt.
  "Lili knows Mr. Jericho means well, but please let Lili do it. It"s only right -- Mr. Jericho killed the monsters, he shouldn"t have to do supporter work as well." Lili insisted something about this conversation sounds familiar. Did this happen in the anime? I don"t remember.
  "I don"t mind helping out," I returned. "It makes me feel awkward watching someone else work while I"m twiddling my thumbs."
  "If other adventurers see Mr. Jericho doing supporter work, then they"ll think that Lili isn"t a hard worker. They"ll say all sorts of mean rumors about Lili, and she might not find any other adventurers willing to hire her. So, please Mr. Jericho, at least let Lili do this much," Lili pleaded, a smile on her face, but her beige cloak hood covered her eyes.
  "I-" couldn"t force the issue, could I? "Alright, I guess," I finished lamely, standing back up and watching her go to the last frog shooter.
  "Thank you, Mr. Jericho," Lili said, digging the magic stone out with practiced ease. She deposited the magic stones into a small bag attached to her backpack, looking up at me with a beaming smile. "Lili still thinks its a bad idea to fight while carrying Lili and her bag on Mr. Jericho"s back, but if Mr. Jericho is trying to...grind...stats, then would he like to carry Lili between fights?"
  There was an idea. "Huh. Yeah, that"s a lot smarter than what I was doing, wasn"t it?" I muttered more to myself than here, though Lili did spare a giggle at my expense. I don"t think my Intelligence stat governed my actual intelligence since I didn"t feel any stupider than I did before, but I guess now that I was fighting in life or death scenarios, bad habits became more apparent. Like having an idea or goal and chasing after it directly when there were other better, easier, paths to take.
  I"ve always been stubborn like that. Once I started doing something one way, I didn"t like changing halfway through. It caused me more than a few problems, but there were times that stubbornness helped far more than it hindered.
  I nodded at Lili, crouching back down, "let"s do that then. Hope on."
  We spent the rest of the day like that. Lili on my shoulder, slaughtering monsters as I racked up exp and magic stones. We made small talk -- me doing my best to convince her that I wasn't a scumbag that was about to rob and beat her, Lili giving half-answers and somehow telling me absolutely nothing about herself. It was a decent day, even if I was still light-years away from the progress I needed to make. I even got a new sword out of it.
  "I think we did pretty well today," I voiced my thoughts, looking down at Lili. It hadn't clicked just how small Lili was until I walked beside her up the steps to the Guildhall. She was less than four feet tall, around 3'7 if I remember right. I was more than twice her size.
  "Lili thinks so too," Lili agreed with a chipper nod. "Mr. Jericho might have an...unusual way of doing things, but Lili can"t say Mr. Jericho doesn"t get results. Is Mr. Jericho sure that he"s only been an adventurer for two days?
  "I am," I confirmed, feeling more than a little proud at her disbelief.
  "Then Mr. Jericho is super amazing for a rookie adventurer! Lili can"t remember the last time she supported a solo adventurer that killed so many monsters!" Lili praised, and that took the edge off my pride since I"m sure she was just buttering me up. So, I just smiled in response as a thank you.
  We walked up to the Guildhall, seeing that it was mostly empty during the later part of the day. Those that went in later wouldn"t come up until sometime at night, while those that went in early like me left hours ago. That meant that we didn"t have to wait in a line to cash in our magic stones.
  Lili handed me a sack filled with them that I passed through to the teller before I added my own sack. Both were pretty heavy with magic stones, I couldn"t guess just how many stones there were. Over a hundred, at the very least.
  "Your total is thirty thousand valis," the teller informed, pushing two large bags of gold our way. I heard Lili gasp behind me, telling me we just made a lot since I still didn"t have a grip on how much a valis was worth. I recall her and Bell freaking out about...was it 20,000 valis?
  "Thank you," I said, turning to Lili, her eyes darting up like she hadn"t been eyeing the money like a dog over a bone.
  "Well, Mr. Jericho, we should-" Lili started, looking off to the side, and it was for that reason she was nearly hit in the face with the sack of gold I tossed in her direction.
  "Here you go," I said, dumping about 15,000 valis on goodwill. It hurt to do. Almost physically, but I did have the money to spare at the moment. I still had a big enough budget to buy my armor and supplies to make Hestia"s night...relaxing when she got off. I would even have some leftover to start a piggy bank.
  "W-what?" Lili asked, too startled to hide her shock. She stared down at the heavy bag of gold like it might vanish before her very eyes. "Y-you"re splitting it evenly with me? Why? Mr. Jericho should-" She started to protest, turning her wide-eyed gaze back up to me. And there it was. The reaction of me completely stepping outside the mold that she built for those that called themselves adventurers.
  "Should be paying you for your work in full," I dismissed her protests easily with a smile. Actions mattered, not words.
  "But, Mr. Jericho -- Mr. Jericho carried Lili!" She blurted, then glanced away when she realized what she was announcing, searching for someone that might have overheard her. To put her at ease, I started to walk away from the teller to make sure he couldn"t overhear either. "Lili was more of a burden than normal for adventurers. The work wasn"t fifty-fifty," she pointed out.
  She had a point, I had to admit. " that case, if you won"t just accept it, then think of it as...hazard pay," I said, giving myself another mental pat on the back for that one. My other option was to think of it as a bribe to keep quiet about the guy that I...killed, which would remind her that I killed someone in the Dungeon. And that reminded me that I had killed someone in the Dungeon. I"m...still not going to think about that.
  "Hazard pay?" Lili echoed, sounding doubtful, but less so than she was a moment ago. Now she was holding onto the money with a death grip, I doubt I could pry it from her hands even if I tried.
  "I know today was a bit much for you. I don"t exactly do things the smart way in the Dungeon," I admitted freely. "So, it"s extra pay since I did put you in more danger than you would normally be in and I didn"t exactly tell you that upfront. Thus, hazard pay."
  "You"re weird." I wouldn"t have heard it if I wasn"t trying to, but just underneath her breath, I heard her call me weird. Despite all the...mishaps, I was still on track with the Lili route. Fantastic.
  "And, if you"re willing, would you like to be my supporter tomorrow? I usually start around five in the morning, but if that"s too early for you we can agree to meet at a time and I"ll just pop back up." I offered, making Lili go silent. She stared down at the heavy bag of gold in her hands, then back up at me.
  "That sounds good to Lili. She"ll meet Mr. Jericho here at five o"clock!" She decided, throwing on a happy look. A hand twitched to offer it to shake to seal the deal, but I didn"t want her to think I was trying to take the money back. Lili was as skittish as a cat in that regard. Instead, I offered a small wave as she started to leave.
  "I"ll see you then," I returned, watching her go. After waiting until she was firmly out of sight, I went back into the guildhall, found a quiet corner and reached down to my new bag looted off that guy. The contents was basic stuff including potions, so that alone was a win in my book. Just health and stamina potions. Once it was empty, I dumped my haul from yesterday into the bag. It bulged outwards, the seams threatening to tear.
  I didn"t have enough room, I realized. I mean, I still had plenty more left. After a moment of thought, I dumped more into my pouch -- it might look a bit odd, but I doubt that anyone would assume that I was pulling monster shards out of a pocket dimension. I stuffed it with loot, nearly emptying out my inventory of monster stones, though I still had some monster drops left, I made my way back to the teller.
  "Sorry, forgot that I had these," I told him with what I hoped was a convincing grin. The slight man looked down at the bulging bags, then at me and I could practically see him giving a mental shrug.
  "Your total is thirty-five thousand valis," he said, sliding over two more bags of gold my way. I picked them up, enjoying their considerable weight. I had money now! I could pay off my armor, load up on supplies, get some clothes, a bed and a couple other odds and ends. But...half of it was going to be spent on Hestia.
  I made a promise, after all.
  "I should take a shower," I decided, pulling off my armor as I walked towards the shower room that I found the other day when I walked up from the Dungeon wearing nothing but a blanket and covered in blood. As soon as I was out of sight, I shoved my armor, weapons and newfound wealth into my inventory before stepping into a shockingly modern-looking public bathroom. Danmachi seemed to follow Japan"s sensibilities when it came to nudity, so there were no sheets for privacy. Just an open room lined with showerheads and lockers to store our stuff.
  Stripping off my clothes, I stepped towards a faucet and let a blast of lukewarm water hit my chest -- well, more of my stomach really. I was too tall to stand underneath them by a more than a little, so I had to crouch down to let the water run over my face, getting the sweat that had built up. My hair plastered to the back of my neck, dipping towards my shoulder. I think I was going to cut it soon. I picked longer hair for the look, but it wasn"t worth the irritation of it getting in my face all the time.
  I"ve had this body for a few days, and despite how natural it felt to move around in it, there were times when it caught me off guard. When I ran, I was so much faster, each step covering more distance, or when I grabbed something I ran the risk of breaking it if I squeezed too hard. There were times when I thought I might have gone a little overboard with my self-indulgence, but I couldn"t bring myself to regret any of the changes I made. I would just have to get used to the little things over time.
  After drying myself off and shoving a half dozen towels into my inventory, I stepped out of the Guildhall to see that the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon. My clock told me it was nearly 7 o"clock, so I had a little over an hour to get what I needed to get. Luckily, I knew exactly where I needed to go to pick them up. With the clock ticking, I let my feet carry me to my destination.
  The Guildhall might be slow, but the city was in full swing. The streets were packed with people going about their day, trying to do last-minute errands much like I was. I didn"t have much trouble with crowds since most gave way to me -- no one wanted to be the one blocked the way to a guy that looked like me. Though, I wasn"t complaining.
  The stores that lined the streets steadily became less adventurer oriented to be more generic. Clothing, pawnshops, sweets, rugs and so on. Anything that could be sold, there was probably a shop on the main street that had it. This city was the center of the world because of the Dungeon, and it felt like it too.
  Then, the shops gave way to a solid wall guarded by to amazons. They wore what could be called a bikini if your standards were low enough, showing off their tanned bodies, full breasts, and shapely figures. Through the entrance, they were protecting, or tempting customers to enter, was a street dyed red in the dying light. The city of the night, or pleasure district. I walked by this gem yesterday.
  "Hello there," one of them greeted me as I approached, a sultry smile tugging at her lips. She leaned against her spear, pushing her breasts together until they practically spilled out of her top. "It's early, but I'd happily let you inside!"
  The other followed her lead, placing her spear between her sizable mounds, squeezing it until the shaft was enveloped. She nibbled at her bottom lip, giving me bedroom eyes as she said, "we"re so bored with guard duty. Would you like to rescue us?" A hand trailing up her heavenly muscled bronze thigh suggestively. Then her eyes narrowed into a glare as pretty boy started to walk up towards them. "Not you, him." They informed, making the guy look behind him.
  He quickly looked away with a beet-red face, all but running away. Not going to lie, I felt more than a little pride at that. It really was great being me, all things considered.
  Smirking as I walked over, the two guards eyes lit up as I approached. It was a real shame I was here on business. My smirk became apologetic in nature as I came to a stop in front of the gate, both of them abandoning their posts. "Sorry ladies, I'm not here for pleasure," I informed as the first wrapped a hand around my bicep to squeeze it.
  "Then you might be looking in the wrong place," the second began, running a hand over my abs, her smile growing to show that she liked what she found. I didn't even need to flex. "All we sell here is...pleasure," she continued, her hand dipping to my rapidly hardening cock. I waited for her reaction and was more than a little satisfied when her eyes widened a fraction, her sultry smile becoming a lot more genuine.
  They were a lot more forward than they were in the anime, I reflected. Probably because Danmachi was an anime, not hentai, that dealt with a hentai topic like prostitution. There was a certain amount of censorship even though they milked it for fanservice.
  "I'm looking to buy massage oils, and maybe some lingerie for my goddess," I said, the first Amazon pressing her breasts against my side, one hand slipping down to caress my balls through my pants.
  "Oh, it sounds like a romantic evening," the first said, her gaze shifting from bedroom eyes to fuck me now eyes.
  "But don't you think it's a bad idea to go fully loaded?" The second asked, her hand tracing my now fully hard cock that made a very clear outline against my pants. "You'll last longer if you clear the pipes a little." She said, putting her legs around my own and leaned heavily against me, practically dry humping me in the middle of the street.
  It would be a lie to say that I wasn't tempted. Women never threw themselves at me like this before, even if it was faked to score a customer. Odds were, I wouldn't get my rocks off with Hestia tonight, and I wouldn't until tomorrow morning.
  Even still, I shook my head, "sorry, but not tonight." They pouted, though they didn't let go. The second one ground herself harder against my leg, grinding herself against my thigh, an inviting expression on her face to tempt me. "It"s a special night for my goddess. So, could you please point me in the right direction? I can make it worth your while?" That line always seemed to work in the movies.
  For the first time movies didn"t let me down. Both girls looked disappointed, but they let me go, their hands lingering on my crotch. "Boo, no fun." The first girl said.
  "Meany," the second one agreed, "to get me worked up like that then just leave me for another woman..."
  "I"m sorry," I said, feeling...good. I never really understood the appeal of strip clubs or cabaret clubs in Japan, it always struck me as dumb to throw your money away on someone that was being paid to like you for a few hours. Now, I could understand it better. It felt good to have beautiful women fawn over me. I liked it more than I should, probably. "But it"s my goddess. It can"t be helped."
  The second one turned her head away from me sharply, puffing her cheeks out in a pout. The first one chuckled, giving me a sultry smile, a finger lightly stroking my chest through my tank top. "Massage oils, hmmm?" She teased, tilting her head as if she had to think about it. "I know a few places where you can get some...though, how much are you willing to part with?"
  "I have about fifty thousand to play with," I informed as my chest swelling with more pride at the number. I wouldn"t spend all of it -- not when I had to pay off my armor, and naturally I was going to build up a nest egg, but the fact that I had 50 thousand valis when the other day I was in the felt gooood.
  "Then I know just the place for you. Go down the main road, towards the Ishtar familia home, until you see a far eastern style building with a statue of a mermaid in front of it," she said, reaching up to caress my cheek. "Oh, and don"t let the Ishtar familia catch you. It would be such a shame to ruin such a romantic night because I doubt they"ll let you leave for days."
  "Thank you," I said, trying not to think about the implications of what she said. Amazons were a female-only race that sought out powerful men to breed with. Meaning, they kidnapped strong men, fucked them until they made that sound in old cartoons when a well was tapped dry when they came, then they kicked them to the curb. The guy really never got a choice in the matter. Which was, you know, rape. "Now, what do I owe you for the information?"
  The first one stopped my hand from going to my pouch, "I don"t want money. How about you give us something to think about while we stand here all night while everyone else is enjoying themselves?" She said, a smile that told me exactly what she wanted.
  Well, I couldn"t say no to that. I leaned towards her, her going on her tippy toes but a problem was quick to present herself. She was nearly six feet tall, and I was 7"5. There was about a foot and a half distance between our lips. I fixed that by reaching behind her, my hands lifting her where her ass and thighs met and picked her up to close the distance.
  Her lips pressed against mine, I felt her purr as she opened up her mouth, her tongue snaking into mine as she ran her hands through my hair. Her tongue pressed against mine, tasting of cherries before she began to explore my mouth. Never one to submit, I pushed against hers, waging a war that let both sides win.
  I was the one that pulled away after a few long seconds, seeing the second amazon pout at us. She followed, pressing her lips against mine one last time before leaning back. "Good enough?" I asked, giving her firm ass a slight squeeze. She smiled in response, her hips perfectly poised to grind against my painfully hard dick. When I didn"t take it out and start fucking her then and there, she looked disappointed before nodding.
  "I suppose," she said, putting her hands on my chest and pushing me. She shot a smirk at the second guard, who scowled. I let her drop, though when I looked down I saw a wet spot on my thigh. Thighs. Both of them. So, maybe it wasn"t all fake after all. "Have a nice night. Oh, and if your goddess doesn"t satisfy you...feel free to come back!"
  "We"ll take every last drop! And, if you"re any good, we"ll let you do it for free!" The second one agreed, yelling out as I entered the pleasure district properly. There were few on the streets, most scantily clad women, some not bothering to wear a top at all. A few approached me, attaching themselves to my arms as I followed the guard"s instructions.
  I could still taste her as I walked through the street, feeling...conflicted. I mean, me and Hestia weren"t official or anything like that, so arguably I hadn"t done anything wrong just now., I felt like I betrayed her in a way. No, not in a way, I straight up betrayed her just now, didn"t I? I was certain that she had feelings for me, though I doubted it was flat out love like she felt for Bell, but I knew she at least felt something for me.
  Then I made out with another woman. Shit, I fucked up. It didn"t matter that there wasn"t anything official between us yet, she had feelings for me, I had feelings for her and that should be enough. Other girls would come up eventually, but that was something we had to talk about before I started making out with...whoever that was. Shit. Goddamn it.
  "Hopefully she won"t find out about that," I muttered to myself, my boner gone. It had been just so intoxicating that I completely lost myself in the felling of...being powerful. Wanted. It was too late to do anything about it now, but what I could do was make sure that it didn"t happen again.
  With their warning in mind, I went into the pleasure district, doing my best to keep a low profile, but found no success in that regard. Stealth really wasn"t a strong suit for me at 7'5. Even still, after pushing through a small crowd of groping prostitutes, I found the place guard spoke of. A small building tucked between two brothels that almost looked out of place in the district.
  I stepped inside, finding a store filled with oils, soaps, underwear, and lingerie. My eyes glanced over the price tags, descriptions of the contents and what they did. I came as no shock when I found that most of them were aphrodisiac. Expensive ones too. The cheapest I found was 10,000 and the most expensive was over 100,000. Still, that was fine.
  I ended up picking one that cost 20,000. Its description sounded like what I was aiming for. A mild aphrodisiac that would heighten sensitivity, but that was it. Meant to enhance a massage, but not overwhelm. Perfect for a virgin goddess.
  Next, I found some lose lingerie since I didn"t know Hestia"s sizes and didn"t want to get her something that didn"t fit. I stuck with the white and blue theme she had going for her. That cost me another 8,000 since it was made of silk. Since I still had some money to play around with before I hit my limit, I bought scented soaps, a towel, and an inflatable mattress thing that kinda looked like what you used to float in a pool.
  I checked out, waving goodbye at the cashier that looked like she was wearing her products, and headed home for was shaping up to be a nice night.
  Thankfully, I beat Hestia home, enacting a plan that formed the moment I saw the soaps. I grabbed a bucket, filling it with water and set it on top of the stove to warm it up. Once it got to an acceptable heat, I took it off and began blowing up the mattress after unpacking everything.
  Before long, I heard the front door scrape open, Hestia coming down the stairs. She looked dog tired, her eyes glazed over, her movements were stiff and overall, she looked miserable. Which was why I was here.
  "Have a rough day?" I asked, standing up and walking towards her. Hestia blinked at me, then she smiled half-heartedly at me, life returning to her gaze as she nodded.
  "Yeah..." She said, making no move to explain, but she didn"t need to. I worked in retail. People were stupid. Customers were worse. Having to deal with them pretty much all day, nonstop? That sounded like a nightmare.
  "Well then, let me take care of that for you, my goddess," I said, taking her by the hand, suppressing a smile when I saw her flush at the pet name. Then her blush deepened when she saw the oils and the inflatable mattress thing.
  "You were serious?" She asked, not sound displeased by it.
  "Of course I was. You"ve been working all day, and I think you need to relax a little after a long day," I said, earning those brownie points, as I brought her to a stool. "I bought some oils for you, but I found some other odds and ends that I think you might enjoy," I said, showing her the soaps.
  Hestia"s face lite up. At first, I thought it was because of the soaps, but I was proven wrong when she wrapped her arms around me in a hug, squeezing me with all her strength. I placed a hand on her back, lightly tracing her spine as she buried her face in my stomach. She didn"t say anything at all, she simply hugged me, but she didn"t need to say anything.
  "The water is getting cold," I spoke up after a few minutes. Hestia peeled her face off my abs to look up at me with some confusion.
  "Water?" She asked, telling me that she hadn"t realized that the soaps were soap.
  "Well, I thought you would like to get clean for the massage. Sweat and oil don"t really mix, you know?" I said, having absolutely no idea if what I said was true, thus it wasn't a lie. "We don't have a bath, but a quick scrub should do the trick." Then, lowering my voice, I continued with, "if you want, I could help you wash your back?"
  I felt Hestia go stiff against me, her eyes widening. I only had the guts to ask since she was so okay with Bell seeing her naked when Hermes tricked him into peeping. But, seeing how she hesitated, I continued with, "I have a towel for you to cover yourself with. Or, I could just head upstairs while you-"
  "You don't have to do that. Go upstairs, I mean. I would appreciate it if you could wash my back. peeking, okay?" Hestia agreed, earning a nod out of me.
  "No peeking," I agreed, knowing I would have to keep that promise since she was likely to ask if I had peeked. I took a step back, giving her a smile as I turned around. It didn't take long for Hestia to undress. The only thing keeping her dress up was the blue bow ties at her neck. I heard one-foot raise, then another as she took off her panties, then I heard her set down on the stool.
  "You can look now," she informed, sitting on the stool with her back facing towards me. For the most part, it wasn't anything I hadn't seen before since her dress left her back exposed. All except for her butt, the little I could see of it. Her front was covered by the towel, kept up with her hands. "Did you peek?"
  "No, I didn't," I answered honestly, seeing some of the tension in her shoulder vanish at that. "I'm about to start," I informed, grabbing a smaller towel that I bought and dipping it into the water. Wringing it out, I pressed it to her back and started to wipe her down. "Would you like to talk about your day? Vent a little?"
  Small talk would help her relax. It was already working since she let out a breath that I was sure she was holding the entire time. "They wouldn't stop coming! And I got yelled at by this really big adventurer- well, not as big as you, but he was really scary looking. The brute."
  "Did you now?" I asked, my voice going hard. "Did you get this adventurer"s name?"
  Hestia giggled as I slowly cleaned her back with a hot soapy towel. The tension eased out of her back, the intimate act of washing each other becoming more casual. "I didn't, but what if I did?" She asked, a smile in her voice.
  "Then I would find him and have a very strongly worded talk with him. With my fists," I tacked on, getting a bubbly laugh from her.
  "Don't do that. I can handle rude people like that no problem now! I mean, it used to really hurt my feelings before but now it's like water off a duck's back." Hestia proclaimed as I washed her lower back.
  "Are you sure? How about if I stand behind you when you're working. I bet you the rude customers would go down by a hundred percent," I said, smiling. Worse, I'd do it too if she asked. Was I whipped? A little? Eh, I couldn"t care less.
  "It's fine, I promise," Hestia refused with a laugh, twisting around to look at me and give me a broad smile. I smiled back at her, my washcloth edging towards her sides.
  "Hey, would you like me to wash your hair too?" I asked, grabbing a bottle of lavender smelling shampoo. I held it up under her nose to inspect. I expected her to think about it but she gave a happy nod. It seemed when she let her guard down, she let it all the way down. "Close your eyes," I said grabbing a small wooden cup to wet her hair.
  After wetting it, I poured some of the clear fluid onto her scalp and began to lather it up. "That feels really good," Hestia said, leaning into my touch. I had to pour more into her hair to lather it all up.
  "I don't know how you handle your hair being this long," I admitted, lathering it all up. "I'd think I'd go crazy if mine was."
  "That's because you're a boy," Hestia informed, letting her hands rest on her thighs since the towel was plastered to her body because of the water. "Girls get used to it pretty young," she continued as I then turned my soapy rag to her arms. She didn't go stiff or anything, letting me clean her arms as well.
  "I suppose that's true," I agreed, cleaning her other arm. I inched closer, on my knees but I still towered over her. I traced her sides, nearly touching the towel that covered her, as I began to wash her thighs. At that, she did stiffen up a little, so I continued with, "I was thinking about cutting mine. It gets all up in my face when in a fight."
  That distracted her as I reached forward, washing all the way down to her knee. Then, slowly, I brought it back until it pushed the edge of the towel up. "Really? I think it looks good how you have it," Hestia said, her ears going red as I went up and down again, moving to her inner thigh.
  "Well, in that case, I think I'll keep it then," I said, starting to wash her inner thigh. When I came up, Hestia's breathing hitched, the cloth brushing up near her vagina. "If you like it so much, then I have to keep it."
  Hestia laughed breathlessly as I switched thighs, putting the towel in my other hand. To keep the conversation going, I said, "We still have that invite out to the Hostess of Fertility, right?"
  "Y-yeah," Hestia confirmed as I washed the inside of her thigh. I wish the towel was thinner to let me feel her smooth skin, but I suppose I would feel it soon enough. Her breathing was becoming shallow and faster, her switch flipped.
  "We still haven"t celebrated forming our familia yet. Maybe we should do it soon and get a free meal out of it. I"ve heard the Hostess is an adventurer restaurant and that the food is pretty good." I said, pulling back. Before she could answer, I followed it up with, "would you like me to wash your front too?"
  "W-what?!" Hestia blurted, her spine going ramrod straight. So, she wasn"t that aroused. I would have to fix that soon enough.
  "Your stomach," I clarified with a smile in my voice, "but if you want me to go a little higher..."
  "My stomach is fine!" Hestia shouted, sounding so panicked that I couldn"t stop myself from laughing. She turned her head, pouting at me in an adorable way. "You"re teasing me," she accused me with the gravity of an accusation of witchcraft in Salem.
  "Only a little," I admitted. "I"m going to need you to move the towel, though. Don"t worry, I can"t see anything." Hestia blushed, but nodded, setting the damp towel to the side. With careful movement, I began to scrub at her stomach. I probably could see her breasts if I leaned forward some, but I didn"t. When I saw Hestia"s breasts, I wanted it to be a full-on view, not a top-down peek.
  I scrubbed her stomach, my reach inching higher until my hand scraped the underside of her breast. Hestia sucked in a breath, I quickly moved on, my touch not lingering. I shifted my arm, going in at a downward angle, and this time I really did touch her breast by accident. My forearm scraped against a pebbled nipple, her breath hitching again as she rubbed her thighs together.
  I dunked the cloth in the water as I leaned in, "are you sure you don"t want me to clean higher? It"ll be best for the massage," I added, giving her a reason to say yes. I"ve learned, despite living less than two decades, that people will say yes to things they never would have imagined if they"re horny enough. From stupid to sad to pathetic to flat out self-destructive.
  And Hestia had absolutely no tolerance for pleasure. She had her first orgasm last night. If she ever masturbated, she never did it well. An intimate act like bathing each other, teasing around her vagina and breasts?
  "W-Well, if it"s for the massage...I wouldn"t want you to waste the money you spent on me..." Hestia said, finding justifications for something that she wanted. I didn"t respond, simply flattening out the towel as I pressed it against her stomach, then traveled up. I cupped one of her breasts in my hand, making her moan. When my hand began to slip upwards towards her nipple, she practically melted.
  Hestia slumped against me, getting soap suds over my tank top, but I couldn"t care less as I groped her boob. I teased her hardened nipple between my fingers, pinching it ever so slightly. She might not even need the oil, Hestia was already proving to be exceptionally sensitive. As I moved my hand to the other breast, my thumb dragged across it, her head rolled back as she moaned my name.
  Shoving the caveman part of my brain that told me to take my dick out and fuck her, I took my time to caress her other breast, teasing and tugging at her other nipple just as much as I did the first. Minutes ticked by, the room filled with the sweet sounds of Hestia losing her mind as I switched between her breasts. They grew higher in pitch, her pants began gasps -- I probably knew what was about to happen long before Hestia did.
  Her hips jerked as she came, cum splattering out on the stool, as she went completely boneless in my arms. She moaned senselessly, trembling against me as I continued to drag out her pleasure by playing with her nipples. As much as I wanted to claim credit for being that good, I knew it was because of Hestia"s natural sensitivity. And maybe my Massage skill was more broad in its purposes than the name let on.
  I held her until she calmed down, her breathing evened out and she stopped trembling like a leaf. When she did, I leaned down and whispered, "are you ready for the massage my goddess?" I asked, making her shiver. She looked up at me, her expression telling me that she had completely forgotten about the massage. "First, we need to wash you off. Now, close your eyes..."
  After gently dumping the bucket of warm water over her, I grabbed a towel that I liberated from the Guildhall and began drying her. "Actually, I think I made some pretty good gains in the Dungeon. If we update my Status, that could make the massage feel even better."
  "Even better?" Hestia echoed, her mind still apparently recovering from the orgasm, sounding like she could hardly believe such a thing. She blinked slowly at me, then nodding shallowly. "I...I can do it here. Just...turn around please," Hestia said, her voice soft. I made sure she wasn"t going to fall over or anything, I turned around to fetch a needle and piece of paper.
  Sitting down while she sat on the stool, I felt her update my status-
  "KISSING?!" Hestia screamed so suddenly I nearly jumped to my feet, my heart nearly coming out of my throat. Then it plunged down to my stomach when I realized that wasn"t an offer. I got a Skill, didn"t I? "WHY DO YOU HAVE A KISSING SKILL?!" Hestia yelled loud enough she could have deafened me.
  "I..." I should tell the truth. But that would lead to other questions and those answers would lead somewhere that didn"t end with my hands on her body as she came while moaning my name. People did stupid things when they were horny enough, and I was no exception. I couldn"t lie and I sure as hell couldn"t tell her the truth...but...I could tell her a version of it. "I picked up the oils and stuff in the redlight district- please, let me continue," I interrupted when I heard her suck in a deep breath to do more yelling. "And...well...the Amazons...well, they liked me. A lot."
  "YOu..." Hestia started, falling silent. "Oh."
  "I asked for some advice on where to find massage oils, and when I offered to pay for it, she said that she didn"t want money. She wanted me," I explained, feeling Hestia rest her hands on my back. "They were groping me already by that time, and I"m pretty sure they were adventurers, and then one of them kissed me." All technically true.
  "I"m sorry," Hestia said, using the voice I was rapidly associating with her getting teary-eyed. "I-I shouldn"t have yelled, I should have-"
  I"m such a fucking asshole. I felt bad about that. I really, really, really did. Just...not enough to not be one, apparently.
  I shook my head, "I should have mentioned it to start with. Plus, it does look kinda shady." I admitted, reaching back with a hand to take one of hers to give it a reassuring squeeze.
  "No, I"m sorry." Hestia refuted strongly, squeezing my hand. "I should have asked for an explanation instead of start yelling at you. I should have trusted you," she stated, peeling the piece of paper off my back. "I promise I won"t make that mistake again."
  "...I know sometimes you think you aren"t a very good goddess, and you aren"t. You"re a great one, Hestia." I said, wishing I could turn around to hug- oh, no Hestia threw herself at my back, pressing her bare breasts against me. I could feel her rock hard nipples against my back, her cheek against my spine.
  Gently, careful not to ruin the moment, I stole a glance at my Status.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 7,683/1,000,000
  Strength: 11
  Endurance: 30
  Dexterity: 24
  Intelligence: 4
  Sense: 19
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 3% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.
  Kissing: An intimate act between lovers that, if done well, can bring pleasure to the target. Effectiveness is determined by the Dexterity and Sense stat.​
  How did I get so much exp- the guy I killed. It had to be. I killed plenty of monsters today, but nowhere near enough to get around 5,000 exp. That...I was going to think about later when the lion"s share of blood wasn"t residing in my dick.
  "It"s okay, there"s nothing to forgive, Hestia. Let"s just move on to your massage," I said, gently moving away from her. She let me, covering her breasts with an arm and closing her legs to preserve her modesty.
  "But," she started to protest, still feeling somewhat dower.
  "Hestia, tonight, more than anything, I want you to enjoy yourself as much as you can. This? If I have my way, then this is just the start of your night," I told her, placing a finger underneath her chin so she would look me in the eyes. Her blush really brought out how blue her eyes were.
  "I"m really lucky that you joined my familia," she informed me, getting up. She walked over to the mattress, displaying her pale ass to me. It wasn"t as big as her breasts, but it complimented her figure perfectly. The gap between her thighs offered up the briefest view of a narrow slit before she laid down on the mattress, ass up.
  I...made a mistake. Hestia was a virgin goddess, but that didn"t make her naive. I overplayed my hand. Of course, I did -- I lost myself playing with her boobs. There was no way that was an accident when I fondled them for minutes. However, instead of giving me a rightfully deserved slap in the face, Hestia chose to continue. Now it was a question of how far she was willing to continue.
  "I"m the lucky one, my goddess," I told her, grabbing the massage oil and uncapping it. There wasn"t a whole lot in there, despite the price tag, but hopefully, it would work as advertised. Hestia shivered when I said her pet name, then again when the oil dripped down her back, a few droplets landing on her butt, then a few on her legs all the way down to her feet.
  Then I started to rub it in. Despite wanting to delve right into it, I started with her back, working the oil into her skin. Despite her willingness to continue, I felt how tense she was. A blush colored her cream flesh a deep red, probably very aware of her nudity.
  "How does it feel, my goddess? Does it feel any better than it did yesterday?" I asked, starting to spread the oil on her other half, giving her skin a glossy sheen. I skipped her butt, for now. Judging from the amount of arousal leaking from her, her switch was still flipped, but she needed to relax first.
  "Yesss..." Hestia moaned so deeply I nearly started laughing. I massaged her feet, working my way up her calves and then higher like I did yesterday. "It, I don"t know how to describe it, but it feels soooo goood."
  "That"s what I wanted to hear," I told her, my hands tracing up her thighs before zeroing in on her butt. I started on the outer edges before slowly working my way in, leaving no mistake that it was purely intentional. A ragged breath escaped Hestia when her entire butt was covered in oil, letting me massage it in. "I want you to relax. Forget about today, and just focus on what you"re feeling right now.
  "I can doo that," Hestia groaned, turning her head to the side so I could see the glazed over look in her eyes, completely lost in a sea of pleasure. I rubbed her inner thigh, going up towards her vagina, and teasing around it without touching the narrow slit that wept arousal, her labia puffy and red, opening up ever so slightly to reveal her pink inner lips.
  I drug out her anticipation, constantly going near her vagina without ever touching it. I felt her twitch underneath my ministrations, seeking the pleasure that would send her over the edge again. Her breathing became ragged, lifting her hips off the mat to give me better access that I didn"t use, tempting me. Even better, I doubt she realized she was doing it.
  I thought about edging her, denying her the orgasm she so desired to make her more desperate, but I couldn"t do it. Hestia looked a mess, her groin soaked with oil and arousal, her eyes glazed over while her face was flushed. I couldn"t not send her over the edge. I drug a thumb over her clit, making her hips buck upwards as she came. And she came hard.
  "Hngh," Hestia tried to keep her moans in as quim erupted from her. It came out with less explosive force than her first orgasm, but it still soaked her lower half, droplets running down her oiled skin, shook off by her trembling legs. As much as she tried, she couldn"t keep down her sweet moans as waves of pleasure crashed over her.
  I traced her spine throughout her orgasm, watching her tremble like a leaf for the second time tonight. This time I got a much better view of her face as it twisted, her mouth slack as her eyelids butterflied open and closed.
  "Now...," I said, a hand dipping lower to caress her ass. "Time for the front half."
  It took Hestia a moment to formulate words, an expression of incomprehension on her face. "There"s more?" She asked breathlessly,
  "Tonight ends when you"re a puddle of goo, my goddess," I informed, gently flipping her over with her consent. Instantly, my eyes were drawn to her breasts. Large full breasts capped with a small hard light pink nipple. Even laying down, her breasts perked upwards, displaying their firmness for me to see.
  "You"re staring," Hestia informed, mumbling shyly as she looked anywhere but at me. Her embarrassed expression torn between seeming meek and pleased.
  "I couldn"t help myself, my goddess," I told her honestly, pouring more oil on her front half. "You"re too beautiful for me not to stare." I started to rub in the oil on her surprisingly firm stomach, leaving her breasts for last. Her groin was devoid of a single hair, a small cleft between her legs marking her vagina, the sensitive button of ecstasy free of its protective hood.
  "I"m not as beautiful as Freya," Hestia pointed out, calming down somewhat now that I resumed massaging her legs.
  "You"re much more beautiful than Freya," I argued, my hands gliding over her smooth oiled skin. "She might be a goddess of love and fertility, but I don"t think she knows what love is. Love isn"t like the wind that blows one way, then another, leaving a trail of broken hearts in its wake. Love is a rock that moves for nothing and no one. Against reason, logic or reality -- true love will stay in face of it all with a person until their dying day."
  I"m not sure who I just ripped that speech off, but I sent them a silent thank you.
  I massaged her stomach, meeting Hestia"s enraptured gaze, "Freya might be beautiful physically, but she"s all ugly on the inside. You, on the other"re even more beautiful on the inside than you are on the outside. And you are drop-dead gorgeous," I told her, seeing her bottom lip quivering again.
  "Jericho, I...I want to...uh...your...your Skill! I, we, should..." Hestia fumbled with her words, her face going bright red until I was sure steam was about to erupt from her ears. Still, I knew what she was trying to say.
  "Hm," I started, my hands closing in on her breasts. "I want to kiss you Hestia, and it"s not to test my new Skill," I told her. Her eyes went wide, her lips parting to say something, whatever it was, it was lost to time when I sealed my lips over hers. Unlike before, it wasn"t a battle of tongues for dominance. It was a sweet, chaste kiss -- perfect for Hestia.
  My hands enveloped her breasts as we kissed, Hestia grabbed my shoulders to bring me in closer, which I obliged. She moaned into my mouth as I tweaked her nipples, without the cloth I felt just how firm they were. I rolled one between my fingers as I thumbed the other back and forth. Hestia"s hips bucked again beneath me -- this time it wasn"t a physical high that made her cum, but an emotional one.
  She squirmed underneath me, her mouth opening wider to moan. I licked her bottom lip, tasting... salt and jagamarukuns. It was so fitting that I nearly laughed into her mouth. I felt her smile in response to mine, even as she shivered like she was freezing. Slowly, reluctantly, I pulled back, Hestia trying to keep her lips on mine until she couldn"t anymore.
  "Wow," Hestia murmured, leaning into my touch when I reached up to caress her face, uncaring of the oils still on my fingers.
  "That"s my line," I told her, going back down to press a featherlight kiss to her waiting lips. Hestia hummed in appreciation, copying my movements. She was a quick study. Cautiously, she licked my bottom lip like I had done to her, prompting me to open my mouth a little more. To my surprise, she slipped her tongue into my mouth. She didn"t explore, I could feel her hesitation as she gently prodded her tongue against mine.
  I resisted the urge to dominate the kiss, to blow her mind to smithereens. Instead, I gently prodded her tongue back, letting her explore my mouth at her own pace. We kissed for some time, before this time, it was Hestia that pulled back. Her usually pale lips were red and swollen, it took everything that I had to not lean down and capture her lips in mine again.
  "Jericho...are...we...going to...?" Hestia asked, unable to look anywhere but at my face now. I felt myself stir at the question, my cock doing its absolute best to rip through my pants to answer the question for me. I would be a liar if I said I didn"t want to give in, to take out my dick and wrap Hestia around it.
  But...this wasn"t how I wanted to take her virginity. She was a goddess. My goddess. She deserved better than to lose her first time in a hovel, on a massage mat, after a long day of work.
  "Not tonight," I answered, pulling off her, smirking slightly as she ran her hands down my chest as I did so. "The first time we make love, I promise you it"s going to be something special." With my decision made, I grabbed a clean towel from a warm bucket of water that I set earlier to clean up the aftermath.
  "Making love. I like that," Hestia said with a smile bright enough it illuminated the dark room we lived in. I started to wipe down her body to get the oil off, fidgeting a little when I wiped down her breasts first. They really everything I hoped they'd be. "Have you ever...?"
  "I have," I answered, wiping down her legs.
  "Oh," Hestia said, disappointed. I offered her a smile as I moved on to her other leg.
  "I think it might be for the best," I told her, lifting one leg to rest on my hip as I cleaned the bottom half. "There's rarely any pleasure during a girl's first time. Especially when the guys a virgin too. This way, when we do make love, it'll be nothing but ecstasy, my goddess."
  Hestia blushed down to her toes. "You know what calling me that does," she accused, her eyes closing as I began to clean her butt of oil.
  "Does my goddess want me to stop?" I asked, watching her nether lips twitch at the pet name. The answer was obvious.
  "No, I don't," Hestia replied, obediently sitting up so I could clean her back. "I like it."
  "I like it too," I admitted, now drying her off. This time I simply cleaned her, my hands lingering nowhere. Well, not for long. "now, are you ready for the final part?"
  "There's more?" Hestia exclaimed, her eyes dipping down to my cock. I wish that what came next, but it was too late to backtrack now.
  "I noticed how you always sleep in your dresses," I told her, grabbing a bag and holding it out for her to take. "I thought you might like this since it would be a little more comfortable."
  Hestia reached in, pulling out a white silk nightdress lined with soft blue fur around the edges. Hooked underneath was a connected string that could be called underwear if your standards were low enough. "I love it! Let me- whoa," she said, starting to get up but her legs failed to support her.
  Every man dreams of this moment. I made Hestia cum so hard that she couldn't stand.
  "Let me," I said, taking the top from her and pulling it overhead. Hestia slipped her head through, marveling at the texture with childlike joy. I underestimated her breast size, they pulled up the front of the nightie to show off her flat stomach. Then I grabbed the thong, making Hestia fall silent as I began to slid it upwards.
  "Its-!" She started to protest when it slipped between her buttcheeks.
  "I can't speak from experience, but I've heard that once you get used to it's a lot more comfortable than wearing panties," I explained. Hestia looked uncertain, shifting her hips to get used to it. "Do you like it?"
  "I love it," Hestia repeated, wrapping her arms around me. "It's perfect."
  "Glad to hear it. And now it's time for bed," I said, picking her up bridal style and carrying her to the bed. Setting her down, I hesitated to go to the couch, but a hand pulling me forward gave me permission to get into bed with her. I settled in next to her, looking over at Hestia to see she was giving me bedroom eyes.
  With no other choice, I picked her up and deposited her on top of me. Hestia sighed with contentment, settling in as I pulled the blanket over both of us, leaving my feet and shins exposed.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. I hope you enjoyed!
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  Versed in the lewd.
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  Have you ever had a scene that just...keeps going? That"s what happened in this chapter. I intended a scene to be around two thousand words and it ended up being around six. And I have no idea how it happened.
  Days that I woke up on the right side of the bed were rare. I mean, there's waking up feeling normal, as in you didn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed, but that's not what I meant. As sleep lost its grip on me, I woke up feeling good. Great, even. I felt like the world was my oyster. The past couple of days, despite minor setbacks, have all been pretty great. Amazing, really.
  For a moment each morning, right before I opened my eyes, I worried that I would wake up to find myself back in my old room, in my old body, and in my old life. I worried that all of this was just a dream. Then I opened my eyes each morning to see that this dream was reality. That moment was the moment I woke up on the right side of the bed. With Hestia on top of me, lightly snoring as she drooled on me, a wet spot forming on my chest -- drool was somehow cute when a smol goddess did it.
  What time was it? 4:00. In the morning. That was early for me and I was an early bird by every definition. Ah...well...early bird gets the worm and all that.
  I shifted, intending to pull that maneuver Bell had in the anime so Hestia would be flipped onto the bed without being any the wiser. However, as soon as I started, Hestia's eyes opened. She looked at me, her eyes blinking a few times to clear them of sleep, then a lazy smile appeared on her face while a deep blush graced her cheeks. "H-hey," she greeted, her blush intensifying.
  "Hey," I returned, feeling I should have said something a little more romantic. "Sorry for waking you up so early, didn't mean to."
  Hestia unsuccessfully stifled a yawn, "s'fine," she dismissed. She shifted - ah. So that's what woke her up. To be honest, there was absolutely no way I wasn't going to be sporting some morning wood with Hestia on top of me. Especially when I blue-balled myself last night in the name of the greater good.
  Her eyes dipped lower to my mouth, it was barely noticeable, but when she looked back to my eyes, only to look down again, it was kinda obvious. I smirked, Hestia blushed, realizing that she had been caught, but when her lips parted to say something, I reached down to grab her where her thighs and butt met to pull her towards me.
  I pressed my lips against hers, Hestia melts in response as she kissed back. My hands gripped her waist, I could nearly grab both sides with one since she was so small, with my fingers spread wide. The kiss was chaste her lips moving against mine in a similar fashion that we did last night. Deciding to mix things up a bit, I licked her bottom lip, earning a small "eep" than got a chuckle out of me.
  Tilting my head, I gently pried open her mouth, Hestia hesitantly allowing me before she moaned into my mouth as my tongue brushed up against hers. I squeezed her butt, playing with the soft globes of flesh. Het tongue probed mine, unsure -- I should take it easy on her since this was quite literally her second kiss in her life,...but I wanted to see those expressions that she made last night again.
  Instead, I dominated the kiss, ravaging her mouth with my tongue as one hand slowly crept upwards. My fingers ghosted over her side, slipping underneath the silk nightdress lined with soft blue fur. Hestia went tense when my hand groped her breast, zeroing in on her pebbled nipple. I rolled in between a finger and thumb, making her relax as she moaned again, her breath tickling my cheeks.
  Slowly, Hestia pulled back -- had I pushed too far? The expression that Hestia wore told me that I hadn"t gone far enough, "your thing is really hard." She pointed out breathlessly, swallowing thickly. I opened my mouth to say something, but Hestia was quick to cut me off. "Can I take care of it?"
  I kissed her again, just because I could. Hestia leaned into the kiss, both of my hands going up to grope both her breasts. Her breathing grew harsh, her hands hesitantly going up to my face and hair. We kissed for a long minute before Hestia pulled away again, panting. "T-that didn"t answer my question," she pointed out, getting a chuckle from me.
  "Do you want to?" I asked, dragging a thumb over her nipples. Her hands went to mine, caressing them as I caressed her breasts. The smooth flesh was surprisingly firm as I squeezed ever so slightly. It took Hestia a moment to answer as she panted for breath, a heavy blush that stretched all the way down to her chest on her face.
  "You said last night was all about my, I want this morning to be about yours," Hestia said, growing more and more embarrassed with each word she spoke. I smiled, pushing myself up so I was resting against the wall.
  "I think I"d enjoy that a lot," I told her, one hand going up to her face, my thumb tracing her lips. I was painfully hard at this point -- after not finishing last night, and seeing Hestia"s needy expression, I doubt I"d last long, unfortunately. "But," I started, tracing her bottom lip, logic telling me not to ask but my penis overruled it. "Do you want to try something a little...different?"
  Hestia looked dangerously excited at my question, "something different?" She questioned, leaning into my touch.
  "A blowjob?" I tried, picturing her soft lips wrapped around my cock. I doubt she would be able to take me very deep but it would be enough. My cock throbbed with anticipation, bumping into her lower back. Hestia, this time, didn"t freeze up at the contact, though she did advert her eyes.
  "Um," she started shyly, "what"s a blowjob?"
  Wow. "It's where you..." How did I explain blowjobs in a way that actually sounded arousing? "You kiss my dick, kinda like how we were kissing earlier. But, we should start slow, if you want to. How about...licking it?" I tried, feeling like I through botched making sticking my penis in her mouth sound exciting. Luckily, Hestia was too aroused to care -- her switch flipped as she nodded mutely, blushing all the way down to her toes now.
  "I can do that," Hestia said, lifting herself off me to put herself in between my legs. She looked at my cock standing proudly so intensely she almost went cross-eyed. Words of dismissing the idea weighed heavily on my tongue, only held back by the fact that Hestia looked more uncertain than uncomfortable. Eventually, she nodded as she licked her lips, her head bobbing down as her eyes darted up to mine. Then, she planted a small kiss to the head.
  It felt good, but that wasn"t what made my cock throb to the point that I nearly erupted then and there. A god, a bonafide deity, just kissed my dick.
  I smiled at the thought, Hestia mistaking it as approval, though she was hardly wrong there, and prompted her to kiss it again. She planted butterfly kisses down the length of my cock, starting at the head and slowly making her way all the way down to my balls. Her breath tickled the underside of my penis before she pulled back ever so slightly. I saw her lick her lips again, our eyes making contact a moment before she leaned back in to give the underside a small lick.
  I let a breath out, making a show that what felt good. A lesson I learned a long time ago was that girls tended to prefer vocalizations over dead silence. As expected, Hestia was encouraged by the noise, giving me a second lick, bolder this time. She dragged her tongue along my length, going from the base back up to the head.
  "Like that?" Hestia asked, getting a nod from me as I let the tension bleed out of me.
  "Exactly like that," I praised, encouraging her to dive back into the task. She licked the underside again, tracing the thick vein with her tongue before her hands joined in on the fun. Her hands went down to the base as she coated the top half of my dick with saliva. Hestia focused on the head, her lips scraping against it as she lapped at my dick, seemingly absorbed in the task.
  I closed my eyes, taking a bracing breath and felt the orgasm brewing after a couple of minutes. I wasn"t going to last much longer, much to my disappointment. My eyes shot open when Hestia licked around the head before popping as much as she could of it into her mouth. I expected to feel teeth, but when my eyes snapped open, I saw that she had opened her mouth as wide as it would go while still keeping her lips around my dick.
  Like I expected, she couldn"t take me very deep though she managed to take in the head and a little more. Her tongue swirled around the head-
  "I"m about to cum," I warned, my cock throbbing, telling her that. Hestia pulled her head back just in time to catch the first blast of cum. It splattered over her lips, making her flinch back but for some reason, she didn"t back off entirely. A second blast came out with more force, this one landing on her forehead, a strand connecting it to her cheekbone over her eye. Another blast landed on her cheek.
  Another blast came from the apparently endless supply of cum stored in my balls, landed lower, painting her collar bone and cleavage white. Then another blast came, weaker this time that landed on her breasts and nightie. A sixth rope came out, the weakest by far that limply landed on her cleavage. The last didn"t have any force behind it at all, it spilled out of my dick, running down its length and over her hands.
  "Whoa," I muttered, torn between awe and concern. That was...a lot of cum. Like, a lot of cum. Seriously, where did all of that come from?
  Hestia finally pulled back, looking at me with panic in the one eye that wasn"t glued shut with cum. Her gaze dipped down back to my dick and, to my greater surprise, it didn"t show any signs of going down at all. That...was new. I mean, the spirit was willing, but the body was weak and had a refractory period -- an insurmountable obstacle to overcome.
  Wait, did my body start following hentai logic now that I was in an anime world? Cumming literal gallons of cum, the refractory period only applying to beta males that couldn"t cum fifteen times in a row and so on? Because...well...I"m not exactly going to complain about that.
  "You"re still hard," Hestia noted as she gave me an experimental squeeze to find that I hadn"t gone limp at all. My eyes dipped lower to where my cum splattered over her breasts, thick white drops slowly dripped downwards into her cleavage. Well...
  "It probably because of my Endurance stat," I hazarded a guess, shifting forward. It was over 25 now, so perhaps that was some kind of milestone. But, wasn"t there usually some kind of update that came with stuff like that? Actually, outside of my menus, there hadn"t been any kind of interaction with the game system at all.
  "Oh," Hestia muttered, her hands stroking my cock at a snail"s pace. "Can I keep going?" She asked, straightening up, her arms pushing her cum covered cleavage to view -- she probably caught me looking. Her hips shifted, grinding her thighs together, bringing my attention to her groin. A drop of arousal dripped down her inner thigh, telling me she was enjoying this as much as I was.
  "I"d love it if you did," I told her honestly, a hand going up to her nightie. Hestia let me take it off her, careful not to get more cum on it, before I tossed it to the side, revealing her chest to me. She started to move to cover her breasts, only for my hands to grab her wrists, stopping her. "Would you like to try something else?" I asked, my gaze darting back down to her marvelous breasts.
  Her sizable breasts fought against gravity, perfectly perky despite their weight with a small pink nipple serving as their peek.
  "Something new?" Hestia asked as I let go of her wrists so my hands could go to her chest. A breathless moan escaped her, tilting her head back, my cum still coating her face. I assaulted her nipples again, rolling them between my fingers as I leaned in close. The size difference made it awkward, but I planted a kiss at the base of her neck, leaving behind a lovebite.
  "Do you know what a titjob is, my goddess?" I asked, whispering in her ear. I heard her swallow thickly, her hands continuing to stroke my cock.
  "I think I can guess," Hestia muttered back, "but how..." She trailed off, one hand going up to touch my abs. Her fingers were a little wet with something, but I paid it no mind.
  "There are a couple of ways. I could lay on my back with you on top, or if I sit on the edge of the bed you can do it like that. And, I guess you could be on the bottom and I thrust," I explained, trying to picture the last one. I"d probably crush her underneath me on accident, so maybe I shouldn"t have brought that one up.
  Hestia"s hand retreated from my abs to push on my chest, "lay down," she ordered, her voice husky. "T-this is all about you this morning, so I don"t want you doing anything but relaxing, okay?" She said, trying to copy my tone. She hadn"t succeeded there, but the results were the same. Hearing her speak like that was arousing as all hell.
  "Yes ma"am," I agreed, a smile in my voice as I shifted back down, using a pillow to make myself a little more comfortable. Hestia glanced down at my still hard cock, uncertainly. Right when I was about to instruct her how to start, Hestia leaned forward, cupping her breasts and planting my penis between them. Squeezing down, she glanced up at me to see if she was doing it right and when she got an approving nod, Hestia slowly began to rise up and down, the cum and spit providing lube.
  It felt surprisingly good. Her breasts were firm enough to offer some resistance but were just as soft. Her movements were awkward, unsure of herself, but that didn"t detract from the experience. "Does it feel good?" She asked, forced to move her entire upper body to cover the length of my cock, a significant portion of it poking up between. Her open eye looked down at it, memorized by the sight, an expression of shock appearing each time the tip of my penis neared her face each time she moved.
  "It feels great," I told her, a hand going down to rest on top of her head, savoring the feeling of her breasts wrapped around my cock. My words encouraged her, prompting her to increase her pace. Her gaze flicked up to me for a moment before she stuck her tongue out to lick the head, getting a soft sigh from me. "Keep doing that," I instructed, my other hand going down to play with her nipples.
  Minutes passed and I felt another orgasm brewing in my balls. Hestia"s eye was glazed over, lost in pleasure even as she pleasured me. She took the head into her mouth, her tongue lapping at it, drool dripping from the seal around it down my dick, into her breasts that offered more lubrication. A sheen of it marked her chin, the sounds of a sloppy blowjob echoing in the small room.
  A small gag escaped her when she took me down a little too far, forcing her to back off. Before I could say anything, she went right back to it, licking at my dick free of its coat of cum and saliva and popped it back into her mouth as her breasts continued to massage me.
  "I"m about to cum again," I warned her, feeling my climax inch closer the longer she continued. At the very least, I lasted a lot longer this time. Instead of backing off like last time, Hestia latched down around my cock, probably wanting to avoid another blast of cum to the face. My balls clenched as my dick throbbed as I felt the cum erupt from me, telling me it was a massive load before Hestia"s eyes shot open in shock.
  Her cheeks bulged out comically as a groan escaped me, she pulled back after taking a few blasts. When she did, another rope of cum hit her in the face, coating her cheek while another two did the same to her bare breasts. Hestia looked down at herself in some panic, my dick finally beginning to wilt -- it seems two shots was all I could do for now.
  "Are you supposed to cum this much?" Hestia asked, cupping her hands around her breasts to catch drops of cum that dripped down her body. Her upper body wasn"t completely coated in a glaze of white, but there was a lot of cum. A lot of cum. I watched one droplet drip down between her cleavage, going down her flat stomach where it would have hit her thong but Hestia killed its ambitions by wiping it away, spearing it over her stomach.
  "I have no idea," I admitted, searing the sight to memory. She looked good like that, I decided as she searched for something to clean herself with. Still, my attention dipped to her groin, she was completely drenched. Had she cum again from me playing with her nipples? I don"t think so, I hadn"t seen the signs of her having an orgasm. I guess she really did enjoy that as much as I did. "But that felt amazing," I told her as I pushed myself up, towering over her.
  Hestia smiled up at me, the fact that her face had more than a little cum on it didn"t detract at all from the sight. "I"m glad," she told me honestly, " feel as good as you made me feel?" She questioned, unsubtly looking down at my flaccid dick.
  I cracked a grin, "I dunno...last night was so long ago..." I started, a hand going down to her thigh as I started to lean over her. Hestia leaned back, surprised until her back hit the bed. She looked up at me wide-eyed, her mouth open to ask what I was doing, but a moan came out instead when my fingers went to her covered vagina, zeroing in on the pleasure button.
  Hestia"s hips jerked, her breath hitching, clearly enjoying it but when she shook her head, I paused. "T-today was supposed to be about you," she protested weakly, her hips going up, searching for my touch of their own will.
  "But I like watching you cum, my goddess," I told her, my fingertips going back down to her aching clit. She had already soaked through the fabric I realized when I traced her slit. "And how could I leave my goddess alone when she needs me so desperately?" I asked, making small circles on her vagina, something she seemed to love as she quivered underneath me.
  "You- fuuu," Hestia breathed, her hands latching onto an arm as she stared up at me, her jack slack so her mouth was wide open. Her moans were music to the ear, slowly getting higher in pitch as she rapidly neared her own orgasm. I saw the exact moment it hit her like a sack of bricks, her hips bucked underneath my touch, her juices gushing out of her, the thin fabric offering up as a flimsy barrier. I kept making those small circles, drawing out her orgasm.
  It was minutes later when Hestia finally began to calm down, though she still trembled. I knew she finally came to when she closed her mouth, her breathing evening out. "J-Jericho..." Hestia moaned, a hand going down to mine, bringing it closer to her groin- at least she was before she pushed my hands away.
  "I"m sorry, was that too much?" I asked, not sure if I had overstepped or not. Hestia quickly shook her head, soothing my fears.
  "No, I-" Hestia cut herself off, closing her legs as I moved to get off her, her hand still gripping mine. "I just...I want be the first thing that enters me...down there," Hestia said, and impossibly, she blushed even brighter than she had before. I half expected steam to come bursting out of her ears like a teapot left on the stove too long.
  It was a very good thing that I didn"t have a third shot in me because I probably would have buried myself into her right then. Luckily, my brain had the lion share of blood now, and immediately I zeroed in on the issue there. "Hestia, have you ever masturbated before?" I asked, catching her off guard with the question.
  Hesitantly, still blushing but at ease as I rubbed the back of her hand with my thumb. "I haven"t," she admitted shyly.
  Wow. So, a virgin in every sense of the word, huh? "Then that might be a bad idea," I told her, my voice low, "I could really hurt you when we make love for the first time. I mean, like physically hurt you." Vaginal tearing was no joke. I had a bitch breaker and Hestia would be beyond virgin tight -- I watched enough hentai to know anime women"s vaginas were probably one of the most durable things in existence, but I didn"t want Hestia associating sex with excruciating pain.
  "It"s fine," Hestia tried to dismiss the issue, but I pressed on.
  "Hestia, the very last thing I ever want to do is hurt you," I told her, getting a giddy smile since I was telling the truth. "But if we don"t stretch you out before we have sex, then you"re going to be in incredible pain. I"m talking about the kind of pain that we"ll need to keep a health potion nearby, to-"
  "Then we"ll do that," Hestia decided, squeezing my hand, giving me a firm look. "Jericho, I know you mean well, but I"ve been saving my virginity for thousands of years. This is how I want to lose it," Hestia told me firmly, cutting me off when I opened my mouth to argue. I really didn"t think she understood just how much that was going to hurt.
  But, if we"re going by hentai biology, then, theoretically, if I got her aroused enough then somehow that would mean it wouldn"t hurt going it. Not entirely sure how that worked, but it was a pretty prevalent thing in hentai. Hell, if I did enough foreplay, then me thrusting into her could give her a mind-blowing orgasm, or something.
  However, Hestia took my hesitation as something else. "I know I"m acting all...slutty," she told me, unable to look up at me all of a sudden as I blinked in surprise. "I know we"ve only known each other a few days, and I"ve been tempting you, but I-I, Jericho, I...!"
  "What?" I blurted before I could stop myself, probably cutting off an emotional outburst. If I could have stopped myself, I would have, but that caught me completely off guard. Tempting me? I mean, I guess, but that was me being a horndog more than her putting any effort into tempting me.
  "I"ve been tempting you," Hestia explained as if what she said made any sense. "When you give me massages, I always turn it into...something else. And I touched your p-penis and stuff," she kinda explained, but not really.
  "Hestia," I interrupted, "I"ve been seducing you," I told her bluntly, wanting to nip that miscommunication in the bud.
  "What?" Hestia blurted, looking at me with no small amount of bewilderment. "You"ve been seducing me?"
  "...yeah?" I admitted with some sheepishness. Maybe I shouldn"t have said anything?
  Hestia still looked completely bewildered, like I was trying to tell her that the sky was green and it was raining jagamarukuns. "But...really?" She questioned, trying to wrap her head around the fact but she was visibly struggling with the concept that I was seducing her.
  "Yeah," I confirmed, feeling more than a little awkward about it now. I shouldn"t have said anything. I should have reassured her, or something, then we could have ended on a cute, high note. "I...kinda thought you knew?"
  "Oh..." Hestia trailed off, not looking...displeased by that, which was a lot better than her getting angry. "Is that why you"ve been so...?" She questioned, drawing into herself.
  I shook my head, buying me a second to gather my thoughts, "I can"t say that it doesn"t have something to do with it." I admitted honestly, seeing Hestia tense up at that, "but, it"s not like that was the whole reason, you know?" I quickly continued, feeling like there was a lot better way to tell her this. "I mean, I, well, I do care about you, Hestia. A lot. And it"s pretty clear you"re exhausted after work, so I would have done a lot of that stuff anyway."
  She hadn"t let go of my hand, so that was a good sign. "And since you were so receptive to it, I guess I kept pushing the envelope. I..." I trailed off lamely, having no idea what I was trying to say. "I guess, I wanted you to like me as much as I liked you? So, I went out of my way to get massage oils and stuff?" Which was pretty much the textbook definition of seductions. God, when I wasn"t ripping off one-liners, I actually sucked at this whole conversation thing.
  " aren"t just doing this because you want to sleep with me?" Hestia asked, her voice carefully kept even as she looked up at me. The serene expression she was going for was ruined by the sheer amount of cum on her face, but I took her seriously all the same.
  "No, I"m not doing all of this just because I want to sleep with you," I answered, squeezing her hand. Again, I couldn"t help but note it was comically small in mine. "If you want to stop all this, then we can," I offered, "just say the word."
  Hestia fiddled where she sat, "I don"t want to stop," she told me and I couldn"t hide the relief that flowed through me. Hestia looked up at me for a moment before she leaned in for a hug- ah, that was gross. The cum on her chest and face smeared over me, Hestia completely oblivious to it as she hugged me as tightly as she could.
  Clenching my eyes, ignoring the gross factor, I hugged her back. I let out a breath I hadn"t realized I had been holding. This was...nice. Clearing the air, making sure that we were on the same page. When I opened my eyes, I looked over the room, spotting the oils and mat still on the coffee table, next to a pile of books that I hadn"t touched yet. I really needed to take a moment and start reading them, but it felt like there was never enough time in the day.
  Then my gaze landed on my breastplate leaning up near the door. I had to be seen taking it off so no one would know about my Inventory at the it post nut clarity, but why was I keeping it a secret from Hestia? She was my goddess. I always preferred it when I was reading fanfiction that the gamer abilities remained a secret and exclusive, but just because that"s how I preferred it in fiction didn"t mean it was a bright idea to do it in reality.
  It was a pretty big thing to keep secret for no real reason. At all.
  "Hestia, there"s one more thing I need to tell you," I said, ruining the tender moment before I could talk myself out of it. This was something she needed to know. Not just about my Inventory, but about my Skill Gamer Body.
  Hestia pulled back from me, her expression more curious than cautious underneath smeared cum. I opened my mouth, but the words wouldn"t come. How did I explain this? It would be similar to show her, I figured.
  I reached into my inventory, sticking my hand into empty air, and pulled out one of the leftover magic stones. I held it out to her, seeing growing confusion on her face. You know what? I probably should have saved this conversation when Hestia wasn"t covered in cum. When I didn"t more than a little of it smear over me from the hug. She took it from my hand, looking back up at me, "a magic trick?" She tried to rationalize but I shook my head.
  "I figured out what my Skill Gamer Body does," I started slowly. Actually, to further prove my point, I pulled another towel that I stole from the guildhall out to pass over to her. Now, Hestia looked far more concerned than confused, there was no mistaking that for a sleight of hand. She took it, looking it over for a moment, then her gaze silently demanding an explanation.
  "Tell me everything," Hestia asked, wiping cum from her face.
  So, I did. I started right from the beginning. I started with my death at the front bumper of Truck-kun, which lead me to explain what a truck was. Then that lead me to explain that I was from a different world. And, oddly enough, Hestia hadn"t been totally blown away by that fact like I expected.
  Despite it only happening for a couple of days, there was a lot to talk about. Some parts got glossed over as we moved on from topic to topic. My character creator wasn"t mentioned beyond that I could choose my start and what perks I could get. Which lead to Hestia asking if that was why I always smelled good. My Inventory raised more questions than my stats, though I did explain what an exp bar was.
  Hestia listened, nodding every once in a while to show that she was still following along. When I finished, she gave one final serene nod. "It sounds like one of the gods in heaven is making their own fun," she said, handing me the cum stained towel to watch me put it back into my inventory.
  "Er," I started, not exactly sure how to respond to that. Of all the responses I expected, that...hadn"t been on the list. I expected yelling, or an existential crisis, or something like that. Hestia saw my confusion and continued.
  "Jericho, the gods in heaven can still use their arcanum, so they can do some very...incredible, if questionable things," Hestia began, leaning against me as she spoke, one hand tracing my bicep. "It sounds like one of them looked into the far future and took your soul when...when you died and instead of reincarnating you like normal, they altered your soul in some way before sending you down back into the past."
  What? There was a whole lot to unpack there. I don"t even know where to start.
  "I"m...not sure about that," I argued, frowning in thought. I knew about the Danmachi universe, and I had my choice to pick which world I went to. " the gods know about other worlds?" I questioned, making Hestia"s hand stop.
  A sigh seemed to deflate her, "yes?" Hestia said, the confirmation sounding like a question. "Heaven is timeless, Jericho and it"s everywhere. This world, the lower world, was the only one that we can interact with at all, but the gods do know of a couple of other worlds. Some have a talent for finding them -- they, ah, served as entertainment back in Heaven before we came down."
  Huh. This...brought up a lot of theological questions that I wasn"t prepared to think about. "So, what, do all souls go to heaven?" I asked, thinking back to my strict catholic upbringing. Was that true for the entire multiverse?
  Hestia shook her head, "no, not all of them. If the world is close enough, then a god can take a soul from that world. I think that"s what happened to you," Hestia elaborated, "but this is the only world where all souls go to heaven. From there, they"re usually reincarnated since the gods back in heaven are really overworked. Like, really, really, really overworked. If all the souls from all the worlds went to Heaven..." Hestia trailed off, giving an exaggerated shiver, a haunted look on her face since it wasn"t that long ago she was one of those overworked gods.
  "So, did they...arrange my death?" I asked, trying to wrap my head around the idea. Was it possible? I don"t know. It made as much sense as a game system deciding to give me a second lease on life after death. And there was the whole typical ROB thing that most self-inserts used which was pretty much the same thing as Hestia was describing -- a bored god seeking entertainment at another's expense. Not to mention I had a literal god confirming that it was possible.
  But I couldn't bring myself to fully buy into the idea. I could have gone to an entirely different world, so...I don"t know.
  It was pretty much the basis of most self-insert stories, but getting it confirmed like that...I don"t know. It made me feel...small. And weak. And completely at the mercy of a being that I wasn"t aware of that could be watching me right now for its own amusement.
  "That"s impossible," Hestia denied with a shake of her head, "when we"re in heaven, a god can"t interact with the lower world at all. Well, there"s the occasional oracle that can communicate with a god every once and a while, but we can"t do anything like...what happened to you."
  "Huh," I muttered, mulling that over for a moment before Hestia continued. She squeezed my hand, bring my attention back to her.
  " hurt?" Hestia asked, her eyes filled with concern. It...helped more than one would think, knowing that was her priority out of everything I had just told her. She didn"t ask why I wanted to keep it a secret or try to metagame my ability or anything like that. What she took out of it was that I remembered my own death and she was worried about how that affected me. I really didn"t deserve her at all, did I?
  My mind went back to those few moments -- all of it had happened so fast. I was walking back from a house party, minding my own business, then I looked up just in time to see a truck cross three lanes to slam into me. "No, not really. As soon as it hit me, everything just went black. So, there"s that, at least."
  Then I shoved those thoughts to the side, wrapping an arm around Hestia to bring her in close, "but, in the end, whoever did this to me did me a favor. Without it, I never would have met you," I pointed out, looking down to give her a grin.
  Hestia let out a small huff as she made herself comfortable, content to be cuddled. "Jericho, I"m not worth you..." she couldn"t even say it, her voice so small, barely above a whisper.
  "I think it was," I told her honestly. "Back home, ah, well, let"s just say that I didn"t leave much behind. So, as odd as it is to say, I think dying might have been the best thing that has ever happened to me," I said with a small laugh. Hestia tried really hard not to smile back at me, but I knew that she was when she snuggled into my chest.
  "Just don"t do it again," Hestia muttered, squeezing me with surprising strength, her breast pressed against my stomach.
  "One death was more than enough for me. I promise I"m here to stay."
  In the end, I had an appointment to keep, so I was eventually forced to depart. Hestia had crawled back into bed after making a shocked sound when she saw the hourglass. Her side of the bed was still damp from our activities -- I needed to get some sheets, and that new bed I was wanting because I was tired of having my legs dangle off the side. Actually, while I was at it, I should start looking into getting a new place as well.
  Still, after everything, I felt good as I approached the Guildhall. Coming clean felt good. Even better, Hestia reacted better than I could have imagined.
  I didn"t see Lili in the central plaza, so I walked up the steps to the Guildhall to see that it was practically deserted. A skeleton crew working the Guild, while not a single adventurer to be seen, nor Lili. I was a little early, so I guess she hadn"t arrived yet.
  I looked around the Guildhall, wondering what I should do to kill some time before my eyes lingered on a board that covered the far wall. I noticed it before, recognizing it for what it was, but I dismissed it since I couldn"t do anything on it. Even still, with nothing else to do, I walked over to inspect a board covered in dozens of sheets of paper.
  Quests. Requests for items, to investigate something on the deeper floors, recruitment posters and so on. Anyone could put up a quest for just about everything it seemed. As I expected, most of them revolved going down into the deep floors -- requests for ten minotaur horns, thirty orc hides and so on. Nothing for the upper floors, either because they were quickly taken or whoever wanted them got them themselves.
  Idly, I reached out to lift one to see another quest underneath it, only for a screen to fill my vision.
  Quest: Retrieve Blue Papilio Wings
  Objective: Go to the seventh floor to find a Blue Papilio, kill it and bring pack the drop item.
  Reward: 5,000 exp. 25,000 valis.​
  Hold up. You wait one fucking second. Was this why I wasn"t getting random generic quests every three seconds for mundane tasks? Because they were locked behind this crap? And what was with those rewards? 5,000 exp? I killed a man for that much exp, and all I had to do to get the same amount was kill whatever the fuck a blue papilio was?!
  I...I don"t the very least, I found another source of exp. With new interest, I poured over the quests, trying to find one that was on the sixth floor or above. No such luck. I found another for the seventh floor, to get 100 killer ant mandibles for 20,000 exp and 50,000 valis as a reward. But nothing for the sixth floor.
  "Good morning Mr. Jericho!" Lili returned, sounding extremely chipper for this early hour. I got up at this time most days, but that didn"t mean I liked to do it. I needed at least three cups of coffee before I became anything recognizable as a human being. That God- er, gods for Gamer Body. "Are you looking for a quest to take?"
  "Er, good morning. And yeah, " I confirmed, looking down at her. "But, it looks like there"s nothing above the seventh floor.
  Lili nodded, adjusting the straps to her backpack. I was never going to get over how odd it looked seeing a small girl like Lili lifting a bag like that with utter ease, especially when I struggled with it so much yesterday. "There won"t be, but if Mr. Jericho is fine with taking quests that don"t involve the Dungeon, then he can always visit a tavern and most tend to have a quest board."
  I guess that was another reason to check out the Hostess of Fertility.
  "Well, it"s something to keep in mind, I guess," I said, taking one last look at the quest board before turning away. I needed to start taking quests, the sooner the better. If it was possible to catch up to the amount of exp I needed every day, then that was it.
  "Lili is all set! Lili will admit that she isn't used to waking up this early -- does Mr. Jericho always come this early?" Lili asked as we walked towards the Dungeon.
  I shrugged my shoulders, "I haven"t been an adventurer long enough to call it a habit, but I"ll probably usually come around this time. If that"s okay?"
  Lili nodded, "Lili is really impressed," she said, sounding impressed but I got the feeling that she wasn"t beneath the facade. "Did Mr. Jericho start this early yesterday?" When I nodded, she continued to gush, "Mr. Jericho really is an incredible adventurer! Lili wishes she big and strong like Mr. Jericho instead of being a weak pallum!"
  And it was never going to stop catching me off guard when she said really depressing stuff like that in such a happy voice.
  "Lili tried to be an adventurer, but she didn"t have any talent for it, that's how Lili became a supporter instead," Lili said, giving me a smile as she craned her head to look up at me. I knew what she was doing too -- she was trying to drum up pity, to tug at my heartstrings. And it was working.
  "Well," how did I navigate this minefield? "If you"d like, maybe I can try to help you with that?" I offered, though it sounded a lot like a question. "I mean, I can act as your backup-" I would have continued but Lili was already shaking her head no.
  "Mr. Jericho is very kind, but it's okay. Lili just doesn"t have the talent to be a strong adventurer. Maybe in the next life, the gods will bless Lili with the strength to be one," Lili dismissed with a shake of her head.
  "I..." I trailed off, not knowing what to say to that. I could hardly grab her by the shoulders and tell her to stop being depressed and believe in herself. For starters, we met each other once. Bonds were quick to form in combat, but not that quick.
  "Jericho!" A woman's voice interrupted me before I could say anything, I looked over to see Eina waving me down as she walked up to me.
  "Oh, hey," I greeted, giving her a smile that hid my nervousness. I knew exactly what she was about to say before she said it.
  "Good morning," Eina greeted before turning to Lili, a pleasant expression on her face that couldn"t hide her suspicious eyes. "Are you his supporter, miss...?"
  "Lili"s name is Lili, and she is Mr. Jericho"s supporter," Lili confirmed with a nod of her head, looking at me with some confusion. That pleasant smile on Eina"s face turned downright deadly.
  "I see. And, why would a rookie that's only been an adventurer for three days, who should still be on the first floor, need the help of a supporter?" Eina asked, her tone sharp as a blade. It must have been because each word was a different cut into my soul with how she was looking at me.
  "Ummm," I started, looking absolutely everywhere but at her, "a rookie adventurer that's going down to the sixth floor?" I answered, bracing myself. It seemed that I was going to get yelled at this morning, and Eina didn"t disappoint in that regard. Unfortunately.
  "The sixth floor?!" Eina shouted, bringing the few people that were in the Guildhall to turn their attention to us. "You"ve been going down to the sixth floor? Since when?" She demanded, but something in her tone told me that she knew exactly when I went down. "Since. When?" She repeated when I failed to answer.
  "Uh," I started, my gaze drifting over to the Dungeon, wondering if it was worth it to just make a break for it. "You know. The other day..." Did I really have to take this? Wait, I don"t think I did. I didn"t have to stand here and get yelled at-
  "You mean the day you went down there in nothing but a blanket?!" Eina shouted, the growing fury on her face cutting off any thought of telling her off for yelling at me.
  "Mr. Jericho went into the Dungeon wearing a blanket?" Lili questioned, making me look at her with no small amount of exasperation.
  "It"s a long story," I avoided the question before turning to Eina. "And...yeah- But!" I hastily continued when she took in another breath to continue yelling at me, "but I can handle it. Yesterday, I pulled in about thirty thousand valis, and I barely suffered a scratch -- see," I pointed out, gesturing to my pants that were still stitched together, revealing no skin.
  "Lili can vouch for Mr. Jericho," Lili offered, giving Eina a nod, "Actually, Lili thinks that Mr. Jericho could go down to the seventh floor with his abilities."
  Eina turned on the smaller girl, her glare so sharp it probably would have taken off some health points if she aimed it at me. Lili just smiled back sweetly, which took the edge off Eina focused fury. "Are you saying that a rookie adventurer should go down to the seventh floor, where killer ants spawn? The rookie killers of the upper floors?"
  That might have been a rhetorical question, but Lili nodded all the same as my mind raced. Did she actually think I could make it on the seventh floor? had wondered about my stat points since they lacked the letter grade that Danmachi went by, but hadn"t the game system before I arrived here said something about syncing?
  I figured I was able to advance so fast was mostly because of my height, natural strength, and the monsters I was up against being so weak I could step on them to kill them. But that didn"t explain the jumps in power I was experiencing. Did my stats not match up with the typical falna system?
  Or...was I overthinking it, and it was the quality of my enemies that made it so easy for me to advance and Lili was lowkey trying to get me killed?
  "Lili might not look very reliable, but she"s been as deep as the eleventh floor," Lili said, earning a shocked look from Eina. "Lili believes that Mr. Jericho can go to the seventh floor, but if he does get overwhelmed, then Lili promises that she"ll make sure that he returns," Lili stated and what I wouldn"t give to have Hestia standing next to me to see if she was telling the truth.
  I had no idea where I stood with Lili other than I made a really, really awful first impression then kinda made up for it by slitting the loot evenly. What I did know was that she hated adventurers and I was an adventurer.
  Though, thankfully, that seemed to take the wind from Eina"s sails. She searched Lili"s face for any hint that she was lying before she let out a sigh, turning her attention back to me. "I...can"t stop you from going down there, but have you at least done the reading that I gave you to prepare for it."
  "I-" I started, a lie on my tongue, but I hesitated to say it. That hesitation cost me. Eina frowned at me, pushing up her glasses and giving me a disappointed look.
  "I see. Misha said you were serious about this," she commented, earning a small wince from me. That was...fair, I guess.
  "I meant to read them, but there just hasn"t been much time," I protested, "I"ve been in the Dungeon for about twelve hours every day, and when I get back home I"m spending time with Hestia."
  Eina"s lips pressed together into a small frown, then she nodded slowly, apparently accepting my excuse which made me warier than reassured. "I understand," she said, "you"re the first member of a new familia, so it"s understandable that you"re feeling overwhelmed..." She trailed off and I couldn"t shake the feeling that there was a but coming.
  "But," she continued, "these are things that you have to learn, Jericho. Especially when you don"t have a senior to teach you. If there's not enough time, then you have to make time!"
  "Well," I started, frowning at her. She wasn"t wrong, not really. I just had higher priorities -- gaining exp, Hestia, earning Lili"s trust and providing for my familia. There just weren"t enough hours in the day.
  "I"ll do whatever I can to meet you halfway," Eina offered, her expression serious. "I can tutor you, offer lessons, explanations, whatever you need to survive down there. But I can"t help you if you don"t try to help yourself."
  She really wanted to help me. My excuses for not accepting it felt hollow -- how much exp could I gather in two hours? A couple hundred? Maybe a little more? I was already so far behind the amount of exp I needed to gain to level up in sync with the canon timeline that a couple of hundred exp was just a drop in the bucket.
  If they were that important, then I just had to make up for the lost time.
  "Okay," I agreed with a nod, seeing a smile tug at the edges of Eina"s face. "I"ll cut my day short by a few hours. Around...threeish?" I offered, getting a firm nod from Eina. She visibly relaxed, the tension easing out of her posture.
  "Threeish it is," Eina agreed, her smile becoming a lot friendlier in nature. "I know I"m being pushy about this, but I"m doing this for your own good. I hope that you know that," Eina said, getting a lopsided grin out of me.
  "Don"t worry about that," I dismissed with a shake of my head. "To be honest, it"s probably a good thing that you are pushing the issue. It"s not like I"m avoiding reading about the Dungeon, but I have so many other priorities it got bumped down the list."
  "I understand," Eina said, offering me another smile and a nod, stepping out of our way. "I"ll see you at three. Just...please, be careful."
  With that, we made our way into the Dungeon, passing through familiar halls. As soon as we hit the second floor, I looked down at Lili to catch her looking up at me. "Does Mr. Jericho want to carry Lili again?"
  "If it wouldn"t be a bother," I said, dropping to a knee so Lili could climb on. Rising to my feet, I felt the difference between today and yesterday. It still felt like Lili"s pack was filled with bricks, and I still had to hunch over to avoid her strangling me, but I could lift her with more ease. Walking was still a struggle, though.
  Picking up the pace, I started to jog through the tunnels, the Dungeon offering up minimal resistance to let me delve deeper into it. A goblin jumped out of a shadow, only to be skewered as I passed it by. We didn"t bother picking up the monster stones from the first couple of floors anymore. With my map open, it didn"t take us long to pass through the third, fourth or fifth floors.
  Arriving on the sixth, I already felt my legs burning with exertion, my breaths were deep but under control even as a sheen of sweat formed on my forehead. "Does Mr. Jericho need to take a break?" Lili asked, hanging off my neck.
  "I"m good," I told her, picking up the pace as I began to head towards the unexplored parts of the floor, still searching for the entrance to the seventh floor. I heard the sharp sound of the Dungeon walls cracking to give birth to monsters. "Lili-" I started, only for Lili to let go of me so I could fight unimpeded.
  A war shadow emerged from the shadows, a lone eye turning towards me as three others appeared behind it. I raised my sword, rushing towards the first and it lunged to meet me. Its three claws slashed at me, only to feel the bite of my new sword as I swung at its arm. My blade felt like it was moving through cement or tar, I was able to cut through it but it was hardly a clean cut. The offending arm fell to the ground, but before it hit, I switched my grip to hit the monster with the backswing.
  I slashed at its hip, intent on bisecting the monster, but again it felt like I was cutting through tar. I was forced to grip my sword with both hands to force my sword through. As the two halves hit the ground, I moved on to the other three.
  Head strikes seemed to be the most effective against these monsters, I thought as I thrust my sword at the oversized eye of one of the war shadows. It bobbed out of the way, the edge of my sword cutting its face. But that was fine. I lashed out with a fist at another when it lunged at me, trying to seize an opportunity. My fist slammed into the side of its head, my reach far greater than its, and as it lost its balance, I skewered it with my sword.
  By that time the other two were on top of me. I backed off, dodging a swipe at my chest before backing off another few steps. My chest was protected, by my legs weren"t. They were what I had to worry about. Sucking in a low breath, I attacked the closet war shadow. I swiped at its head, only for it to duck underneath. That was fine, I figured as I threw a knee at its head.
  It smacked into its giant eyeball, crushing it. At the same time, the other war shadow swiped at my thigh. My sword was in position to absorb the worst of the attack, but I felt pain flare in my thigh as its claws bit into them. Snarling, I stabbed the monster through the chest, grabbing it by the head to slam it against the Dungeon wall, hitting the last war shadow, knocking it off its feet. When the war shadows head cracked open like an egg, I finished off the last one.
  20 exp right there.
  "Is Mr. Jericho alright?" Lili asked, appearing from behind me, sparing a glance at my leg. I inspected the cut, seeing that it was little more than a flesh wound that took off a single point of health, I gave her a nod.
  "All good," I told her, looking out at the tunnels in front of us. Lili grabbed the monster stones with practiced ease, spending less than two minutes to do all of them. It was a small break, but I appreciate it before Lili retook her place on my back as I continued to jog through the tunnels, my sword at the ready.
  "Did Mr. Jericho get a lot of stat points for carrying Lili?" Lili asked as I ran, surprising me. Yesterday, I was the one that had to make idle conversation.
  "What makes you say that?" I asked, keeping my breathing even. Who would have guessed those years in cross-country would have paid off? I spotted another monster crawling out of the walls. A goblin. "Hold on," I said, jumping up to come down on the monster, crushing it underfoot.
  "Ah, Lili shouldn"t have asked that. Falna is supposed to be super secretive," she informed, probably thinking that I didn"t know. "Please forgive Lili"s rudeness!"
  "Eh, it"s all good," I dismissed the issue, turning a corner, "but, yeah, I made a bit of progress." How much progress, I wasn"t certain anymore. I thought I was still a scrub level newb adventurer, but if my stats had more weight than normal, then I wasn"t sure where exactly I stood.
  "...Mr. Jericho, when Lili said statuses are secretive, she meant that Mr. Jericho shouldn"t say anything about his." She commented lightly, earning a huff from me.
  "It"s not like I"m listing out how much I gained, or anything. The reason you asked was that you noticed I was able to run with you longer, right?" I shot back, keeping my pace and breathing even. Four steps breathing in and four steps breathing out. "But...Lili, did you mean what you said you thought I could make it on the seventh floor?"
  Lili didn"t answer for a beat of silence, "Lili thinks that Mr. Jericho could, but it would be a bad idea." She answered slowly, her tone carefully even to give nothing away. "Mr. Jericho"s swordsmanship is very...erm..."
  "Bad? Awful? Sucks?" I offered, thinking that much was true. Unless the times me and my brother beat the ever-loving shit out of each other with lightsabers counted, I never held a sword before coming here.
  "So, she would be worried about Mr. Jericho not being able to kill the killer ants fast enough since if they have a chance to release pheromones as they"re dying, they"ll attract a swarm. But, Mr. Jericho is also super strong, so he might be able to cut through the ants exoskeletons." Lili said, ignoring my suggestions, but confirming them with her lack of a comment.
  I nodded at her words, turning another corner before being forced to take a hit in the chest from a frog shooter. My hand darted out, grabbing the tongue, and yanking it towards me. I stomped on its head, the eye breaking apart like jello before I moved on. All the while, I pondered what she said.
  Images of a cavern filled with ants came to mind from a scene in the anime. Dozens of ants, like what you see when you poke an anthill, only the ants were the size of people. I wouldn"t be able to do anything against numbers like that. But, if it was a few at a time...if hacking at the exoskeleton didn"t do the trick, then I could always just start stomping on them since that always seemed to do the trick.
  "...Could you tell me their weak points?" I asked, mulling an idea over. I was so far behind where I needed to be, it went so far beyond not being funny that it looped back around to be hilarious. I needed exp and, unless I want to start murdering people, then I needed better sources of it. Quests would give me a ton, but the floors I had to get to to do them were out of reach. I could fight on the sixth floor practically naked if I could go into the seventh, then I should.
  What if a killer ant gave 10 exp? Killing the same number of war shadows earlier would net me 40 exp. The spawn times increased, so I would spend more time fighting them -- if I increased my stats enough, I could fight with Lili on my back and grind them even further. Stats were the priority, but if I could avoid falling further behind the daily exp need, then I would.
  "Their necks, legs, and eyes are weak points. The legs more so to disable a killer ant to make finishing it off easier," Lili answered.
  "And how long does it take for a swarm to gather?" I questioned, thinking I could do that easily enough. Chop off heads, stomp on them if I couldn't, or take out the legs before doing either above.
  "It depends," Lili hedged, "the pheromones attract killer ants that are nearby after a few minutes. Swarms don't really happen until you reach the lower floors or you're near a pantry." Lili explained, eliminating my biggest worry. If I wasn't going to face down a hundred of the buggers, then I was feeling pretty confident about my odds.
  "...Are we near the entrance?" I asked after a moment of thought.
  "...we are. Just up ahead, and turn left then right. Is Mr. Jericho sure about this?" Lili questioned as I picked up the pace. I nodded in response, taking a left and spotting the right.
  "I won't explore too far. I'll hang around the entrance for a quick escape," I told her, thinking over the plan again. There could be some resistance when we try to retreat, but, for the most part, I could run through whatever the Dungeon threw at me. The ants weren"t likely to follow me up, but even if they did, I was certain I could outrun them.
  "If Mr. Jericho is sure," Lili agreed as I finally laid eyes on the entrance to the seventh floor. I looked down at it, an innocent-looking hole in the wall with steps carved downward. I lowered myself, letting Lili hop off my back while a hand went to the satchel to pull out a stamina potion. I downed it in a single gulp before I found myself walking down the steps, Lili a step behind me.
  Then, I set foot on the seventh floor for the first time.
  I took in the new floor. It looked nearly identical to the sixth, except for that the color had changed. The floors lost the bluish hue to them from the glowing crystals in the wall, revealing everything to be a dull yellowish-brown. The stones overhead were yellow in color, acting as a fluorescent light almost.
  "Mr. Jericho seems very happy," Lili noted, adjusting her strap.
  "I am," I agreed, smiling faintly, my eyes peeled for trouble. I was on a new floor, fighting new monsters, and hopefully making leaps forward instead of baby steps.
  "Most adventurers spend at least a year getting to this floor," Lili reminded lightly. And I did it in less than a week.
  Before I could make a comment back, the wall cracked in front of us, a killer ant pushing itself through. It looked like the ant in the Ant-man movie, I noticed as I rushed towards it. Except its exoskeleton had an almost glossy sheen to it underneath the light and its black eyes were the same color as the deepest, darkest pit in the depths of hell. It was a lot larger than the other monsters I fought so far, standing tall it would be around 5 feet, though it was the same size as Lili when it stood on all its legs.
  No sooner than it freed itself from the Dungeon wall, I fell upon it. Lili"s words were fresh in mind. I swung at its head, where its thorax and head met and felt my blade sink into it. It caught halfway, almost like the war shadows before, but this time it was something hard that stopped me from decapitating it in one go. Even with my sword buried in it, the ant lunged at me, intent on biting down on my thigh, and it would have managed it if I hadn"t jerked my leg back.
  Clenching my teeth, I forced my blade through, cutting through what looked like a bone to do it. Its head fell to the floor, its body still half into the Dungeon wall. I summoned my status with a thought, eager to learn how much exp they were worth.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 6,735/1,000,000
  Strength: 11 (+4)
  Endurance: 30 (+1)
  Dexterity: 24 (+1)
  Intelligence: 4 (+2)
  Sense: 19 (+3)
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 3% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.
  Kissing: An intimate act between lovers that, if done well, can bring pleasure to the target. Effectiveness is determined by the Dexterity and Sense stat.​
  12 exp. They were worth 12 exp. Dear lord, that felt good. Oh, man...12 exp. More than double any monster offered up until now. 12 exp...whew. That...that was almost as good as the orgasms I had this morning. I mean, I would still have to kill several thousand of them to meet my daily quota, but, at the moment, that 12 exp felt so, so good.
  More killer ants began to spawn ahead of us. Tilting my head back, I saw that the same for behind us. Since next to no one was on this floor, the Dungeon could afford to throw everything that it had at us. By the time the crowds came, the respawn time limit would have ticked by.
  "Lili, stay close," I ordered, rushing forward to dispatch the monsters ahead of us.
  "Lili will hold the rear," Lili informed, the twang of her crossbow echoing in the tunnels that slowly grew noisier. I don"t know how it managed it, but it was pretty much a machine gun that fired deceptively powerful bolts. I heard the pained cries of the killer ants behind me, Lili would know better than anyone to quickly finish them off.
  I neared the first killer ant as it rushed to meet me, its giant mandibles widening to take a bite out of my leg. I raised a foot to crush its head instead, throwing all my weight behind it. I felt a lot more resistance than I normally did, but the killer ant"s head still cracked open like an egg. I paid the gunk coating my shoe no mind in favor of turning my attention to the other three killer ants that crawled out of the walls.
  All three of them converged on me as they made weird clicking noises that managed to creep me out. My reach was so great that I could bring my blade down on the nearest one long before it came anywhere close to me. I brought it down on its head, my sword managing to cut through some of the exoskeleton, by not enough to kill it. Moving forward, I angled the blade down, with my weight behind it, it pierced the monster instead, stabbing it in the head.
  Switching my grip, I yanked my blade free before I thrust it into one of the eyes of the second one. There was a lot less resistance there. The third lunged at me, forcing me to dart back a half step, pulling my sword free in the process. I slashed at it, my sword digging into the monster"s face, lodging halfway through its eye, but that wasn"t enough to kill it.
  With a snarl, I lifted the monster up, grabbing the other end of my sword, before I slammed the monsters head into the Dungeon wall, my sword parallel to it. The sword dug in further, the ant lashing out with its legs, the blows that it landed were powerful, easily stronger than the frog shooters by half, but I didn"t let it stop me from finishing the ant off. With another slam, I shaved the ants head in half, killing it.
  The fight wasn"t over, though. I turned around to see Lili still fighting off a single remaining ant. Its eyes had a lot in common with pincushions, an arrow wherever there was a chink in the exoskeleton. The ant wasn"t even making its way to her, just thrashing wildly right up until I walked over to stomp on its head.
  Looking around, I saw the fight was over, and only then did I let out a breath I hadn"t realized I was holding."Whew," I let out a breath, flinging gunk off my hand. "That was kinda intense," I said, glancing at the corpses to make sure they were all dead. They were. Perfect.
  "Lili thinks Mr. Jericho is more suited to this floor," Lili commented as she began to retrieve the magic stones. "The larger monsters are normal-sized monsters for Mr. Jericho."
  "Yeah, they"re easier to hit than goblins, at least," I agreed with a nod of my head. Once I get used to fighting them, I don"t think killer ants would be any problem at all-
  "But, please don"t get too overconfident! This floor is very dangerous, Mr. Jericho," Lili commented, looking concerned but unworried. "It"s very easy to get overwhelmed down here, so please do not stray too far from Lili. She"d really weak. Lili would die if Mr. Jericho doesn"t protect her."
  ...It was like she could read my thoughts or something.
  "I won"t let you die," I told her. It was only now that I started to realize what I was trying to do. Lili hated adventurers. Not like how I hated people who didn"t use their turn signals or people who crank up the bass in their cars until the entire apartment complex can feel the vibrations at 1 in the morning. She harbored a deep personal hate for adventurers and I had absolutely no idea if I was included in that. I think she was warming up to me, but...I just didn"t know. "And, even if you aren"t strong, you"re a hell of a lot braver than me. If I wasn"t built like I am, then I"d be too terrified to ever enter the Dungeon the first place."
  "Mr. Jericho is very kind," Lili said, giving me a smile that I hoped was a little more genuine. I just had absolutely no idea if she meant it.
  "I"m honest," I lied, turning my attention back to the tunnels. It didn"t take Lili very long to finish retrieving the monster stone, and she found a mandible too. So, I just needed another ninety-nine and I would get that sweet, sweet exp.
  Lili silently fell in step behind me as we walked through the tunnels. I expected it to be a constant fight down here, but there was only the occasional monster spawning. That was...kinda disappointing.
  Before long, I heard the sounds of footsteps and labored breathing echo through the tunnels, getting closer with every second. I held a hand up for Lili to stop, as I got ready for a fight. I heard her cock her crossbow and take aim, the footsteps getting closer until-
  To my surprise, I recognized him. A middle-aged guy, his shaggy brown hair flowing into mutton chops with two little round ears on top of his head. A thin goatee sprung up around his mouth, whispy and thin. He stood just over five feet tall, a red scarf around his neck. He looked almost identical to how he did in the anime. Everything about him reminded me of a middle-aged man that was only happy with a beer in his hand and a football game on the tv.
  He came to a skidding halt when he saw us, sweat dripping down his forehead. His gaze darted to me, clenching the sword in his hand before they shot over to Lili. His eyes widened a fraction when I heard Lili suck in a low breath.
  This was the guy that tormented Lili. Who beat, betrayed and left her to die in a swarm of killer ants.
  "Is there a swarm?" I asked, making a show of lowering my guard ever so slightly. I stole a glance at Lili, her hood made it impossible to tell what expression she wore, but she trembled ever so slightly. Her crossbow was pointed to the ground, so I didn"t think she was going to shoot him.
  "There, ah, there"s no swarm," Asshole the Second said, wiping his brow with his forearm. He swallowed thickly, looking nervous as all hell as he glanced at Lili again. "Just in a hurry to get back up top," He wasn"t anywhere near as good of an actor as Lili was as he gave a shrug of his shoulders. Then he paused, his eyes looking away from my face down to my sword.
  "Nice sword," he suddenly changed the subject- oh, fucking shit. That guy. That guy that I killed yesterday, wasn"t one of the guys that laid a trap for Lili carry an Asian sword? Did Asshole the First and Second know each other? I couldn"t remember, the former was such a nonentity I completely forgot about him.
  "Thanks. Bought it at a pawn shop," I answered, trying to throw him off the trail. "They sell decent stuff for cheap. Can give you the name, if you want," I offered, hoping that he wouldn"t call my bluff.
  Except it didn"t matter, did it? Lili was standing right behind me. She didn"t know me. She didn"t trust me. I was willing to bet all the money in the world that if Asshole the Second asked where I got the sword, she would answer. Except he wouldn"t have to because, judging from that smirk on his face, he didn"t buy my bullshit at all.
  "Eh, I prefer quality work myself," he said with a shrug. I...what should I do in this situation? This guy definitely suspected that I murdered whatshisface. Would he do anything about it? I don"t think so? Maybe? I had absolutely no clue, and that was the scary part. I didn"t know what he would do with the information. Would he blackmail me? Sell me out to the familia that guy belonged to?
  What were my options? I...convincing him to tell no one...or...making sure that he couldn"t tell anyone?
  Should I kill him?
  "But, as much as I love chit-chatting in the Dungeon, I have a delivery to make. Nice meeting "ya," he said, walking towards me with a carefree expression on his face that didn"t match up at all with his hand gripping a sword at his belt.
  Killing him would make sure that he couldn"t tell anyone. Lili would be a separate matter, but this guy tormented her so I doubt she"d be the loose lips that sunk the ship. Not to mention the nice pile of exp I would get for it. And whatever was in that bag of his. And...but...
  Last time, I was acting in self-defense. He would have killed me if I hadn"t killed him first. This...would be straight-up murder, wouldn"t it? Killing was one thing, but murder? In cold blood? For something that he might do? That...I wasn"t so sure about.
  I knew he was an asshole from the anime... It wasn"t like I would be murdering a saint or anything. But, still, it was murder. Like, actual murder. Last time, I killed that guy because he was trying to kill me. Maybe I didn"t have to kill him, but he had forced my hand. I didn"t have a choice.
  There was a difference between reacting to a guy trying to kill you and premeditating murder to kill a guy over what he might do. And I had a deep feeling in my gut that no matter what I picked, it was going to regret my choice.
  I was hesitating, I realized. And that probably answered my question.
  Asshole the Second didn"t give me time to think it through. He kept walking, the confident expression on his face a silent challenge for me to try to stop him. And, in the end, I stepped out of the way. His smile grew when he walked by me, sending Lili a look that she refused to meet before he continued on his way.
  I clenched my sword so tightly that my knuckles were white. I knew I was going to regret whatever choice I made, but I think out of the two bad choices I found myself with, I think I picked the wrong one.
  AN: And since I know the ending is going to ruffle some feathers -- When you've realized you've made a mistake, you aren't likely to repeat it.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  The next few days were...normal. Extremely normal. Things seemed to fall into a routine of sorts. I got up, went into the Dungeon with Lili for around ten hours or so, then Eina would give me lessons. Apparently, she figured since I agreed to it once, then I was agreeing to it for all time. Then I went home to Hestia. Calling it a routine might be a bit much since it was only two days, but I noticed a pattern the week I"ve been here.
  There was a distinct lack of anything from Asshole the Second. I don"t know what I was expecting, but I was expecting...something. To find him standing at the end of a dark alley, a note telling me to leave a dead drop of money at a location, or just...something. Something other than a stunning lack of nothing.
  "I shouldn't think about that," I decided, walking towards Welfs workshop. Maybe this was a good thing? Maybe it meant that he didn"t care at all? I don"t think they were friends in the anime because I recall Asshole the First getting screwed over, then running face-first into a swarm of killer ants. For all I knew, I was completely overthinking it and nothing was going to happen at all.
  Maybe it wasn"t a mistake to not murder him. Maybe I made the right choice...or...he just hasn"t screwed me over yet.
  As I walked outside the city, waving at some guards playing a card game as I did. To my relief, as I approached his workshop, I saw smoke drifting up from the chimney. I wouldn't be left standing outside his door waiting for him to wake up, or wasted time walking in and out of the Dungeon.
  If I was getting blackmailed or something, then I needed to be prepared. I think Hestia suspected I was stressed about something, or that I was going to the seventh floor, trying to complete those quests while I still could. I hadn"t said anything about it yet, using the excuse of that I could be just overthinking things so I could be worrying her about nothing, but that excuse sounded hollow to myself.
  I didn"t want her to know that I killed someone. And I didn"t particularly regret it beyond the trouble it might have brought me. I don"t know how she would react to that, but I couldn"t imagine that going over well. At all.
  I knocked at Welf's door, taking a step back. Over the days, my Sense stat increased and I was noticing the effects. I heard Welf curse underneath his breath, a loud clanging sound, followed by another curse. It took about a minute, but the door slid open to reveal an exhausted-looking Welf, his eyes bloodshot with dark bags hanging underneath. He blinked at me, then his eyes went wide.
  "Is it night already?! Sorry, I was just putting some finishing touches on your armor, I must have lost track of time," Welf babbled, gesturing for me to enter his home. I ducked my head to step inside, looking over the messy interior. The forge was still hot, raising the temperature until it was sweltering hot, while tools laid around an anvil, a greasy rag stained with soot laying ontop what looked like my armor.
  "It"s not night, I"m just early. I wanted to check in on my armor," I explained, turning to look at a devilish Welf. His short red hair stuck up at all angles, a white rag keeping sweat out of his eyes. He blinked slowly at me, then stuck his head outside to look at that dark sky.
  "What time is it?" He asked, looking back at me with an uncomprehending expression.
  "Around four-thirty," I answered, trying really hard not to walk over to my armor. It had to be my armor. It was a shin guard that I doubt would fit anyone else in this world. A smoky black color and certainly looked like heavy armor.
  "...What? Like, in the morning?" Welf asked, still confused.
  "Yeah," I replied, looking back at him with just as much confusion now. What was so hard to understand about that?
  "What are you doing up at four-thirty in the morning?" Welf questioned, looking at me like I grew a second head. That started singing.
  "I"m an early bird," I defended, sounding indignant. "And you"re up too, so I don"t know why you"re complaining."
  "Yeah, but I stayed up all night. There"s a difference," Welf pointed, crossing his arms as if he made an irrefutable argument. I huffed, rolling my eyes as I grinned goodnaturedly. It was hardly the first time I heard this argument, but it was usually from my roommate.
  "Well, I"m here now. Is my armor ready?" I asked, giving a not so subtle glance at the armor across the room. Welf nodded, running a hand through his hair, uncaring of the soot he left behind. Taking that as permission, I walked over and picked it up. It was, well, heavy armor. It was fairly thick, nearly half an inch of solid black steel -- altogether it would probably weigh about 20 pounds or so, or 10 to each leg.
  Before Lili and using her and her bag as training equipment, I would have commented that it seemed too light. Now I knew better. 10 pounds on each leg would be easy to ignore at first, but when time passed, and you were exhausted, those 10 pounds would feel like 100.
  "I was just polishing them off. Looks like I got the color right," Welf said, gesturing to my black armor.
  "They look great. Can I try them on?" I asked, going to do so anyway no matter what he said. After 5 days, I finally had leg armor.
  "Sure, let me know if you feel any pinching or anything like that," Welf said, leaving the door open as he moved to help me put it on. I was thankful for that. I had no idea where to start. Welf knelt down, starting at the shin that he clasped on. "I put some chainmail to protect the back of your knee -- figured you were at more of a risk getting hamstrung than most adventurers."
  "Thanks," I said, flexing my thigh a little against the constraining thick metal strapped to it. Welf let me test its limits, and to my surprise, I had full range of motion. "It fits great," I told him, trying to bring my knee to my chest. A bit of chainmail dangled off the back end, also blackened, to be tucked into the shin guards that would encase my legs.
  "Great, now for the bottom half," Welf said, attaching the shin guard. The design was simple, the front pushed forward in a small peek, a line of red going upwards until the knee where the shin guard tapered off into a point. It flushed well with the thigh portion, the red line tracing up it at an edge. Eventually, I would have to commission a chest piece to match.
  Once both leg pieces were on, I continued to test them. It might be because of my growing strength stat, but I barely felt them. That could change after about eight hours of fighting, but for now, they felt great. "And you said they could stand up to killer ants?"
  "They will. Given your build, I made the armor a little thicker than normal for some extra protection. It won"t feel great when one of them bites down on you, but the armor will hold. But, that"s a long way off, you know?" Welf said, giving me a humoring smile- ah. Right. The last time we spoke, I was stuck on the first floor.
  "Actually, I"ve been going to that floor for a couple of days now. Lili, my supporter, recommended that I don"t go past it until I got some leg armor," I told him, untying a pouch full of valis from my belt to pass it over to him. Welf blinked, giving me an odd look that prompted me to explain. "Those rabbit things are the biggest problem for me since they"re so small, and they like trying to hamstring me."
  Fighting goblins and kobolds was bad enough, but those rabbits with a horn on their heads were a flat out nightmare to deal with. Not only were they the size of a rabbit, but they were so quick too. You didn't know one was there until it headbutted the back of your knee, that horn only stopping when it hit bone. I thought the killer ants would be the biggest threat on the seventh floor, but it was easily the rabbits. And, not gonna lie, that made me feel really dumb.
  "Seriously?" Welf asked, not believing me.
  "Hm. Speaking of which, I actually had some questions," I said, gesturing to my swords at my hip. "I"ve been having some trouble cutting through the exoskeleton with these. Do you think you could give them a look over?"
  "Er," Welf started, seeming to struggle with the fact that I was planning to head to the 7th floor in less than a week. Then he shook his head, with a shrug of his shoulders, dismissing the issue. "Yeah, I can do that. Had "em over." I did and Welf looked like he swallowed an entire lemon tree when he pulled them from their sheaths.
  "Have done any maintenance on these?" He asked, an accusation in his tone. He scanned the battered blades, covered in scratches, the edges nicked and blunted. They saw some pretty hard use in the few days that I had them. "At all?"
  "Well," I trailed off, giving a shrug. "No?"
  Welf stared at me, looking personally affronted. "How long have you had these? You"ve only been an adventurer for a week, right? Did you get these second-hand?" He pressed, sheathing the swords as he pinned a mild glare on me. I was glad he put the swords away, at least that way he was less likely to use them on me.
  "I got the eastern one second-hand," I told him to hopefully divert some of his irritation to a now-dead adventurer. "And, well, I spend about fifteen hours in the Dungeon on most days. Wear and tear builds-up, you know?" I defended weakly, unwilling to tell him that the reason I hadn"t used the sharpening stone I bought was because I was making Hestia cum her brains out. That, and I"ve never sharpened anything in my entire life before.
  An explosive sigh escaped Welf, "maintenance is supposed to take care of that." He pointed out, "these aren"t too far gone that I can"t save them but it"s going to take some time."
  I frowned at that, my gaze drifting over the weapons that lined the walls. It wasn"t like I hadn"t seen this coming. "In that case, are any of those for sale? I"ve been meaning to buy something with more reach. And a hilt I can fit both hands on," I requested, eyeing a long broadsword with a hook towards the tip.
  "That one is a commission," Welf said, dashing my hopes. It looked cool too. A proper fantasy sword that would go well with my armor. "But...yeah, I have a couple of swords that fit the bill," he said before giving me a sideways glance as he walked across his workshop. "They"re not magic swords," he added, compelled to point that out.
  "Still don"t want one," I told him bluntly. "I mean, maybe once I reach the mid-floors I would want one, but on the upper floors, I"d probably kill everyone and everything on them with one of your magic swords. Myself included. And I like living."
  Welf"s gaze lingered on me, as if he could see if I was lying, then a small huff escaped him. "You really couldn"t care less about them?"
  "Not a bit. I"m sure you have your reasons for not making them," I told him, knowing that he didn"t make them out of stubborn pride. "So I"m not going to ask. If I really need a magic sword for some reason, I"ll just buy one somewhere."
  Welf turned away to enter his room, but I saw a slight smile on his lips. If I had a relationship manager then I"m sure I scored some major points with him. He returned a few minutes later with a bundle of swords, one of them I recognized as his sword from the anime. All of them were broadswords, the longest among them nearly 5 feet.
  Naturally, I zeroed in on it. The hilt was wrapped in white cloth that left a long bit of it to hang free at the pommel. There wasn"t a crossguard, just a solid bar that the sword seemed to emerge from. The blade itself started off thick at the bottom, then jutted inwards about a half-inch before continuing to stretch upwards the remainder of the straight blade. Towards the tip of it, it jutted outwards a half-inch, giving it a nice fantasy feel to it.
  "Ohhh," I muttered in delight, picking it up to feel its weight. It was surprisingly light too, somewhere around 6 pounds or so, but it felt lighter because of the balance. I grabbed it with both hands, seeing that the hilt was long enough for me to fit both of them. "It"s perfect."
  "Heh, you"ll make me blush," Welf said, a grin on his face. "It costs about eight thousand valis-" I was already digging into the spare pouch of gold I had hanging off my hip in case I had to buy another sword. "And, you have to learn how to take care of it. Seriously, if I see that sword all banged up like your other ones, I"m gonna cry."
  I nodded, accepting the condition as I handed over the money. I had a nice nesting egg building up since the only things I was buying was potions. Without those extra costs, even splitting the spoils evenly with Lili, and I did make sure that they were even, my savings were back around 50 thousand. Half of which was set aside for emergencies.
  "That sounds fair to me. I just use a whetstone on it, right?" I asked, managing to tear my eyes from my new awesome sword to look at Welf. He closed his eyes slowly, visibly swallowing some probably mean words about my ignorance before letting out a soft breath.
  "You know what? Maybe we should just meet up sometime and I"ll show you how to take care of your equipment," he offered, trying to sound patient but not quite managing it. I was going to blame that on the lack of sleep. Judging from how pale he was and the dark bags under his eyes, it wasn"t his first one.
  I nodded, "I usually leave the Dungeon around five, but I can head out a little early whenever you"re free."
  Welf returned my nod, stifling a yawn. "We can do it tomorrow since I need to get some sleep. I'll meet you at the Guildhall at five?"
  "See you then," I said, stepping out of his workshop with a wave goodbye. As soon as he closed the door behind him, I gave my new sword a test swing. It swished through the air, the sound it made was a song to my ears. With it, I had a reach that could only be matched by spear users. Maybe not even then with my massive arms.
  I tossed my other swords into my Inventory, and there they would likely stay until I bothered to clear it out at some point down the line. Smiling all the way, I practically skipped to the Tower of Babel. I was one step closer to my usual D&D build. I even had the low Intelligence stat to prove it.
  It didn't take long to reach it. At this early hour, the main plaza was practically devoid of anyone, all accept Lili. Her oversized green bag made it easier to spot her. "Morning, Lili," I greeted, coming up behind her.
  "Good morning Mr. Jericho! Lili sees that you received your armor...and a new sword?" Lili returned, glancing over the blade that was bigger than her, quickly dismissing it. I couldn"t tell if she decided that it wasn"t worth stealing or just admiring it. If it was the former, then not only was I offended but I wasn"t going to let go of the weapon until I shoved it into my inventory.
  "Yup, fresh off the forge. Are you ready?" I asked, feeling as light as a feather in my heavy armor. For the past few days, I was stuck on the seventh floor, doing whatever I could to grind my stats as I mapped out the floor. None of my stats had broken fifty yet, but some were close. I could run with Lili for longer without getting completely exhausted, the weight, while stupidly heavy, was more manageable as for balance. Well, there was only so much a Dexterity stat could do when there were a hundred something pounds hanging from my neck.
  "Hm! But...does Mr. Jericho promise not to use his usual method for hunting monsters?" Lili asked, her eyes narrowing even as she smiled sweetly at me. "Because that"s very dangerous. More dangerous than how Mr. Jericho usually does things."
  "I promise," I agreed easily as we started walking up the stairs. During the upper floors, I could somewhat fight with Lili on my back. So, naturally, I wanted to fight with her on my back, backpack and all. It worked...well enough.
  "That"s not what Lili wanted to hear, Mr. Jericho..." Lili said with a dramatic sigh, her shoulders slumping. I glanced down at her and swallowed a sigh. In the days since we ran into Asshole the Second, Lili hadn"t exactly proved to be a well of information. She confirmed that she was in the same familia as him, and that was about it.
  "Don"t worry Lili, no matter what, I"ll make sure you get out of the Dungeon in one piece. I promise," I told her, her beige hood hiding her reaction to that as we stepped into the Guildhall. Much like the city, it was deserted except for a skeleton crew. I scanned the faces, a small group of guild employes chatting, one of them glancing over. Eina.
  "Morning," I greeted, "you"re here early. Nightshift?" I asked when she broke off from the others to approach. I saw a more of her now since I was having study lessons for the past few days, where she drilled information into my head. It didn"t matter if it was relevant or not, Eina wouldn"t be satisfied unless I knew the Dungeon down to the last pebble in it.
  At the very least, I got some maps out of it.
  "I could say the same to you," Eina responded, smiling lightly as her gaze racked over my form. "I see you finally got your armor...I suppose you"ll be going back down to the seventh-floor today?" She asked, her eyes sharp. I knew she was a worrier, but I had underestimated how much. I"m not sure what I did to endear myself to her either since she didn"t treat every adventurer like this. Wait, I knew why. The whole going to the sixth floor in a blanket was probably what did the trick.
  "We are, and I did the reading on it that you gave me. And I studied the map until I"m pretty sure I can find my way down there drunk and blindfolded." I said with a patent smile. You"d think reading about monsters and stuff would be exciting because they were, well, monsters. You"d be wrong. The textbooks were as dry as a science textbook back in my old world. It took a special talent to make monsters and myths boring.
  Eina nodded, believing me even though she really shouldn"t. "And you have your potions?" She asked, acting like a mother hen.
  "We do Miss. Tulle," Lili spoke up, "Mr. Jericho made extra sure that we had plenty!"
  Eina nodded again, letting out a small breath. "Then I suppose you"re as ready as you can be," she said, sounding like she"d rather pull teeth than let us down to the 7th floor. Still, the fact that I kept coming back from it the past couple days stopped any real protests.
  "We"ll be fine, Eina. I won"t ask you not to worry -- mostly because I think that might be impossible, but just have some faith in us. We"ll be back up around five, so if you"re still here then we"ll see you then." I reassured, getting a thin-lipped smile from her.
  "I won"t, but Misha will be. Check-in with her before you leave, okay? She worries about you, you know." Eina said with an air of defeat. At the very least she wasn"t arguing me to not go down anymore. I guess my results spoke for themselves.
  "I will. See you later," I waved goodbye, walking into the Dungeon with Lili at my back. We walked down into the Dungeon, walking through the first six floors with ease, arriving to the seventh with cautious excitement. For me, at least. That sweet, delicious 12 exp per kill awaited me. I already had a lot of killer ant mandibles, not close to the hundred needed, but I was getting up there. That 5000 exp would be mine.
  Stepping onto the seventh floor, at this early in the morning, it didn"t take long for us to hear the first sounds of monsters spawning. A tidbit I learned from the books was that the Dungeon had a soft cap on how many monsters it could spawn. It seemed to take some unseen energy to spawn monsters -- early in the morning, it could afford to throw more lone adventurers since it didn"t have to split focus on dozens of other adventurer parties.
  Three killer ants emerged from the walls, two on one side and one on the other. I hefted my new weapon, feeling its weight before I swung down with all my strength on the two ants on my right. The edge of new sword bit into the exoskeleton -- before, because of how dull my swords got, even as I got stronger the exoskeleton proved too tough for me to slice through. With my new sword, with its extra weight and a wickedly sharp edge, I carved cleanly through the head and thorax of the first ant.
  My sword slammed into the other one with enough force that I cleaved off the bottom half of the killer ants front legs. It let out a screech, collapsing without its support. My sword was out of position to seize the opportunity, too large to easily maneuver a downward strike to finish it off. With what was becoming well-practiced ease, I raised a foot and slammed it down on its head. It cracked open like an egg, killing it.
  Whipping around, I saw that Lili had put some distance between her and the killer ant, a few arrows lodged in it, but just to slow it down enough so I could finish it off. The ant turned its attention to me when I rushed towards it, viewing me as the bigger threat. It jumped at me, lunging at my stomach, only to be greeted halfway by my sword skewering its bulbous head.
  "Sweet," I couldn"t stop myself from breathing, a stupid grin on my face as I looked down at my new sword. It worked like a charm -- the weight was a great, so much better than the light swords I was using before. And the reach was absolutely fantastic! The killer ants never came close, even if it was a little awkward to get back into position for another good swing.
  My good cheer was broken when more ants spawned down the hall, another five. Glancing behind me, I saw Lili was holding her own against another two that were in the process of leaving the Dungeon walls. She slowly backpedaled, calm, though I couldn"t see her face through the giant green pack she wore, but she didn"t seem to be panicking.
  "I have another five. Are you good?" I asked, backing up slowly to get a little closer to Lili, letting the monsters come to us.
  "Lili will need to reload soon," Lili said, firing a bolt that killed another killer ant. Like an anthill, another two crawled over its corpse. Right. I needed to start taking these things out faster.
  "Go ahead and do it. I"ll keep them off you," I said, turning on my heel to run at the four killer ants behind us. In the low light, their blackish-red exoskeleton looked menacing now that there were more of them. Three of them lunged at me at the same time, jumping up to knock me over then swarm over me.
  Gritting my teeth, I swung my sword with all my strength, slicing through the three of them at the same time, bisecting them at the thorax with some difficulty. The halves fell on the remaining killer ant, stunning it so I could stomp on its head. No sooner as they were dead, I rushed back to deal with the other five.
  Lili reloaded her weapon, firing off at the killer ants to slow them down until I could reach them. They rushed us, practically crawling over each other to get to me. Holding my sword like a giant baseball bat, I swung through the ants, cleaving three them while the other two continued undaunted. I stomped on one"s head before it could bite me, using a well-tested tactic while the final one nearly managed to bite down on my leg before I grabbed it by the base of its neck. With a snarl, I lifted the deceptively light ant and crushed its head against the Dungeon wall.
  That was a great fight, I concluded, looking down at the corpses, making sure that they were dead. Then I turned my attention down to my armor, noting small marks where the ant bit down on, but not much else.
  "All good?" I asked, turning to Lili to see her topping up her crossbow. The smaller girl gave me a firm nod, displaying a radiant smile.
  "Lili is okay," Lili confirmed. "Is Mr. Jericho ready to continue?" She asked, making quick work of retrieving the monster stones. When she was done, she walked over to me as I crouched down to let her hop on.
  "You bet," I said, picking her back up as we continued to clear the floor.
  It was days since Jericho had dropped the revelation of his origins on her, almost randomly after they indulged in an act of intimacy. Hestia had two days to come to terms with it, but she still struggled with it. It was just so...
  Less than a year ago, she was one of the few gods left in Heaven, stuck overlooking countless souls as she rubber-stamped them to be reincarnated. She knew first hand just how overworked the gods left in Heaven were and how they jealousy looked down at the ones on vacation. Before, each soul would be judged and punished or rewarded for their deeds in life. Now, with a skeleton crew in Heaven, all souls just got reincarnated or tormented when a petty god was in need of some stress relief. It wasn"t right, but it happened more than a little.
  Still, to take a soul and change it...Hestia wished she could say she was surprised by it, but she wasn"t. If anything, it was more surprising that what was done to Jericho wasn"t done to more souls -- altered in ways to break the carefully crafted game the gods on the lower world enjoyed. A spiteful move that would entertain the ones that looked on from above. Two birds with one stone.
  Jericho"s altered falna. That Skill Gamer Body. Those weren"t the results of a mistake on her end. Jericho"s soul and body were changed in a fundamental way that Hestia didn"t fully understand. Nor did she have any idea which god could have done it -- there were only a couple dozen gods left in Heaven, and she could easily see every single one of them doing something like this if the idea struck them.
  "Haa..." Hestia sighed, her shoulders slumping as she felt the beginnings of a headache. She thought about what he said nearly nonstop for days now, trying to think of something to do about it. But, she couldn"t. If she had access to her arcanum, then it would be a different story, but she didn"t. All she could do was plan for the future, support her child, and make sure the worst-case scenarios never came to pass.
  Which was why Hestia found herself walking down the familiar hallways that lead to Hephustus"s office. She needed advice more than anything. Jericho was advancing at an incredible pace. She didn"t know much about normal adventurers, but it was easy to see that Jericho"s growth was abnormal. It wouldn"t be long before the Guild took notice of it, or worse, the gods.
  With a plan in action, Hestia knocked on the door to her friend"s office-
  "You can come in if you"re not here for money," Hephustus welcomed her, somehow knowing that it was her. Pouting, Hestia threw open the door, striding into her office with her arms crossed.
  "I don"t need money!" Hestia half yelled at her friend, who simply stamped a piece of paper with her seal. That much was true. Jericho was bringing in a lot of money now. Yesterday, he brought home thirty thousand valis, and that was apparently after he split the spoils with his supporter evenly. Their nest egg grew until it no longer fit in her hiding place.
  "Then what can I do for you?" Hephaestus asked, glancing up as she stamped her seal again.
  Hestia uncrossed her arms, recalling why she was here. She crossed the distance after closing the door behind her, taking a seat in a soft leather chair. Hestia took in a deep breath before she bowed her head until her forehead was nearly touching her knees. "I need your advice!"
  Hephaestus sighed, the leather creaked as she leaned back in her chair. "About what?" Hephaestus asked, sounding more exasperated than annoyed. Hestia could hardly blame her for it -- this was the second time in as many days that she came for advice from her friend. "And stop bowing, please. I"m going to strangle Takemikazuchi when I see him for teaching you that..."
  Hestia refused to raise her head. Of all the favors Hestia had ever asked, this was possibly the greatest one so far. And the most important. " there a way I can make my child"s status look like something else?" Hestia asked, still bowing.
  It wouldn"t be long before Jericho tried to go down the eighth floor, or deeper. At the rate he was going, it would be less than a week before he was on the tenth floor. Soon, the Guild was going to start noticing something. At first, they would probably think that he was getting help from another adventurer, but as soon as they realized that Jericho was strong enough to do it himself, the Guild would accuse her of hiding his true level or something.
  The only way they could refute the charge would be to show them Jericho"s status. And that would be the final nail in the coffin. Jericho would be treated like a toy, or stripped of his falna and exiled from the city. She would be sent back up to Heaven, even if it wasn"t her fault. They needed a way to make Jericho"s status to look normal.
  "Hestia...what"s going on with that child of yours? Why would you need to hide his status? You"ve already hidden it from sight, haven"t you?" Hephaestus questioned, her tone still sounding exasperated, but it couldn"t hide the suspicious undertone.
  "...Jericho has a Skill that makes his growth...explosive. He"s already on the seventh floor," she informed, and that seemed to catch Hephaestus off guard.
  "How- I, no, don"t tell me," Hephaestus said, sounding like she really, really wanted to know. A lesser goddess, like Loki, would have demanded to know in exchange for help, but Hephustus was better than that. By miles and miles. "What exactly do you want? To make it where this Skill doesn"t show up?"
  If only it was that simple, "I...need to make his stats look a certain way too." Hestia added hesitantly, trusting her friend, but there was so much at stake.
  "..." Hephaestus fell silent, her mind undoubtedly mulling over what could possibly make her request such a thing. An explanation weighed heavily on her tongue -- she could blame it all on some god up in Heaven that was trying to have a bit of fun at their expense, but Hestia couldn"t bring herself to say the words. Maybe Hephustus had enough clout that she could protect them from any consequences of Jericho"s falna. Maybe, the gods would understand that they hadn"t done anything wrong. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
  Hestia wasn"t going to risk Jericho"s future, his life, on maybes.
  "I don"t know if something like that is possible," Hephustus admitted, "...but...Hestia, you do realize you"ll be lying to the Guild?" Hephaestus said, having more or less guessed what Hestia planned. "You"re not going to get off with a slap on the wrist if you get caught."
  "I"m absolutely positive," Hestia said, speaking with as much conviction that she could muster even as she continued to bow her head. This could blow up in her face if the Guild ever found out. Orario was a city filled with sharks with the Guild keeping the peace only because the strongest familias allowed them to. Any reprisals would be harsh, to say the least.
  "Fine..." Hephaestus said after a moment, "just stop bowing to me." Unlike before, Hestia didn"t launch herself at her friend to give her the hug of a lifetime. A weight seemed to be lifted off her shoulders, only when it was gone did she realize it had been crushing her. Instead, a small sigh of relief escaped her as she raised her head. "I have to go to Hermes' familia for this. Their captain has the Mystery development ability, so if it can be made then she can make it. Though, knowing Hermes, he's going to charge out the nose for it."
  "I'll pay you back!" Hestia swore, "no matter how long it takes, I'll pay back every single valis!"
  Hephaestus let out a small laugh, "it'll take you a couple of decades to do it working at the potato stand." She commented, earning a small wince from Hestia.
  "That's fine," Hestia nodded, undeterred. Hermes was the kind of guy that would triple his prices and say he was giving you a friend"s discount, worse, he would figure out she wanted the item to trick the Guild, so he was already going to jack up his prices. The jerk.
  "Hestia..." Hephaestus opened her mouth to continue, but she paused for a moment. After letting out a sigh of defeat, she continued. "Then why don't you work for me then?"
  "Huh?" Hestia blurted, broken from her musing just how deep her debt was going to be.
  "Come work for me. A position opened up for a clerk in one of my stores for my level 2 blacksmiths. It's commission-based, so you'll be able to pay off whatever Hermes charges a lot faster if you work hard." Hephaestus offered, a sharp look in her eye. A look that Hestia learned to recognize during the weeks she stayed with her friend. The Look that said 'or else.'
  "R-really?" Hestia asked, the offer catching her off guard. "But I thought you were done helping me?" She questioned, unable to stop herself. Before she started coming to Hephaestus for advice, their last meeting hadn't been pleasant. For her, at least. Mostly because it ended with her getting kicked out.
  "That was when all you did was sit around and read all day. I've heard good things about the potato food stall you've been working at and I know you're taking running a familia seriously -- you wouldn't be here if you weren't." Hephaestus answered, crossing her arms, giving her a serious look. "But, I have to ask -- is he really worth this, Hestia? If this blows up in your face, then Loki will probably exile you from the city. Or send you back to Heaven if she's in a bad mood."
  Others might disagree with Loki, but in the end, their voices didn't matter. In this city, strength was what mattered. Freya and Loki -- their word was law.
  "He is," Hestia confirmed with a nod of her head. That was all she had to say. The serious expression on Hephaestus' face melted away, replaced by faint amusement.
  "I didn't expect anything different. Though, if I didn't know you any better, I'd say you have a crush on your child-" Hephaestus cut herself off when she must have noticed how quickly Hestia's face turned bright red. "What? Wait, do you-"
  "Thank you for your help!" Hestia shouted, jumping to her feet and all but running to the door. "Bye!"
  "BYE!" Hestia practically screamed, interrupting Hephaestus as she threw open the door.
  "Hestia!" Hephaestus shouted as Hestia broke out into a Sprint, leaving her friend in the dust.
  "TELL ME HOW MUCH IT IS WHEN YOU FIND OUT! BYE HEPHUSTEUS! LOVE YOU!" Hestia screamed as she fled the building. She ignored Hephustus" shouts for her to stop, but she didn"t until she was in the elevator and going down. Her face burned, so she buried it in her hands, letting the elevator carry her down.
  Maybe...she could have handled that a bit better...
  "Haa...I hope Jericho"s doing better than me..."
  I hate getting poisoned. I know that should be a given, but I"ve never been poisoned before. Well, not counting food poisoning, but that just proved my point since I absolutely loathed having food poisoning. Now that I had suffered real poisoning, I could honestly say that I didn"t care for it very much.
  Sweat poured off me, my body feeling incredibly hot as I glanced up at a few moths hanging above. They were the size of a seagull, the wings a light purple while the fuzzy stuff at the top of their thorax a darker purple. With every flap of their wings, purple powder fell on top of me, seeping into my skin, further poisoning me.
  I jumped into the air, swinging wildly at them. Between my reach and their limited mobility, I sliced through one of them, severing its wings. After stomping on it, I jumped up again and lucked out by getting both of them. They had no defensive abilities beyond flying above you, and after awhile the poison kicked in so other monsters could finish you off.
  "Mr. Jericho, here"s an antidote," Lili said, offering me a vial filled with a dark purple vial. I wasted no time snatching it from her hands, popping the cork and draining it in one go. Almost instantly, I felt better.
  "Thanks, are you feeling okay?" I asked, keeping a watchful eye on the tunnels to our sides. I saw Lili nod out of the corner of my eye before she spoke.
  "Lili is fine, her coat protected her from the poison powder," she commented as she began to harvest monster stones. I nodded, keeping a lookout while she worked. There were quite a few corpses, so it would take a few minutes. Which made it the perfect time to catch a breather. "Lili has another mandible," she spoke up, holding it out. "This makes sixty-three."
  "Sweet," I said with a nod, watching Lili stuff the monster drop into her bag. The things really were rare, for the most part. I hadn't been keeping track, but it was something like every fifteen dropped one. "Thirty-seven left to go."
  "Does Mr. Jericho wish to keep going today?" Lili asked, looking up at me. A sheen of sweat coated her face, and I noticed that it was taking her a little longer to retrieve the stones than normal. Something I noticed was that just because I was carrying her, that didn"t mean she was having a relaxing time. Holding onto me proved to be much more tiring than simply walking around. From the looks of it, she was asking since she hoped the answer would be yes.
  I checked the time to see it was only an hour before we usually left anyway. Well...might as well, I guess. Not to mention, we already blew through our antidotes.
  "Yeah, might as well. Are you done?" I asked, watching her pick up a pair of purple wings that disappeared into her bag. Lili turned around to give me a nod, smiling brightly despite her tired appearance. She usually looked wiped by the end of the day, but if she was asking to call it quits early then there had to be an actual problem. Maybe she was getting overworked?
  I did spend something like twelve hours a day down here, whereas most adventurers called it a day after five or so unless they were going deep into the Dungeon.
  "Lili is finished! Thank you for understanding Mr. Jericho," Lili said, bowing so low that I"m honestly shocked that she somehow didn"t fall over with that stupidly massive bag on her back. "Lili will understand if you want to punish her for being so lazy-"
  "No, that"s fine, no punishments or anything like that," I hastily cut her off. It still creeped me out when she said stuff like that with her usual chipper tone. "Just don"t worry about it, okay? I"ve been pushing you pretty hard every day without a break so don"t worry about it."
  "Thank you Mr. Jericho," Lili said, rising back up. I looked at her, my mouth open to say...something. What exactly, I didn"t know, but I thought better of it. Words didn"t matter to her, only actions did.
  "Do you want me to carry your bag?" I offered, starting to walk back towards the exit. Thanks to the maps of the upper floors Eina provided, I already had this floor mapped out. Next to me, Lili shook her head.
  "No thank you, Mr. Jericho. Lili can at least do this much," Lili said as we made our way out of the Dungeon.
  Our way back was far less eventful than our start of the day. When you knew your way, and the Dungeon didn"t bother throwing too much at you as you left, it took about fifteen minutes to reach the Guildhall from the seventh floor. Barely anything at all. Before long, we stood in front of a teller as Lili unloaded our earnings for the day.
  "Your total is...fifty-three thousand valis," he said, passing over several heavy bags of gold through the slot. The guy looked up at me, his expression blank, but I didn"t miss how he glanced between me and Lili. Though, I paid it no mind because...
  I thought our earnings would be higher today. The seventh floor really ramped up the spawn rates compared to the upper floors, and the monster stones were worth more. Over the past ten hours or so, I killed a whole lot of monsters -- easily blowing past my bare minimum of one thousand exp.
  I took the bags of gold and turned to Lili. She tried to not stare at them as she fiddled with her straps, a sinking suspicion forming in my gut. Lili...was stealing from me, wasn"t she?
  "Here you go," I said, my voice not reflecting my thoughts. I guess it was half because I expected her to do it at some point, but I didn"t really feel betrayed or anything like that. Still, I couldn"t say it wasn"t disappointing. I guess I would have to keep better track of how many monsters I kill to learn how much she was skimming off the top.
  I had a nice nest egg, so I wasn"t hard pressed for money anymore, but I wouldn"t let what happened to Bell happen to me.
  "Thank you again, Mr. Jericho. Lili promises that she"ll make up for it tomorrow," Lili promised, tucking the bags of gold away. I shrugged, dismissing the issue as I glanced around the room. My gaze landed on a group of adventurers, most of them looking at me, though they were quick to look away when I caught them. They wore decent looking armor, one of them wore an emblem emblazoned on their shoulder pad. A crescent moon with a fancy looking cup inside of the moon. That was...the Soma familia"s emblem, wasn"t it?
  My eyes narrowed as I tore my gaze away, trying to play it off as a coincidence. I turned my attention down to Lili and sent her a lopsided smile, "I said don"t worry about it, Lili. Just make sure you get some rest for tomorrow."
  "Lili will! Goodbye, Mr. Jericho," Lili said, waving goodbye as she left the Guildhall. I watched her leave, a small sigh deflating me as I made my way to the showers. I didn"t see Eina anywhere, so she might be off today. As I made my way to the showers, I walked by the group that was eyeing me, none of them glancing my way as I passed them by.
  As soon as I was out of sight, I shoved my earnings into my Inventory before stripping off my armor. After everything was off, I paid close attention to how everything looked before I took a quick shower. Less than five minutes long. After wiping myself down, I went back to the armor rack and my locker and found exactly what I expected to see.
  My clothes had been moved, the same for my armor. Someone had tried to rob me. Well, Lili had already robbed me, but someone else was trying to steal from me.
  And, as I expected, that group of people was nowhere to be seen when I came out of the showers.
  "Hm," I hummed, leaving the Guildhall. That could be a problem. No, it was a problem already. Was this Asshole the Seconds move? It"s not what I expected, but that didn"t change a couple of guys from his familia were trying to steal from me. Was it just coincidence, or were they following orders? I didn"t know. Maybe I should have stuck with the canon timeline so I wouldn"t have to deal with these questions.
  Still, if they were after my money...then there were better ways to get it. I was still expecting something from Asshole the Second, so maybe this was just testing the waters or something? Again, I had no idea. I"ve never had to worry about getting blackmailed before, so all of this was new to me.
  "Excuse me," a woman"s voice broke me from my plotting. I came to a stop, turning to the source of it, and blinked in surprise when I saw who it was. Silver hair with matching eyes that were the same color as steel, a heart-shaped face while her lips pulled upwards into a smile. Her hair curled inwards ever so slightly near her mouth, two locks of hair hanging by her cheekbones. Syr Flova. The girl that looked like Freya.
  "Yeah?" I started, coming to a stop, feeling more than a little cautious. Her connection to Freya in the anime was vague, only that she looked like the goddess and she seemed to take orders from her. Though she did seem to have genuine feelings for Bell, other than that Syr was a great big mystery. "Wait, your Syr, right? You stitched up my pants for me."
  Syr nodded, beaming joy out of every pore. She clasped her hands behind her back, smiling at me in a cutesy way. "I did! But, I wanted to apologize on behalf of the children, they wanted to have a little fun, but..." She shrugged dramatically, a troubled expression passing over her face. "I hope they didn"t cause you too much trouble..." She said, fishing to see if I was still pissed.
  "Eh, I"m more embarrassed about how I reacted. Just...could you tell the kids if they want to play pranks, then stick to stuff like whoopie cushions? I mean, I"ll just laugh it off, but not everyone will," I said, shrugging as I scratched at my cheek. Syr nodded gravely as a look of relief replaced the troubled look.
  "I will. I"ve already had a stern talking with them, I promise," Syr informed, then her smile became a little more shyer in nature. "I"m not sure if your goddess told you, but the offer of a free meal is still open!" Oh, yeah...I completely forgot about that. With everything else going on, going out to eat was the last thing on my mind.
  "I won"t say no to a free meal, but are you sure that"s okay?" I asked, recalling Mia, the owner of the Hostess of Fertility. She seemed to cut Syr a lot of slack, while also giving her a hard time when she slacked off too much.
  Syr nodded, "it"s all okay!" She answered, her shy look transforming into a slightly pleading one. "Please, could you come? I feel really guilty about what happened, I was supposed to be watching the children when they stole your clothes, but I was just so tired after work that I took a small nap! Can you please come, it would make me feel better," she finished, a light blush dusting her cheeks.
  She looked so embarrassed that I felt a blush on my own cheeks rise as I looked away, "er, yeah. I think my goddess has a day off coming up, so we"ll come then, okay?" And then we could finally celebrate forming our familia a week after it happened.
  "Yay!" Syr cheered, clapping her hands as she beamed at me, "I"ll get everything set up, Mr...?"
  "Jericho," I introduced myself.
  "Jericho," Syr repeated, sounding like she was considering the name. Then she nodded, satisfied. "Your name suits you, Mr. Jericho. I"m Syr Flovel, by the way. I look forward to seeing you! Don"t keep me waiting," Syr said, giving a small wave as she turned to walk down the street towards the Hostess of Fertility. I waved back, my mind slowly turning over the odds that this was by chance.
  Could I have attracted Freya"s attention? I know her thing was finding noble souls, souls of heroes and those that were unique...I was no hero, but was my soul unique? Did death leave its mark on my soul, or was she seeing the Gamer System in some manner? Or was I overthinking this, and it really was chance that Syr was inviting me to the Hostess, much like she did Bell.
  The odds were against it, but I still doubt that I had managed to attract Freya. I was...normal, hardly the beacon of innocents that Bell was.
  Either way, I wasn"t likely to find answers standing here and thinking about it. I would have to be on the lookout for signs that this was more than a chance meeting, like monsters rampaging through the city, a grimoire dropping in my lap or trained monsters cornering me in the Dungeon.
  A sigh escaped me as I started walking again, shoving the issue to the side for now. I had bigger fish to fry at the moment. As much trouble as Freya stirred up, her interference with my life could help a lot more than it would hinder. If what I recalled from the anime could be believed, then Zanis wasn"t likely to part with Lili for any amount of money simply out of spite. Which meant my only option was likely to be a War Game.
  A randomized battle that could end with me fighting him in a 1v1 duel, or his entire familia at once. It all boiled down to the same issue.
  I wasn"t anywhere close to being strong enough.
  I let out a huff of laughter as I started walking the final stretch home, the sun beginning to dip towards the horizon. It seemed that anime-protagonists-ites had infected me already since all my thoughts recently seemed to revolve around how I wasn"t strong enough.
  Stepping inside the church, I opened my inventory and took out the black backpack and shrugged it on. After that, I pulled out the chest that I tucked under one arm. Had to keep up appearances, and all that.
  "I"m home," I called out, ducking my head to enter the small room. Hestia had apparently beat me home because I smelled something cooking. Hestia made an adorable sound as I walked down the steps, she rushed to get in her usual position, only for something to clang to the floor.
  "Welcome back!" Hestia said sheepishly, picking up a pan that was thankfully empty. "You"re home early, is everything okay?"
  I nodded, letting her check me over, but she paused when she noticed that I was wearing my leg armor. "Woah," Hestia muttered, patting it down as if to test its integrity. Then her eyes lingered on a few scuff marks where the occasional killer ant or horned rabbit got me. Though, none had managed to injure me.
  "I picked it up this morning. It"s pretty great so far. And I"m back early since Lili couldn"t keep up and it was too late for me to bother going back down." I answered to draw her attention away from the scuff marks. Welf really did do good work.
  "Oh, well, dinner won"t be ready for a little bit," Hestia informed, taking a step back to look up at me.
  "That"s fine. Need any help?" I asked, starting to shrug off my armor. I would have just shoved it in my Inventory, but just because Hestia knew about my pocket dimension didn"t mean others had to learn about it. Especially when I was being watched by the Soma familia.
  "No! I can do it, just relax, okay?" Hestia hastily denied with a shake of her head as she went back to making dinner. I opened my mouth to tell her about what happened with the Soma familia for the thousandth time, and for the thousandth time, I closed my mouth. Telling her about the Soma familia meant that I would have to explain why I caught their attention. Which would lead me to explain that I had killed someone.
  How would Hestia react to that? No matter how I formed the justifications in my head, I don"t think any of them would work. I didn"t want her to look at me and think "murderer."
  "How was the Dungeon today?" She asked as she cooked something that smelled delicious. Just because I didn"t need to eat anymore, didn"t mean that I didn"t want to. Hestia was proving to be a talented cook.
  "A lot better now that I have my leg armor. Didn"t take a single scratch," I told her as I shoved my armor into my Inventory. "And I got a new sword while I was at it. Way better than my old ones." I said, taking it out of my Inventory to show Hestia. Her eyes widened a fraction when she saw the blade that was bigger than her.
  "Is it made by the same smith?" Hestia asked, inspecting the sword with a clueless expression on her face.
  "Yeah, Welf Corozzo, he"s apart of the Hephustus familia," I tacked on, seeing Hestia looked pleased at that.
  "Speaking of the Hephaestus familia, I got a new job!" Hestia exclaimed, sending me a proud look. "I"ll be selling weapons and armor made by level 2 blacksmiths!" She said, striking a pose that practically screamed "praise me."
  "Congrats! How"d that happen?" I asked, feeling some confusion. This hadn"t happened in the anime, at least not until Hestia took out an incredible loan for Hestia"s Knife. Given her lack of a reaction to my new weapon, then it didn"t seem like that was the case here.
  "Ah, I met up with Hephaestus and she told me about a position that opened up. It"s commissioned based, so my hours are going to be a lot more flexible." Hestia said as she turned her attention back to the stove. And since I was raking in the money now, it didn"t matter as much if she had a bad day profit-wise.
  "Hestia, if you want, you don"t have to work. I"m making enough money to support the two of us," I offered, making her look back at me. I knew what she was going to say just by looking at her expression. She smiled at me as she shook her head, filling the room with the sounds of bells chiming.
  "No, I want to work. If I sat here all day, every day, then I wouldn"t know what to do with myself!" Hestia exclaimed, dismissing the issue. I opened my mouth to argue but fell silent instead. I couldn"t help but feel there was a lot she wasn"t saying there.
  "Alright...just...know the option is on the table, okay?" I said, settling on the couch. There was a slope in the cushion where I sat the past couple of days. Pulling a book from my Inventory after shoving my sword back into it, I started to thumb through a chapter about the eighth floor of the Dungeon.
  To my disappointment, I still hadn"t found a Skill Book among the pile that Eina gave me. So, either there weren"t any or I needed to look into different kinds of books. Time passed rather quickly as I finished off the chapter just before Hestia informed me that dinner was done.
  "Smells great," I complimented, getting up to help her take the plates. On them I found a not-Phillie cheesesteak sandwich-- practically overflowing with strips of steak, topped with a liberal amount of cheese, with some peppers. There were also a nice pile of not-french fries off to the side. "Looks better."
  "He-he," Hestia puffed her chest out with pride as we both sat down. She really was easy to please. Not just sexually, but a word of praise was all it took to make her day. Honestly wish my relationships in my last life were this simple.
  I took a bite of the sandwich. Then another. And another. And another and another. I would have taken another one, but by that time it was gone entirely. I never put it back down. I caught a look of amazement from Hestia out of the corner of my eye, so I gave her a closed-lipped grin while I chewed. "S"good."
  It took Hestia a lot longer to finish her"s off, but even then she only made it halfway before she passed me the remainder. After finishing off her plate as we chatted, I picked up the dishes to wash before taking off my tank top. I caught Hestia blushing as she looked at me, and that blush only intensified when she realized I caught her looking.
  "Let"s update my status. I think I did pretty well today," I said, throwing myself onto the bed and feeling it groan underneath my weight. A moment later, I felt Hestia climb up on top of me. A bright light filled the room as she began to update my status.
  "I ran into Syr earlier," I started, realizing that I forgot to tell her. "She says that offer for a free meal is still on the table. I told her that you had a free day coming up...would you want to go-"
  "L-like a d-date?" Hestia stammered, getting a chuckle out of me.
  "Like a date," I agreed. "The Hostess of Fertility is an adventurer"s bar, but I"ve heard good things about its food," I told her, also thinking that it would be a good time to check out the quest boards in taverns.
  "Let"s go tomorrow!" Hestia decided, practically vibrating she was so excited at the prospect.
  "What-" I started, only to cut myself off as a screen appeared before my eyes.
  You have reached 50 in Endurance! Please select the perk you wish to be awarded:
  Toughness: 5% damage resistance.
  Life-Giver: Total health is immediately doubled and an additional 5% health is awarded with every permanent increase in health.
  You have reached 50 in Dexterity! Please select the perk you wish to be awarded:
  Dexterous: Bonus 5% exp awarded for all Dexterity related actions.
  Graceful: Finding your balance is a simple task, regardless of positioning.
  Due to reaching 50 in Endurance and 50 In Dexterity, you have been awarded the perk:
  Ballerina: You now move with an almost unnatural grace. ​
  "What"s wrong?" Hestia asked as I read over the boxes again, surprised to see them. They were the first popups I"ve seen in the week I"ve been here.
  "I"ve reached a milestone with my stats, and my falna is letting me pick a perk," I answered, my brow furrowing as I stared at my choices. How did Graceful or Ballerina work? Would I suddenly be able to dance, or something? What did it mean by "almost unnatural grace?"
  "Tell me about it," Hestia demanded, her voice uncharacteristically serious. I did so, repeating what I saw, the light still glowed so she paused updating my status. Hestia fell silent after I was done, both of us thinking on the perks. "I don"t understand this -- is this from Gamer Body?"
  I nodded, "yeah, it is." I confirmed
  "I can"t finish updating your status until you pick one, it seems. I...don"t know which one you should pick. I"m sorry..." Hestia trailed off, I could practically see the frown she wore despite the fact she was behind me.
  Which one should I pick? More damage resistance sounded nice, but so did that instant boost in HP and more gains each time my Endurance went up by ten. But...that five percent wouldn"t do me a lot of good down the line, would it? It was already getting harder and harder to increase my Endurance stat. Still, doubling my health right now sounded fantastic.
  My health now was 161. Doubling that would put me at 322. Getting stabbed in my arm cost me about 15 hp. Probably less now that my physical resistance was higher. At the same time, that extra 5% physical resistance would bring me up to 15% total. Between that and my armor, that was a pretty decent number. At that point, I doubt cuts and scrapes would damage me at all.
  But..."I"ll pick Life-Giver," I decided after a long minute of thought. The extra 5% boost in hp sold me on it. So, my next health boost would be...370 or so. And that number was going to keep getting bigger alongside my physical resistance.
  You have gained the perk: Life-Giver!​
  As for my Dexterity perk...I couldn"t lie, that 5% gain for Dexterity was tempting as all hell. Between Limber and Fast Learner, my total bonus exp for Dexterity would be 15%. That sounded fantastic. However, Graceful caught my eye. How would it interact with the perk Ballerina? If I was almost unnaturally graceful now, then wouldn"t having near perfect balance be some pretty great synergy?
  Or, was there no point to it since I handcrafted this stupidly huge body? Between it and my heavy armor, it sounded like I needed to make sure I got as much exp as possible for Dexterity. But, at the same time, the synergy between Graceful and Ballerina sounded pretty powerful. I was already fairly flexible -- I could touch my toes without bending over, and stuff like that. Not to mention that if I was more graceful, I could fight more dexterously, which, in turn, would give me more exp for that stat. If carrying heavy stuff gave more strength, and continuing to carry stuff when I was tired gave endurance, then moving like a ballerina in heavy armor would grant more dexterity.
  ...You know what? Let"s science it.
  "And I"ll go with Graceful," I decided before I could think better of it.
  You have gained the perk: Graceful!​
  Instantly, the light began to fade, Hestia letting out a sigh as she patted my back lightly. "I really don"t know what to think of this," she mused aloud as she peeled off the paper on my back. As she got off me, I nodded, feeling much the same, if a little less lost.
  "But, it sounds like it"s going to help me in the long run," I told her as I accepted the paper to look down at my new status.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 23,867/1,000,000
  Strength: 38
  Endurance: 53
  Dexterity: 50
  Intelligence: 12
  Sense: 33
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 5% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Abnormal Resistance: Poisons, Toxins, and Drugs are 5% less effective. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.
  Kissing: An intimate act between lovers that, if done well, can bring pleasure to the target. Effectiveness is determined by the Dexterity and Sense stat.​
  "I sure hope so," Hestia muttered, cuddling up to me as I turned over. I wrapped my arm around her, hugging her to my body.
  "Don"t worry so much. Everything is going to turn out fine."
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  My Stories: Gone Native: Earth Saga (DBZ/DC Comics), Risk It All (Young Justice/Gamer), Fool's World (F/SN), Legends Never Die (Ahistorical/CKIII Gamer), Castoff (Berserk/Witcher 3)
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  "Lili, you feeling okay?" I asked, spotting the smaller girl as I walked up to the central plaza, the dark sky hanging overhead. Even in the low light, the moment Lili turned to look at me, I saw something was wrong. She looked absolutely haggard like she stayed up all night for the second day in a row. Dark bags hung underneath her eyes, her light brown eyes were bloodshot and her face was pale. Practically bloodless.
  Even still, Lili nodded, looking as chipper as ever. "Lili is fine! Lili just stayed up a little too late past her bedtime, is all," she said, beaming joy and happiness out of every pore.
  I frowned at her, not believing that in the slightest. "I"m serious, are you feeling okay? Do you think you"re up for going into the Dungeon?"
  Again, Lili nodded, undeterred by my tone. "Lili won"t slow Mr. Jericho down at all, she promises-"
  "I"m not asking because I think you"ll slow me down. I don"t want you getting hurt or push yourself when you"re ill. Lili, you look absolutely exhausted." I observed, wishing that her coat didn"t cover so much of her so I could find more symptoms. She looked awful.
  Lili blinked, my concern catching her off guard, but she shook her head a moment later. "Lili isn"t sick. She...just hasn"t been sleeping really well," she admitted, looking down so I couldn"t see her face. "Lili"s familia dues are coming up, and she has rent too. Lili has been stressing out a whole bunch because she doesn"t think she can afford both."
  That was a lie. I"m ninety-nine point nine percent sure of it. In the canon timeline, Lili avoided paying her dues for months to stockpile funds to buy her way out of the Soma familia. I guess it wasn"t any real surprise that she didn"t trust me enough to not tell me the real reason, but I had my suspicions.
  "...Are you absolutely positive that you"re okay to go into the Dungeon," I pressed, making Lili look up at me as she gave another nod. I didn"t believe her in the slightest, but she seemed determined to come with me into the Dungeon. Did that mean there was a trap, or was she that eager to impress her cash cow? Did she think that I would just find another supporter? "Because if you can"t, then I"ll go in alone. You can take the day off and we"ll just pick up tomorrow."
  Still, Lili shook her head, "Thank you for the offer, Mr. Jericho, but Lili is certain that she can keep up. Please, don"t worry about her." She insisted, still smiling at me but when she looked as ill as she did, then it looked that much more out of place.
  " least take this then," I said, pulling out a stamina potion that I passed over to her. "I don"t know how much it should help, but at the very least then it should keep you going for a bit," I said, watching her as she popped the cork and drained the potion. "And, I want you to tell me if you don"t think you can go on. None of that toughing it out, crap, okay?"
  This time, Lili"s smile seemed a little more genuine, "that"s a little hypocritical coming from Mr. Jericho," she commented, her tone light and teasing.
  Well, she had me there. "Do as I say, not as I do," I quoted to cover up my hypocrisy. I learned that tidbit from my dad. "So, what will you do if you feel like you can"t continue?"
  "Lili will tell Mr. Jericho that she needs a break," Lili said, her tone serious, seeming a little more alive now that she had an endurance potion in her. I guess those were the energy drinks of the fantasy world. Ah, I just reminded myself of coffee. I really needed to look into if there was any of that lovely beverage in this world.
  "Exactly," I said, gesturing for us to go on our way. Lili happily nodded as we made our way up the steps. Again, there was no Eina or Misha to be found, so we were able to march our way into the Dungeon without any complications. We blew through the first six floors in no time -- with my greatly improved Strength and Endurance. I could sprint all the way down, barely winded by the time I reached the seventh floor.
  I gripped my sword in one hand as we stalked down the halls. Unlike all the times before, we weren"t immediately besieged by monsters as soon as we stepped onto the seventh floor. We walked down the tunnels, and not so much as a single killer ant. Another few minutes later, there was still nothing. That told me one of two things -- either the monsters were floating around somewhere else, already spawned, or someone got here first and already killed them so they were on cooldown.
  If it was the second, then that sucked but oh well. If it was the first, that meant there could be a swarm of killer ants somewhere in the halls. With that thought in mind, I summoned upon my map to make sure we had a simple path back to the surface, and to make sure we didn"t go near large open spaces or pantries.
  Minutes passed as we walked through the halls, only the occasional monster appearing. Without constantly fighting, it made exploring the Dungeon exceptionally faster. I did my best to avoid open areas, but as we consistently found nothing, the more it looked like someone had cleared out this floor before heading down.
  Which raised some questions. How high of a level were they if they could solo a floor? Or was it a group? Either way, for the past twenty minutes, I only had a hundred exp to show for it and, usually, by this time I had closer to five hundred. At this rate, I was better off going back up to the sixth floor.
  "Perhaps we should go down to the eighth floor?" Lili suggested in my ear, her grip tight but already I heard the beginnings of labored breathing. She really wasn"t doing too hot, was she? Though, I considered her words for a moment, feeling...uneasy about the proposal.
  The recommended stats for the eight floor and below were E. Most of my physical stats were D, so technically I could go down there. was a bit odd that Lili was suggesting that we go down there. To be blunt, I didn"t think she was trying to get me killed. Why would she? I was making her a crap ton of money, but there was something about this that raised red flags. Or, was I just overthinking it? It wasn"t like Lili didn"t know I seemed to make some incredible gains each day. I went from being able to barely carry her for more than a few minutes, to being able to sprint for thirty minutes and barely breaking a sweat.
  She wouldn"t need to know my stats to know that I made some pretty big jumps. She could be assuming that I was strong enough to at least hang around the entrance. Not to mention, if things did go bad, then there wasn"t much on this floor that would try to ambush us. Actually, this was probably my best shot to test the waters of the eighth floor.
  "Good thinking," I praised as I started to make my way towards the entrance of the eighth floor. We were already kinda close, so it didn't take very long to reach there. Especially when the only monsters we came across were a few purple moths, and that was it. The entrance to the eighth floor looked similar to the seventh, only it stood out less. If I didn't know it was the entrance, then I would have assumed that it was another tunnel.
  The man-made feeling was gone from the Dungeon. The steps were uneven while some were a lot bigger than others. Like it was trying to look man-made, but it was crafted by a drunk toddler that only knew what stairs were because an equally drunk toddler described them.
  Slowly, I made my way down to the eighth floor, trying to spot the differences. Walking down, I stepped onto the eighth floor for the first time.
  It looked...pretty much exactly the same as the seventh floor. Maybe a little bigger, the ceiling was higher, but the tunnels looked to be about the same size. I waited a moment, waiting for the sound of monsters erupting from the walls, only for nothing to happen for a moment. A deep frown tugged at my lips as I walked a few more steps. Still nothing.
  "What"s going on?" I muttered to myself, not expecting an answer.
  "Maybe another familia came down here on a money gathering run?" Lili answered me, sounding just as thoughtful. That caught my attention.
  "Money gathering?" I asked, starting to walk down the tunnels, slowly mapping out the floor since Eina hadn"t given me one. I don"t think she expected me to get to this floor any time soon. Oh, man, she was going to be so pissed when she found out.
  "It"s where a familia brings out all their members to gather as much money as they can. It"s a more common tactic for adventurers going to the middle floors, but if a familia doesn"t have any members that are level 2, then they"re forced to do it on the upper floors." Lili explained, sounding just as annoyed about this as I was. Which was surprising. And reassuring.
  "So they don"t bother with the first six floors because the monster stones aren"t worth it?" I hazarded a guess, walking through the tunnels with growing confidence. This one seemed to be even emptier than the seventh.
  "Exactly. Depending on the familia, it could be like this all the way down to the twelfth floor," Lili confirmed with a nod of her head. That was extremely frustrating.
  "Do you know who it could be?" I asked, picking up the pace a little bit to jog through the tunnels. If there was nothing here, then I might as well map as much of it as I can. I sincerely doubt that Eina was going to be handing over any maps to this floor when she found out I was on it. Or, maybe she would, but either way, there would be a whole lot of yelling involved.
  Lili shook her head, "Lili doesn"t know. Doing money farming on the upper floors is usually frowned upon since most adventurers can"t go into the middle floors, so the rest of the city won"t make as much money. Lili is sure she"ll learn who it is later today when everyone starts bad-mouthing that familia."
  Well...that freakin sucks. I was kinda pumped for taking on the eighth floor, not to mention that today was a complete loss in terms of exp and stats.
  "Should we go back up to the sixth floor?" Lili questioned, sounding like she wanted something for waking up this early. I couldn"t blame her there.
  "Could you tell me where the entrance for the ninth floor is- I"m not going down, but so I can map it out in my head when we come back down here," I hastily explained, hearing Lili suck in a breath to tell me that was a horrible idea. "And we know this floor is practically empty for the next couple of hours, so we should be fine. What do you think?"
  Lili didn"t say anything for a moment before I felt her nod. "So long as Mr. Jericho promises to run away when it looks like were put in a tight spot and not leave Lili behind," she requested, forcing me to swallow a sigh.
  "I promise I won"t leave you behind," I swore, feeling awful that I had to promise that in the first place. It seems that she still didn"t trust me.
  With Lili directing me, it didn"t take long to find the entrance to the ninth floor. There were only a handful of monsters crawling about, the Dungeon offering minimal resistance as I delved deeper into it. The entrance looked nearly the exact same as the entrance to the eighth, and when I stepped down the stairs, I saw that it looked similar to.
  Everything was just getting a little bit bigger. As I glanced up at the ceiling, I frowned since I doubt I"d be able to jump and get the purple moths and other flying critters now. And since everything was bigger, the shadows the minimal light cast were longer and darker. Not so dark that I couldn"t peer through the darkness, but just dark enough to hide something if I didn"t pay attention.
  My musing was cut short when I heard the sounds of the Dungeon walls crumbling. My hearing was so sharp at this point, I guessed that three monsters were spawned. Glancing over to my right, I saw that I was correct. Three killer ants pulled themselves from the walls -- instantly, I noticed the difference between the ones I was killing on the seventh floor.
  These were bigger. The head was almost twice as big, its legs were thicker as they spread out more for stability. The mandibles were nearly the same size as a short sword, twitching as they seemed to be imagining ripping me apart with them. The ants earlier were the size of Lili, but these came all the way up to my stomach.
  They were creepy looking as all hell. Their exoskeleton was darker, almost black in some places -- these must be soldier ants.
  Wasting no time, I rushed towards them, Lili dropping off my back so I could fight this new enemy unimpeded. I gripped my sword with both hands, angling it so the tip was even with the closest killer ant before I thrust my sword forward. Immediately, I felt the difference as my sword plunged into the monster"s skull. The exoskeleton was thicker. Worse, since its head was so big, I think I missed the brain.
  The killer ant threw its head back, nearly ripping my sword from my hands, as the other two moved to flank me. I backpedaled, yanking my sword free. The action was so sudden that I should have fallen on my butt, instead, I deftly dodged out of the way as an ant lunged at me. I guess Graceful did what it said on the tin.
  Seeing an opening, I brought my sword down on the ant"s neck. Its thorax seemed too small in comparison to its head and abdomen. Snarling, I cut my way through the tough exoskeleton, beheading the monster. Even as its head flew free, the other two monsters pressed the attack, one of them gushing bug juice from its head.
  They climbed over the body, delaying them just enough that I could rear back my sword and unleash a slash at their heads. Swinging with all my strength behind it, I cleaved through the fist killer ants skull but the second was spared of any serious damage. With my sword out of position, it lunged again, its mandibles going for my neck. I dodged to the side, the monster sailing by. I couldn"t kill it, but I slashed at its legs, they served with far greater ease.
  The monster collapsed in a heap, lashing out in agony before I put it down with another stab in the head.
  "So, that was new," I commented, checking the tunnels to see that they were still empty. Lili wasted no time going to the corpses to dig out the monster stones. Out of the three I killed, one of them dropped a large mandible that Lili dropped into her bag. Hopefully, that trend would continue while we were down-
  I heard more stone clatter to the floor, not as many this time. A lone killer ant emerged from the wall. I darted forward, killing the monster before it could fully escape, cutting it in half at the thorax.
  "Mr. Jericho sure is strong," Lili commented as she retrieved another magic stone. No mandible. That quest reward would be mine! "Usually, only veteran adventurers can cut through the exoskeletons of soldier ants. And Mr. Jericho moved really well just now for being in heavy armor."
  I nodded, feeling pleased with myself. I had my worries about not getting that extra five percent exp boost for Dexterity, but I think it was the right move. I didn"t really notice it when I was walking around or carrying Lili, but when I was fighting, it was easy to see the difference in how I moved. My movements felt smoother, more...reactive to what I wanted.
  Yeah, I think I made the right choice.
  "Thanks, but these things feel a lot tougher than the killer ants before. I doubt I could have managed it with my old swords." I replied, keeping an ever-vigilant eye on our surroundings. Once I got used to fighting them, they wouldn"t be an issue, but for now, they seemed to be a pretty big threat. "Do they only spawn this floor? I know things change a lot on the tenth floor."
  That"s when large monsters started to spawn like orcs. Landform weapons became a thing. Smaller monsters got stronger and faster.
  "They do," Lili confirmed with a nod of her head as we slowly moved away from the entrance. "Soldier ants are why the guild recommends having stats that are at least E to come to this floor."
  I glanced over at the entrance before turning the corner, before turning my attention back ahead. We still had a clear shot back. This floor didn"t seem to be completely cleared out like the others, but so long as we hovered around the entrance, I didn"t see any problems with exploring a bit. Neither did Lili since she didn"t say anything about it.
  As I jogged through the tunnels, killing the occasional monster, I heard a sound behind us. The sound of footsteps, of metal tapping against metal. For a long while, I figured that it was something in Lili"s bag, but the sound was never consistent. As minutes turned to hours, for a time, I thought I had imagined it.
  I sidestepped a soldier ant before I cut it in half, eyeing the horned menace that lurked in the shadows. The horned rabbit launched itself at me like a speeding bullet, its horn aimed at the back of my knee. I turned sharply so the horn hit the knee guard of my armor, breaking the horn. Before the monster could flee, I stomped on the rabbit, crushing it.
  Whipping my head around, I looked behind us. To my surprise, I saw someone peeking out of the corner to watch the fight. They jerked their heads back, but it was too late. Someone had been following us.
  "Come out," I hollered at the person, turning around to face them. Lili glanced at me, then at the direction that I was facing. She pulled out her crossbow and pointed it at the corner. For a moment, the only sounds on the ninth floor were the hushed voices of whoever was behind the corner -- meaning, there was at least two.
  I gripped my sword tighter, ready to shout the demand one more time before they stepped out with confidence. And they should feel confident. There were five of them, three of them were decked out in armor while another two hung back, wearing leather armor with bows in their hands. All of them were men, the tallest of them was the one at the center that carried a sword and shield.
  The three warriors spread out, making it difficult to run by them. The one on the left carried a broadsword, a handsome man if it weren"t for three long scars that dragged down half of his face. On the right was a smaller elf, two twin daggers in his hands, his hair a deep blue while his golden eyes burned with greed.
  My gaze swept over them, taking a step forward as I pushed Lili behind me. My gaze lingered on the two in the back, humans holding bows aimed at me. Brothers, if I had to guess.
  "Well then. It"s like that, is it?" I spoke, keeping my voice calm, my gaze landing on the emblem emblazoned on the guy"s shoulder pad. Soma"s emblem. These were the guys that tried to rob me yesterday. And...I just put Lili behind me. Had I just surrounded myself?
  Was this a trap? Because this looked like a trap. She nudged me to come down here, now these guys appear? Were these the guys that cleared out two floors? Because if that was the case, then I was fucked.
  "Lili didn"t know," Lili spoke, her voice desperate as the men chuckled at my question. "Lili didn"t know! Please believe Lili, Mr. Jericho!" I...didn"t entirely believe her, but, at the moment, it didn"t look like I was about to get a bolt to the back of the head. That was good enough for me, at the moment.
  "Lili, I want you to take off your bag and get ready to run," I spoke quietly, glaring at the man that stood front and center. A plan formed in my mind because there was no way that this was going to end well.
  "Ah, yeah, it"s like that," the leader said, raising his shield as Lili dropped her bag. "We were hoping for a big payday before familia dues, but we barely have anything. I don"t suppose you"ve had more luck?" He asked, a knowing grin on his face. His sandy blonde hair was cut short, revealing the face of a young man.
  So, they didn"t clear the floors. That was better. It was still five to one, but it was better.
  "No, I don"t think I have anything for you," I said, my tone nowhere near as friendly. I was going to have to kill them. There were too many of them. They were going to kill me if I didn"t hand over everything that I had. I doubt they would stop at monster stones -- they would take my sword, armor, and potions too. They would leave me with nothing, forcing me to start from scratch.
  "Don"t be like that! We"ve been watching you, you know. You"re so generous with that girl behind you. Why can"t you throw a little of that generosity our way?" He asked, taking a confident step forward as the other two moved up with him in sync.
  I should have seen this coming. I was a huge guy, and it wasn"t like it was a secret at this point that I was a rookie. And most days I came back up with around fifty thousand valis.
  "How about this -- you hand over your magic stones and send...Lili, was it? Send her to collect whatever you have saved up. And we"ll let you live." He said, throwing me a smile filled with white teeth. "And, maybe, you let us in on that generosity from now on? Nothing crazy, but maybe you toss us half of what you make down here?"
  Yeah, this was only going to end one way.
  "To be honest, I think I"d rather just kill the lot of you," I told them, speaking with far more confidence than I felt. My heart pounded in my chest, my heartbeat thundering in my ears. They had ambushed me, they were trying to rob me. This wasn"t like with Asshole the Second. I had a choice there. I didn"t have one here.
  "That"s a real shame. We could have a pretty profitable relationship, you know. You"re apart of a new familia -- there"s all kinds of things we could help you with-"
  I reached back to Lili"s book bag and threw it at the group of people. It sailed through the air, not fast enough that they couldn"t dodge it, but the bag was so big that it covered my approach. I heard the sharp twangs of a bow, so the archers had shot at me but the bag served as a shield. They were expecting me to go left or right, to thin out the numbers with a surprise attack.
  Instead, I dropped to my knees, sparks flying as my momentum carried. Like I thought, they had mostly stayed in formation based on their legs. That changed when I swiped at their legs with my sword. My sword wasn"t long enough to get all of them in one swing, so I picked the easy targets. The elf and the guy in the center.
  The elf was wearing light armor, so only his knees were armored. I cut through his boots and legs with ease, severing his legs as my sword continued the path towards the guy in the center. He was wearing armor, unfortunately, so I didn"t manage to do the same to him. Instead, I knocked his legs out from underneath him.
  The elf screamed bloody murder as the center guy went down, Lili"s pack hitting him since he wasn"t prepared for it. There was still the broadsword guy, but I ignored him for now. As I pushed myself up, I looked at the archers to see that they wore matching expressions of terror. They both went to fire off another arrow, but one of them fumbled, dropping it as I rushed towards them. The second did not.
  An arrow raced towards me, I don"t know if they were aiming for my chest, but that"s where they hit. Thank the gods for heavy armor. The arrow bounced off my armor, letting me get in close. Readying my sword, I swung with all my strength, pivoting for a little extra power because I heard Broadsword Guy rushing my back.
  My greatsword cut right through their leather armor. Flesh and bone gave way with some resistance, but it was easier than cutting the soldier ants in half. I cut through one brother, then the other, both halves falling to the floor as I turned on my heel just in time to block an attack from Broadsword Guy. A loud clang rang out, Broadsword Guy"s face twisted int a ferocious snarl.
  I guess they were friends. He pushed me back a half step, slashing at me with a ferocity that I was barely able to block in time. Each time our swords clashed, I felt the vibrations race through my arms, my grip so tight on my sword that my fingers could mold it. His sword was little more than a blur to me, forcing me to be on the defensive. In a way, it felt a lot like fighting my brother with lightsabers back when I was a kid. Only about a thousand times more dangerous.
  Sword and shield guy pushed himself to his feet, and unless I wanted this to be a two on one fight, then I had to end this fast. He was faster than me. Stronger too, despite my larger size. What did I have on him? Dexterity. Grace and Ballerina.
  Instead of blocking the blow that was poised to behead me, I stepped out of its way as I readied a counter-attack. Broadsword Guy was already moving to block the attack, so plan A was already a failure. Instead, I angled my sword away from me as I took a step forward, making his sword effectively useless. His eyes widened when he realized what I had planned, jerking his head out of the way but it was too late.
  The edge of my sword opened up the side of his neck, red blood spurting out as I shoulder checked him hard enough that he fell. He let go of his sword, a hand going to his neck to stem the bleeding as another hand went to his pouch.
  Ah. Then he would live.
  The thought came from something ice cold and rational in my mind. Health potions were incredibly effective -- if he poured one powerful enough on his neck, then he would be back in the fight. He was using the same strategy that got me through every video game I have ever played: Spam health potions.
  So, I cut his head off.
  As his head flew free, I heard a snarl rip itself from Sword and Shield Guy"s throat as he rushed towards me. "What the fuck is this?" He roared at me, swinging at me- my legs nearly buckled at the near overwhelming force he hit me with. He wasn"t just stronger than me, he was stronger than Broadsword Guy as well. "You killed them!"
  I did. I cut a guy"s legs off. I cut two guys in half. I executed another. I... "I told you I would," I said, pushing my thoughts into the deepest, darkest pit in my mind I could find.
  That was the wrong thing to say. Sword and Shield Guy snarled, shifting his grip to make a thrust at me. I blocked the blade, but not enough. I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder as he practically stabbed my shoulder, only to yank his blade to the side. It hurt a lot, just not enough to stop me. I"m sure at this point there was more adrenaline in my veins than blood.
  "What kind of bullshit are you trying to pull?! You"ve been an adventurer for a fucking week, my fucking ass!" Sword and Shield Guy roared at me, swiping at me. I managed to block again, but I felt another cut on my arm, though it was shallower this time. I was losing this fight.
  "You"re in over your head, you stupid kid. I"m nearly a level 2 adventurer!" Sword and Shield Guy yelled, lunging at me. I blocked a swing aimed at my arm, no sooner that I blocked it, he was attacking again. His sword slipped downwards, dragging across the back of my knee and only Welf"s foresight saved me from getting hamstrung.
  As he withdrew, tsking to himself, I seized the chance to press the attack. My blade was completely out of position, so I reversed my grip and lashed out at his face with the pommel. Sword and Shield Guy dodged a second too late, the heavy pommel slammed into his forehead hard enough that skin broke.
  Sword and Shield Guy stumbled back, recovering from the blow. Gripping my sword with both hands, I swung as hard as I could, intent on cutting him in half. Unfortunately, he wasn"t stunned enough that he was out of the fight. He raised his shield, blocking the blow, and even as he skid a few inches over the rough ground, my sword came no closer to him.
  He was so much stronger than me. His stats had to be somewhere around...B, or A even. He couldn"t be a level 2 since I was able to fight back at all, but this was insane.
  "You actually suck at this," Sword and Shield Guy sneered, sliding his blade forward to cut me again on the arm as he retreated out of my reach. "Is this your first time fighting something that isn"t a monster?" He taunted, making me grit my teeth in response.
  Now more confident with his superiority, he went on the attack. His sword darted to my face, I went to block it but it proved to be a feint, leaving me completely out of position to stop a cut at my hip. When I went on the attack to drive him away, he simply parried my sword before cutting my forearm again.
  "It"s a lot different fighting a man than a monster," he pointed out, sneering so hard that I hoped he pulled something as he drew another red long on my upper arm. Blood dripped from my wounds freely, trailing down my arms and dripping from me with every movement. I was lucky that I had the neck guard and leg armor, otherwise, he would have gone for an artery by now.
  I wasn"t winning this fight, I slowly started to understand. I had no sword skills beyond wildly swinging my sword. He was stronger, faster and more experienced. What did I have on him? My size?
  With lack of a better plan, I darted towards him, swinging my blade with a wordless roar. Sword and Shield Guy smirked as he dipped below my blade, his own poised to stab upwards. I let go of my sword with one hand, lashing out at his blade and smacked it off course with my wrist. I felt the blade cut into the bone, but I would be fine. All I needed was a health potion and I would be fine.
  Now that he was wide open, I threw myself at him, knocking the both of us over. But I was on top.
  "Get off me-!" Sword and Shield Guy started to shout, thrashing underneath me with shocking strength. He tried to flip me over, and he would have managed it if I hadn"t jabbed a thumb into his eye, crushing it. "AHHH!" He screamed in agony, his face twisting. He hit me with his sword, but it harmlessly bounced off my armor.
  Since my sword was too long, I had to reverse my grip and raised it high before bringing it down on his forehead. Once. Then twice. Then a third time and a fourth time and a fifth. I kept slamming the pommel into his head until it cracked, splitting open.
  I won.
  "Fuck me," I cursed, rolling off him. The elf from earlier was still screaming his lungs out. Looking at him, I saw him clutching at his bleeding stumps, trying in vain to slow the bleeding. Crimson blood slipped between his fingers, dripping into a pool that rapidly expanded. My stomach clenched at the sight, dawning horror filled me.
  I did that, didn"t I? At the time, I wasn"t really thinking about anything other than surviving. Of winning the fight. I was...very different now that the fight was over. I cut that guy"s legs off. I was watching him bleed out. Broadsword Guy, I straight up executed him. Sword and Shield Guy, I broke his skull open-
  No. No, none of that. I could think about all that crap later when time was of the essence. I pushed myself up, spotting Lili pretty much exactly where she had been earlier. Her crossbow was still in hand, but when she caught me looking at it, Lili dropped it like a hot potato.
  "Lili didn"t know," Lili swore, tears gathering up in her eyes. "Please believe Lili, Lili had no idea that Soma familia was trying to steal from Mr. Jericho!" She took a step passed the weapon, her bottom lip trembling as she held her hands up in surrender. I wanted to believe her. She seemed genuine.
  But I couldn"t. Lili was a brilliant liar and actor. No matter how much I wanted to believe her, I couldn"t.
  "Just..." I trailed off when the elf let out another horrified scream, clutching at his legs. He looked up at me, holding out a blood-drenched hand, an expression of pure horror on his face.
  "Please! Please, a-a health potion! Please!" He begged, his face devoid of a single drop of blood, his dark blue hair plastered to his sweaty skin. A hand went to my pouch to give him one, only for my hands to pause. They...they tried to kill me. They tried to rob me. Maybe they didn"t deserve this, but...
  I regret not killing Asshole the Second a couple of days ago. If I hadn"t been such a pussy, I wouldn"t have to worry about blackmail or the Soma familia or anything like that. If I had just killed him, then this entire thing would have never happened.
  I swallowed my horror and put on a brave face. I could do this. I could totally do this.
  Taking a knee, the dying man clutched at me weakly, only to catch a second wind when I pulled out a health potion. My mouth felt uncomfortably dry as I held the health potion out of reach, his weak clawing at my armor doing nothing. I quenched my thirst by drinking the health potion in front of him, his expression crumbling into utter despair.
  "Please, I"m begging you, I don"t want to die!" He wailed, fat tears trailing down his face. My will to do this nearly crumbled then and there. A hand went to my pouch again to give him one, but I stopped myself. Swallowing a lump in my throat, I pulled out another health potion that I held out of reach.
  "Who put you up to this?" I asked, trying to keep my voice firm. Showing weakness when I was...was practically torturing a guy would defeat the purpose.
  "No one did! We- we saw that you were kept bring up a lot of money, so we did some asking around and found out that you were a rookie! We thought you were just cocky since nothing could seriously hurt you!" The elf practically screamed at me, a hand lunging for the health potion. I don"t think he was lying.
  So, this wasn"t Asshole the Seconds move. Which was...good?
  "D-Did anyone tip you off?" I asked calmly, glancing up at Lili, who looked frozen stiff. She stared at me, wide-eyed, appearing so scared I half expected her to take off running.
  "No! I told you, we heard that elf screaming about you and kept seeing you making a lot of cash!" The Elf roared at me, apparently pissed that he had to answer the question again. "Please, please, just give me the health potion. I-I won"t say anything about this. I swear. I swear on my fucking life! Please, give it to me!"
  Lili...wasn"t in the clear yet. It was possible that he didn"t know. I couldn"t trust her about this because I wanted to. No matter how I looked at this, this looked shady as all hell.
  "Did you tell anyone you were going to do this?" I asked, trying to wrap my head around what I was about to do. Knowing that I was going to do it, and kneeling here to do it were very different things. My hands got all sweaty, my heart pounded in my chest even harder than it did in the actual fight.
  "No! W-we didn"t tell anyone, didn"t w-want anyone to muscle in our p-payday," the elf stammered out, still weakly grabbing at the health potion in my hand.
  "Are you sure that no one knows? Because if you"re lying..." I moved the health potion away from him, and the pathetic noise that he made nearly made me puke.
  "No one knows," the elf swore, practically sobbing as he grasped at the health potion.
  "Is anyone else planning anything? Has...uh...Canoe said anything?" I demanded, struggling to recall Asshole the Second"s real name. The elf was fading fast. He didn"t have much gas left in the tank.
  "I don"t know! I swear I don"t know! Please, just give me the health potion. I-I don"t want to die. I don"t want to die..." the elf said, his voice trailing off as it was lost in heavy sobs. Everyone thought that when they stared death in the face, they"d be the cool, collected, badass that didn"t blink. I sure did.
  After dying once, I"m certain that if it hadn"t been so fast, I wouldn"t be any better than the elf.
  Swallowing thickly, I pushed myself to my feet. I didn"t get all the answers I wanted, but I got enough. The elf grabbed onto my leg, muttering denials because he knew what was coming. I...doing this was probably going to royally screw things up with Lili, but in this scenario, I couldn"t bring myself to care. Especially when I wasn"t sure if Lili hadn"t set this up.
  "Don"t," The elf ordered, trying to control his voice as he squeezed down on my armor. "Please, don"t."
  I raised my sword and, for a moment, I hesitated. Did I really have to do this? Were there better options? Maybe if I made him I picked the wrong choice once already when it came to this decision. I should have killed Canoe when I had the chance. If I let him live, then I was going to constantly wonder if he was going to keep whatever promise he made to save his life. He was begging now because he was in shock. That shock would turn to anger soon enough.
  So, I plunged my sword down into his chest. The elf gargled, his hands going to my sword, but they never made it. The fell to the side, his gaze staring up at me but his eyes were blank. He was dead.
  A huge sigh escaped me as I pulled my sword free. I stared at his body for a second, then I turned my attention back to Lili. She stared up at me, so still I don"t think she was breathing. When it was clear she wasn"t going to speak, I broke the heavy silence between us.
  " have to understand how this looks, right? I was just ambushed by your familia members," I spoke, keeping my voice calm. Slowly, Lili nodded, her expression a mix between fear and anger.
  "Lili knows how this looks, but Lili didn"t know about this. Or any of it! Lili didn"t set a trap for Mr. Jericho! I- the Soma familia is really big, and-" She cut herself off, taking a step forward, another step away from her weapon. I wanted to believe her. I really, really did.
  But..."Lili, if I brought you in front of my goddess, and asked you to say that you didn"t know about this, what would my goddess say?" I asked, watching her very carefully. Hope ignited in her eyes as she gave a firm nod.
  "Lady Hestia would say that Lili is telling the truth!" Lili declared with so much certainty that it made me pause. She looked half ready to grab me by the hand and march me to Hestia herself. That was...good, wasn"t it? If she was so confident, then that had to mean she was telling the truth, right?
  I hesitated before I gave her a slow nod. "Okay. That"s what we"ll do then," I said, watching very carefully for any hint that she might be lying. If anything, Lili looked relieved.
  "Thank you for giving Lili this chance to prove herself, Mr. Jericho," Lili said, going towards her bag with my permission. I turned my attention to the bodies, swallowing back bile as it sunk in that I caused this carnage. I pushed my disgust away and started following Lili. The urge to loot the bodies was lost underneath the desire to get the hell out of here.
  After Lili picked up her bag, neither of us said a word to each other.
  "Is this Mr. Jericho"s home?" Lili asked, looking around the hovel, trying to disguise her interest. She seemed surprised, which was fair I guess. Hestia and I could afford to move to a better place, one with a ceiling that wouldn"t leak when it rained, but the topic hadn't come up yet. It would soon enough if only because I wanted a bed that could actually fit me.
  The small home was empty at the moment, so Hestia was probably off getting ingredients for dinner. She would be back soon enough.
  "Hm," I confirmed with a nod, sitting on the bed to give Lili some space. I gestured to the worn-down couch for her to sit on, paying close attention to her. She looked drained physically and emotionally. For a few seconds, there was a heavy silence, Lili doing her absolute best not to look at me while I didn"t know what to say.
  "I know it's not to look at but it's enough for me and my goddess," I spoke, at last, going to a safe topic.
  "Goddess Hestia? What...what is she like?" Lili asked, sitting on the center cushion. She clasped her hands in her lap, looking down at them to prevent me from seeing her expression.
  "Bubbly," I started, scratching at a smooth cheek. "Kind. And she worries a lot about me, probably more than she should. She works hard too -- if you've gone down Spirits Cross, then you've probably seen her work a jagamarukun stall." At that, Lili glanced up at me sharply, surprised.
  "She is your goddess? Lili thought Mr. Jericho's goddess would a little more..." she trailed off, shifting where she sat as she looked back down at her hands.
  "Yeah," I agreed, knowing what she was trying to say. I would take a double look if I saw someone that looked like me walking down the street with someone like Hestia. "But I couldn't ask for a better goddess," I told her honestly, getting a small nod out of Lili. She fell silent after that, staring at her hands in deep thought. It would seem that I was going to have to carry this conversation.
  "Lili...tell me about the Soma familia," I requested, leaning forward so our eye levels at the same level. Lili"s hands curled into fists before she realized it, forcing herself to unclench them.
  "Does Mr. Jericho know what Soma is?" She asked in a quiet voice, still refusing to look at me.
  "I know your familia specializes in selling wine, but only your God makes it," I told her, not wanting to overplay my hand. It would one thing to know common knowledge about her familia, but the inner workings were closely guarded secrets. "But I'm guessing there's more to that story. I've seen some other members of your familia at the teller, and they always seem...desperate for more money."
  "That's because they are desperate. Lili's familia isn't like Mr. Jericho's," she continued, clasping her hands together. "The wine that the Soma familia sells, it's all labeled as failures to make true Soma wine. The familia sells it to recoup some losses, and failures are still worth tens of thousands of valis, but it might as well be water when compared to true Soma wine."
  "Lili's familia has dues to determine who gets to drink Soma wine. It's no more than a single sip but that's all it takes to get drunk...and...Soma's..." Lili trailed off, making me glance at my own hands in thought.
  "The euphoria that it gives is addicting," I supplied. "The feeling of release. It becomes all they think about, everything that they do is to chase that feeling. It makes the time when they"re not feeling it unbearable. They do things that they never would have done before to chase it. And, in their own minds, no matter how twisted and awful, make perfect sense if it gets them what they want."
  I glanced up to see Lili staring at me with naked shock. "Has Mr. Jericho...?" She asked, the question a sensitive one.
  "My dad," I answered shortly, not wanting to delve deeper into painful memories and a lifetime of disappointment. Thankfully, Lili seemed to pick up on that since she nodded in understanding.
  "Lili"s parents died because of Soma. They went into the Dungeon to make money to get more Soma, and they never came out." From the sounds of it, that was an old wound for her. "But no one cared. Plenty of members of the Soma familia go into the Dungeon and are never seen again."
  "And it"s not always the monsters that get them," I stated, earning a slow nod from Lili.
  "Lili"s familia isn"t a real familia. All everyone cares about is drinking more Soma and nothing else. All the stronger members of the familia steal from the weaker ones like Lili, or...kill them to avoid paying them." Lili explained, painting a very grim picture for the Soma familia.
  "So...will anyone notice that, uh-"
  "Lili doesn"t think so. Lili recognized some of them, and most of them were new members," she said earning a sharp look from me. "But Kylar, the one with the sword and shield, did drink Soma regularly, so it"s possible that the leaders of the Soma familia might notice that he"s gone but they"ll probably assume he was murdered for money."
  Well, that was a relief. If the Soma familia decided to show up on my door right now, I"d die. No questions asked. I barely won that fight against Asshole the Second, and apparently, he was a generic mook that existed solely to show off how bad the bad guys were.
  "The leaders of your familia...they"re level 2, right?" I recalled, earning another nod from Lili.
  "Zanis and Chandra. They don"t really get along, but Zanis is the captain of the Soma familia. He"s the reason why the Soma familia is what it is. He"s the one that made it that you had to pay to drink Soma, and he doesn"t just let his familia kill each other for money, but he encourages it!" Lili practically shouted, the anger I saw a glimpse of before returning, only she was too tired to maintain it. She slumped into the couch, her shoulders drooping in defeat.
  I nodded, having known all that already. Zanis was scum of the highest order. He was the worst kind of villain -- a narcissistic mastermind that bought into his own hype that was evil for the purpose of being evil. When I came to this world, I can"t say killing him was one of the reasons, but it sure was on the list now.
  "And your god just lets that happen? Why doesn"t Soma do something about it? I mean, if he just told him to fuck off and not update anyone Status, then I can"t imagine Zanis would stay in power long after that," I asked, making Lili clench her fists again, the anger surge in her tense, but small frame.
  "Because Soma doesn"t care enough to stop it. The Soma familia exists to support him so he can spend all his time making wine. He couldn"t care less what happens to the members of his familia," Lili muttered bitterly. I nodded slowly at that, let out a soft breath now that the exposition dump was over.
  I heard the door opening behind me. Lili went stiff where she sat as Hestia hummed loudly to herself right up until she noticed that we were here. Several expressions passed over her face before she landed on concerned.
  "Is everything okay?" Hestia asked, rushing over with arms full of ingredients, her gaze going over both of us for any signs of injuries. A small gasp escaped her when she found the blood on my arms. "What happened?"
  "We were ambushed in the Dungeon by the Soma familia," I told her, making Hestia"s eyes go so wide they nearly fell out of her head. "We"re fine, but..." I trailed off, feeling oddly exhausted from everything.
  "Lili is apart of the Soma familia," Lili picked up, understanding flooding Hestia"s eyes. "Mr. Jericho was afraid that Lili might have lead him into a trap, so he wanted Lady Hestia to confirm that Lili hadn"t."
  Hestia glanced at me and got a nod to confirm what Lili said. "I want to believe her, but it looks sketchy as hell. We went down to the ninth floor, and five of them had been following us for a while. All of them Soma familia." I explained, watching Hestia"s lips thin until she wore an expression I had never seen before.
  Anger. Hestia looked beyond furious, achieving a tranquil fury that allowed her to take in a long breath before she turned to Lili.
  "Did you have anything to do with this?" Hestia asked, her voice ice.
  "Lili didn"t! Lili didn"t know about the ambush! If she did, she would have warned Mr. Jericho about it!" Lili said with conviction. I glanced at Hestia to see that she let out the breath she took as she nodded softly to herself.
  "She"s telling the truth," Hestia confirmed, lifting a great big weight off my shoulders. Lili wasn"t involved in this. She wasn"t secretly planning to murder me. There was still the issue of her stealing from me, but at this point, money was money and I knew what she was going to use it for.
  " you want to be in the Soma familia?" I asked, the question completely catching her off guard. She blinked at me, displaying clear confusion that couldn"t be faked. Then, slowly, her expression became far more guarded when she glanced at Hestia, who turned to me with a puzzled expression.
  "Lili..." Lili trailed off, her mouth open to continue but the words wouldn"t come. Then she looked down at her hands, unable to continue. As Lili fell silent, Hestia shared a meaningful glance with me. Somehow, she knew exactly where I was going with this and, despite knowing none of the circumstances, she gave a nod of approval.
  I reached out with a hand to give one of hers a squeeze. She offered me a smile that I returned before turning my attention back to Lili.
  "Well, that settles it then. I guess we"re getting you out of the Soma familia."
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  So, I"ve noticed some serious problems with the pacing of this story. When I was plotting out my outline and writing the backlog of chapters, I didn"t really notice it at the time, but it"s become pretty clear that the plot of this story is moving at a snail"s pace. So, to rectify this, after the next chapter there"s going to be a small-time jump.
  Lili looked down, her voice thick with emotions when she spoke. "Why does Mr. Jericho want to help Lili? You were really careful about it, but I still stole a bunch from you!" Had she? "Yesterday, I got really cocky and the split was thirty-five sixty-five!" Whoa, I knew she stole from me yesterday, but that much?! "So, why? Why does-"
  It would be a lie to say that I didn"t think of stealing Bell"s line when she asked that question. However, here, it didn"t fit. I hadn"t saved her from the jaws of death, choosing to save her even though she had betrayed me. Especially when I only knew her for a few days.
  "Because you need help," I told her instead, speaking gently as I knelt next to her. She still had to look up at me, her eyes filling up with a fragile cautious hope. "And I want to help you. Simple as that." I told her, making tears well up in her eyes again. She started to look down, but I gently placed a finger underneath her chin to make her gaze met mine. "Just have a little faith in me, okay?"
  Lili opened her mouth to speak, but the words wouldn"t come out. Instead, she nodded her head, trying to hold back tears. I looked over at Hestia to see her looking at me, I could exactly tell what she was thinking despite her habit of wearing her emotions on her sleeve, but if I had to sum up her expression in a word, it would be peaceful.
  Hestia walked over, placing a hand on my shoulder, squeezing it lightly to show her support. "Have a little faith in us," Hestia corrected, forcing Lili to glance up at her. And...I could see it. She didn"t believe us. Not fully. She might want to but she couldn't bring herself too, having been burned too many times in the past. That"s why she wasn"t saying anything. She was avoiding Hestia"s lie detector. I guess this is what happens when you don"t learn about a heroine"s problems without a life and death dramatic event.
  "We"re going to get you out of that familia as soon as we can. Do they expect to see you, or anything?" I asked, trying to hammer out a game plan. The more time I had to do it, the better.
  Lili shook her head, "N-no. Lili doesn"t live in the familia home, so they only see her when it's time to pay dues. So, in a couple of weeks." She answered, swallowing down her emotions with more than a little difficulty.
  "Good." I had about two weeks to power grind my stats. Provided that no one suspected anything, I could have even longer. "I"m still new to stuff like this, but we can buy your way out of the familia right?" I questioned, earning a nod. "Then I"ll start saving up. If Zanis is as big of an asshole as he sounds, I wouldn"t put it past him to ask for a stupid amount."
  Lili stared at me, her expression so carefully guarded that it betrayed absolutely nothing that she didn"t want it to. "How does Mr. Jericho know Lili wants to leave the Soma familia?" She questioned suddenly, catching me flat-footed. I could hardly tell her the truth, and when Hestia looked up at me, her gaze asking the same question, I realized that I had to stick as close to the truth as possible.
  "Because of how you acted around that Canoe, guy. And how those guys in the Dungeon acted. Then you"re talking about rent and familia dues -- you didn"t have to tell me, it was fairly obvious if you knew what to look for," I said, making Lili blink slowly.
  Lili agreed with a slow nod, "Lili has been saving up a bunch to buy her way out too. But...Lili is scared that he won"t take it..."
  "Then I"ll kick his ass and take you away," I told her, cracking a smile when I saw a rose tint on her cheeks.
  "Zanis is a level 2, Mr. Jericho! You can"t beat him -- I know you"re really big and strong, but the difference between even a high level 1 and the weakest level 2 can"t be overcome. He"ll kill you," she told me, sounding like she believed it. And I believed it too. Before fighting Sword and Shield Guy and Broadsword Guy, I might not have -- it felt like I was making great gains, and with everyone"s reactions, I thought I was too. And, I was. They just weren"t enough to close that gap.
  "Lili is right," Hestia seconded, her eyes filled to the absolute brim with worry. "If it comes to a fight, then we can"t win."
  I nodded, agreeing with her. As of right now, the most I could hope for is that my blood was hard to wash out of his clothing when I tried to fight Zanis. "That"s why I"m going to do some sit-ups, push-ups and drink plenty of juice to make the gains I need to win that fight. If he won"t take a price, then we"ll challenge him in a war game." I told her, standing back up, my armor jingling lightly with the movement. "If we have time, then I"m going to become a level 2 to even the playing field."
  Lili seemed uncertain but nodded all the same while Hestia sputtered. Probably because she could tell I was telling the truth. "Lili believes that Mr. Jericho will reach level 2 eventually-"
  "A month," I decided with a sense of finality, ignoring the stunned look that Hestia and Lili were giving me. I wasn"t even close to leveling up after nearly a week in this world. I was nearly a fifteenth of the way there. Worse, the plan was still the same -- increase my stats until I could reach the lower floors to get more exp. The killer ants were great, but the monsters below would be even better.
  "I"ll reach level 2 in a month," I repeated, giving myself a deadline. Now, if I didn"t manage it, then I would look really stupid. Now, it was time to buckle down. I needed to push myself even harder in the Dungeon. I needed to start pushing myself outside it too -- possibly at the expense of spending time with Hestia. Maybe. Whatever it took, I needed to blow through the upper floors to the fast, exp rich deeper floors.
  "But that"s impossible! The record holder managed to do it in a year, and before that, the record was five years! Mr. Jericho can"t level up in a single month," Lili proclaimed at me, standing up, all traces of the exhaustion that seemed to weigh her down was gone.
  I looked at Hestia to see her biting her lip. She knew about my weird falna -- my standards for leveling up were different than normal. One million exp. I could do it.
  "That so? Well, then, bet on it." I said, sending her a grin as I picked up my sword. "If I level up in a" I paused as if I had to think about it.
  Seizing on my hesitation, Hestia decided for me. "Then join our familia," she blurted, earning a sharp look from Lili. Despite her best efforts, I think I saw a crack in her mask. Her eyes shone with unshed tears. She swallowed thickly as she looked away from Hestia"s warm gaze.
  Lili wiped her eyes of the gathering tears before they could fall, not quite managing to hide the small smile on her face as she did so. "...okay. Lili will take that bet," she said, turning to look at me. There was no question in my mind that the small smile she sent my way was genuine. And, judging by Hestia beaming expression, I think she meant what she said.
  That was progress, wasn"t it? I still don"t think she fully believed us, but if she was willing to take this chance, if we followed through then that was progress. At the very least, it was way better than rescuing her at the last moment from a swarm of killer ants after getting betrayed by her. Less dramatic, to be sure, but this was a good thing. Words meant little to her, so if she saw us following through on our end, then, eventually, I think she would start to trust us a little.
  "Great, and if I don"t...well, you get "I told you so" rights until the day I die, sound fair?" I asked, sticking out a hand for her to shake. Lili reached out with a dainty hand, I engulfed her hand and shook it once. Her hands were even smaller than Hestia"s.
  Lili let out a huff that could have been a laugh if she put a little more effort into it, but I guess the fact that she felt comfortable to not laugh or giggle at my lame joke was a good thing. "Lili will do that," she said, her voice starting to grow rough with emotion.
  "Lili," Hestia started, smiling brightly at the girl, "would you like to stay for supper? I brought more than enough to feed an extra person."
  Lili shook her head, "Lili...would like to." She started, sounding honest, but she continued a moment later, "but, Lili shouldn't. Lili's familia could notice that the people that attacked Mr. Jericho haven't come back. Since Lili is the only one that can do it, Lili wants to make sure that no other Soma members are planning to attack Mr. Jericho."
  "Oh," Hestia wilted ever so slightly as Lili moved to get off the couch. I swallowed my suspicions -- insisting that she stay would just push her away. All I can do is hope that she wasn't planning anything against us. Or self-destructive. "I understand. Thank you for looking after my child, Lili," Hestia said, giving a small bow and, out of everything, that was what got the biggest reaction from her.
  Lili's eyes went wide, caught off guard by a god bowing to her. "L-lady Heatia shouldn't bow to Lili!" She blurted, clearly uncomfortable with the act, looking up at me for me to back her up. Maybe I would if my goddess was anyone else.
  "Thank you for looking out for me Lili," I said instead, offering a smile to her. "Will I see you tomorrow at the usual place?"
  Lili looked at Hestia, then at me, her hood blocking my view of her eyes. Slowly, she lowered her head, trembling ever so slightly. For a moment, I thought she was going to say no, but then her head rose back up to look at us again. "Mr. Jericho will see Lili tomorrow! Lili promises!" She declared, getting a grin out of me and a full-blown megawatt smile.
  "Good!" Hestia decided, going over to hug the smaller girl, practically smothering her in her chest. "And when this is all over if you wish it, I'll be happy to welcome you into my familia." I saw Lili go stiff in Hestia"s arms as she repeated the offer shortly before leaning into the hug until she was practically supported by Hestia.
  "Joining Lady Hestia"s familia would make Lili really happy," Lili told her. I didn"t need a lie detector to know that she was telling the truth.
  "I believe you. Come back as soon as you can, okay?" Hestia said Lili"s words struck her as true. Hopefully, this meant we could avoid any dramatic self-sacrificing that anime tended to have when it came to characters seeking redemption.
  "And if you need any help, I want you to come running back to us before you try to do anything on your own," I tacked on. "Promise me," I said, making Lili go stiff again. Ah, so she did plan to go off and do something stupid. Yeah, no. None of that.
  A huff escaped me as I walked over, having to reach down some so I could place my hand on top of her head. "Lili, we can only help you as much as you let us. So, please, let us help you."
  Lili swallowed thickly, "Lili doesn"t deserve help-" Lili started to protest, only to be cut off when I lightly thumped her on the head.
  "Life doesn"t care about what you deserve. Life is about making do with what you get -- and, Lili, whether you think you deserve it or not, we"ve decided to help you. Now, tell Hestia that you aren"t planning to do anything stupid, and if you"re lying, I"m going to tie you to me to make sure you don"t run off." I ordered, getting a firm nod from Hestia to back me up.
  I saw a tear race down Lili"s cheek before she wiped it away, sniffling as she fought back a fresh wave of tears. When she looked back at us, I saw that her eyes were brighter than they were before. A glint called hope in them. "Lili promises. Lili will come back as soon as she can and she won"t do anything dangerous until she comes back."
  Hestia"s expression told me that Lili wasn"t lying.
  "We"ll be waiting."
  "How did you know?" Hestia asked as we walked towards the Tower of Babel. Lili departed not too long ago, probably off to see that spirit that ran a pawnshop if I had to guess. Hestia seemed to think that Lili meant her promises, but I would be lying if I said I didn"t have any doubts. The promises she made weren"t exactly loophole-free.
  I didn"t need to ask what she meant. "Just because you aren"t lying doesn"t mean you"re telling the truth," I answered, knowing that from experience. "I don"t know the full story, but I know that Lili has been in a dark place for some time now. You can"t shake something like that off with a pep-talk."
  "I see," Hestia muttered, looking thoughtful. "Do you think she"s going to be okay?" She asked, sounding worried.
  I sighed, "I think so. Lili can take care of herself, and she did promise that she would come to us for help if she felt she was in over her head... at this point, we just have to have faith in her."
  "Hm," Hestia agreed with a small nod. She took a seat next to me, grabbing a damp cloth as she went to clean up my arms. For a few minutes, there was silence as I let her wipe up the dried blood that coated my arms. I thought about nothing in particular, simply replaying the conversation in my head, wondering if I could have done something better.
  Then my thoughts drifted back to the Dungeon. That elf that clutching at my leg, begging for his life. Instead, I killed him. And...I think...that was the right decision. I don"t know about anyone else, but I sure as fuck wouldn"t forgive someone cutting my legs off. Any promises that he made meant nothing -- as soon as he was back in his familia home, he would have told everyone that I did it.
  Maybe Zanis would use the excuse to challenge us to a war game, or something. I didn"t know. Just like I didn"t know what Canoe was planning. What I did know was that we wouldn't stand a chance against the Soma familia if they decided to pull time thing, so the longer they thought we were some no-name new familia, the better.
  "Jericho...," Hestia started slowly as her hands came to a stop. I glanced up at her to an unusually serious expression on her face. "What are we going to do?"
  That, I had to admit, was a very good question. "For now, we just try to save up some money, but from what Lili told me about Zanis...well, I don't exactly have high hopes that things will be that simple," I said with a sigh, feeling tired despite it being so early. "Especially if we do manage to pay him some stupidly high price -- he's going to wonder how we made so much money. Worse, he's going to want in."
  I could end up in the same situation those guys had threatened, only it wouldn't be to some punks. It would be to an entire familia that had level 2s in it.
  "You think something like that could happen?" Hestia asked, sounding worried. I nodded gravely, my mind all too helpful to offer up plenty of worst-case scenarios.
  "Zanis is scum. I'd be shocked if he didn't try something like that," I answered, reaching out with a blood-covered hand and placed it on top of hers. I could see the growing fear in her eyes, so I was quick to reassure her. "But that won't happen. Right now, he has absolutely no reason to come after us. And by the time he does have a reason-"
  "Do you really think you can reach level 2 in a month?" Hestia interrupted softly, not disbelieving, but double-checking to make sure I wasn"t talking out of my butt. Which was fair, because I realized how it sounded.
  "I think so," I said, mulling over what I had learned. "My stat growth has been pretty significant," Hestia agreed with a small huff of laughter as she continued to wipe up the dried blood. I couldn"t be certain since the anime never really covered it, but I think my stat growth was even greater than Bells.
  Admittedly, it was slowing down rather significantly, but I still reached the equivalent of D rank in my more important stats in about a week. In a month, if I could continue the trend, I could have SSS rank stats like Bell did. While that was extremely important, grinding stats was a means to an end. That end is to level up.
  "So, I should be able to go down to the lower floors pretty soon. I...might have gone to the ninth floor today," I admitted, making Hestia go very, very, very still but she wasn"t yelling. "And I could handle the biggest things on it easily enough. I"m not going to go any deeper yet, but I think I could go down to the tenth sometime soon." Which would give me more exp, but, more importantly...
  "The quests experience rewards get pretty big once the tenth floor starts since only veteran level 1s or level 2s and up can make it there. I saw one for twenty-five thousand exp if I get thirty orc hides," I explained, seeing Hestia nod slowly, following my logic. Then, not to mention...
  I summoned upon my Status screen with a thought.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 60,202/1,000,000
  Strength: 38 (+2)
  Endurance: 53 (+1)
  Dexterity: 50 (+4)
  Intelligence: 12 (+5)
  Sense: 33 (+3)
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 5% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Abnormal Resistance: Poisons, Toxins, and Drugs are 5% less effective. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  (Swordsman: Increased parameters when wielding swords. Effectiveness is determined by Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and Sense.)
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.
  Kissing: An intimate act between lovers that, if done well, can bring pleasure to the target. Effectiveness is determined by the Dexterity and Sense stat.
  I had just over a twentieth of what I needed to level up. If I continued to grind down in the Dungeon against soldier ants, if I did the quests, then I could have enough exp by the time Bell did in canon. But, doing the math, I realized just how much exp killing those five guys gave me.
  Altogether, they gave me nearly 32,000 exp. If I had to guess why they gave so much, it would be because some of them had been stronger than me. Sword and Shield Guy especially. If I hadn"t tackled him and fought dirty, then he would have won that fight. There wasn"t a single doubt in my mind.
  No matter how I looked at it, murdering people was the fastest method to leveling up. It could even be the smart thing to do. A war game with the Soma familia could happen in a dozen different ways, and very few of them I could win. If the war game was on an open field, me vs a hundred or so, then I was absolutely fucked. If it was a duel between captains, then maybe I could pull out a win, but it wasn"t likely against a level 2.
  If I started to kill off the Soma familia, then that could even the playing field a little bit. It was just... I don"t regret killing those five people. I didn"t start that fight, but I finished it. Hunting down Soma familia members and straight-up murdering them for exp like some kind of serial killer...that just rubbed me the wrong way.
  "What are you thinking about?" Hestia asked, and it was only then that I realized I was staring at nothing and had been for the last few minutes if the fact my arms were clean was any indication.
  "Just thinking about how to best level up," I answered, leaning back. Hestia sat down next to me, leaning into my side. I wrapped my arm around her, shoving all those thoughts to the side in favor of thinking about nothing at all. "I have a few ideas..."
  "Like what?" Hestia said, snuggling into me.
  "I could try staying in the Dungeon overnight," I said, thinking aloud. If I wasn"t going to start murdering people for exp, then I needed to maximize my time spent in the Dungeon and completing quests. Staying overnight would have the least impact on my actual daily activities.
  "But, when would you sleep?" Hestia questioned, sounding like she didn"t like that idea at all.
  "Er, I don"t think I need to sleep anymore?" I explained, looking down at Hestia. She pulled back from me, sending me a bewildered look that got a small laugh out of me. "I mean, I still can, but I don't have to. I was thinking something like I go around ten at night and come back whenever you get off work." So, I would be in the Dungeon for something like eighteen hours a day, or more."
  Hestia frowned, not liking the sound of that at all. The topic of my falna, and how I got it, wasn"t one we really discussed further in the past couple of days. "I don"t like the idea of you being down there all by yourself," she pointed out, "especially after you just got attacked! What if it happens again?"
  "Then I fight. If I can"t win, then I"ll run," I answered simply. There wasn"t much I could do other than that. "But, Hestia, I"m going to have to go down there eventually. One way or the other."
  Hestia made a face that was quickly followed with a sigh. She nodded, knowing that was true if we wanted to help Lili. "But...if it"s that dangerous, then maybe..." she trailed off, hesitating. "Then maybe we should do something else? With your falna, I bet you could pick up development abilities like Blacksmithing or Mixing really easy!"
  She wasn"t wrong there, I had to admit. However, when she saw my expression, her face fell when it was clear that I wasn"t interested in becoming a blacksmith. As odd as it was, I didn"t just want to be an adventurer to be relevant to the plot down the line. It played a part, to be sure, but it wasn"t the whole reason. I...kinda...liked being an adventurer.
  There was something so viscerally satisfying about slaughtering monsters. It wasn"t the slaughtering monsters that did it for me but knowing that I was powerful enough to do it. A week ago, in my old life, the best I could have hoped for was a quick death.
  "All my development abilities are determined by my stats, though," I argued gently.
  Hestia nodded, frowning, " please not go into the Dungeon for today, at least? Until Lili is sure that the Soma familia isn't planning anything?" Her expression was pleading as she gripped my hand hard enough that her knuckles were white. I couldn"t have gone back into the Dungeon even if I wanted to.
  "I won"t go back into the Dungeon today," I agreed easily enough. "Plus, I have some errands to run like picking up my clothes, finally, and meeting up with Welf so he can teach me how to take care of my armor and stuff." Hestia practically sagged with relief. With her satisfied about that, I pulled her back in.
  "Though, I guess since I"m going to be so busy for a while now, maybe we should use that free meal at the Hostess? Make a date out of it," I offered, catching to look Hestia sent up at me. Idly, she began to play with my hand, her pale skin starting to turn a pleasant red from embarrassment as she caught the hidden meaning.
  "Yeah, I have-" Hestia cut herself off, the light blush that dusted her cheeks rapidly fading until her face was bloodless. "I forgot about work! I"m so late! I"m so, so, so late!" Hestia sprung to her feet, leaping out of my grip in panic.
  "At your new job?" I wondered, torn between telling her to skip work and encouraging her to go. Hephaestus seemed like a good friend, for the most part, so I think she would forgive Hestia for being late, but it was probably better not to push our luck-
  "No, for the jagamarukun stand!" Hestia asked, practically tripping over herself to get to the door. Ah, in that case...
  "Aren"t you quitting that job?" I asked, getting a nod from Hestia as she bounced around to put on her shoes. "Then why bother?"
  "I-I can"t just not show up!" Hestia argued, sounding absolutely shocked that I would suggest such a thing. "I could get fired!"
  "Then when you see them tomorrow, tell them the truth -- your familia had been attacked by another. If they fire you after that, then they didn"t value you in the first place," I said, seeing Hestia hesitate at that. She didn"t want to go to work -- few did, and I"ve learned from experience that it"s all too easy to talk someone out of doing something they didn"t want to do, even if they knew they should.
  "So, instead of getting yelled at by your boss, getting worked to the bone, then going on a date when you"re exhausted, why don"t you treat yourself before we go?" I could practically see Hestia coming around to the idea. I sealed the deal with, "maybe a visit to the spa? There"s some kind of god only bathhouse, right?"
  Hestia slipped on her shoes, her gaze looking at something far away. I knew I convinced her before she gave me a shallow nod, a look of...determination...on her face? Um...why did Hestia look like she was about to march off to war? What? "You"re right! There is! I"ll go there today up here at six for our d-date?"
  I feel like I"m missing something here, but I nodded all the same. "Sounds good to me."
  Today was the day that she lost her virginity, Hestia decided as she sunk into the steaming hot water of the bathhouse. There were a few other gods swimming and chatting, most she recognized, but this was not the time for idle chatter! It was the time of action!
  "ORA!" Hestia roared, scrubbing herself down with a soapy towel. Her pale skin was turning a bright red, the filth that remained from washing herself down with a rag and a bucket was steadily being wiped away with excessive force. The pain she felt was it lemon and flower-scented soap she was using seeping deep into her skin.
  Picking up a new clean rag, she applied a liberal amount of soap on it before she started to clean her other arm. "ORRRAA!" She yelled her fierce battle cry, ignoring how tears stung at her eyes. The pain was worth it! Just like it had been worth it when she took the time to pluck absolutely every single hair on her body. Every. Single. One.
  "Erm..." A goddess spoke up as Hestia continued to wash herself with vigor. Through blurry eyes, Hestia saw it was Demeter. Well, she was assuming it was Demeter because only a few goddesses were as well endowed as the goddess of harvest. When the goddess leaned down, Hestia saw it was Demeter, her honey blonde hair tied up while her orange eyes were filled with confusion. " like me to wash your back, Hestia...?"
  "Yes!" Perfect, she had wondered how exactly she was going to wash her back thoroughly. "Here, use this," she instructed, pressing another soapy towel into Demeter's hands from the clean pile that resided on her right.
  "Okay," Demeter agreed, still sounding a little unsure. She took her position behind Hestia, placing the towel on her back before she started to scrub away. Instantly, Heatia noticed the issue.
  "Harder!" Hestia ordered, dropping her towel into the dirty pile. She grabbed a fresh one before resuming her furious cleansing.
  "Harder! Like this! ORRRRAAAAA!" Hestia roared, cleaning her collarbone so frantically her soapy towel could catch aflame. Until every single last spec of filth, until every last germ was eliminated, Heatia would never stop. No matter how sore her arms got.
  "But that looks like it could really hurt-"
  "O-oorrraaaaa!" Demeter yelled, her pace increasing. From the mirror, Hestia saw that the busty goddess clenched her eyes shut as she threw herself into the task. Better, but not enough.
  "Even harder, Demeter! Put your back into it!" Hestia shouted, grabbing another towel and putting it to work. She ignored the clamoring at the entrance, dismissing it as one of the male gods trying to peep again.
  "Harder! I can take it! Harder!"
  Perfect! Now she just had to scrub herself another three times to make sure she was squeaky clean, clean her hair, then have a nice long soak in the bathwater. Jericho wasn't going to know what hit him!
  My lesson with Welf was surprisingly short after I came back up at our agreed upon time. Weapon maintenance was simple in task, just time consuming and tedious to do well. Special oils before taking a whetstone to it, be careful not to over sharpen the blade since it makes it more fragile and its best to do it every single day. He gave me a starter kit since he assumed I wouldn"t have them, which he was mostly right, and after that, Welf went about his day.
  "I wonder what he thinks of me," I wondered, my feet carrying me home. He seemed to like me well enough, enough to go out of his way to teach me how to take care of my weapon and armor, but I noted a distinct lack of a bromance between us. We weren"t friends, I reflected, feeling some disappointment. I liked Welf in the anime, he was a solid bro.
  Was it going to cause problems down the line?
  Maybe? If the War Games with Apollo still happen, there was a possibility that it would just be me and Lili facing down against level 2s and 3s. But, at the moment, that was a distant worry. I had a lot on my plate as it was, looking for more problems to deal with was going to end with me biting off more than I could chew.
  All I could do was hope that he changed his tune when he learned that I was going down to the deeper floors. I think I recall something about him being stuck on the 10th floor for about a year or so. I hadn"t said anything during our meeting, but I fought my way down to the 10th floor today. I didn"t go down it, unsure if I was ready for it. Even still, I could have if I wanted to. It wouldn"t be long before I cleared it out and moved on to the 11th, which would undoubtedly tempt Welf into joining my party-
  "Here is your order sir," a sweet-sounding voice, sliding over a large stack of clothes. I picked a shirt up, inspecting it and I felt my doubts about Hestia"s theory about a god in heaven taking my soul from the future lessen. The red shirt in my hands wouldn"t look out of place in the modern era, not counting it was XXXXL to fit my massive frame.
  "Thanks," I said, offering a smile as I paid for my new wardrobe. Walking out, as soon as I could, I shoved my new outfits into my Inventory as I made my way back home. They were added to my newest acquisitions: a futon, blanket, pillows, and a shit ton of candles. You know, for ambiance, and shit. I even had a nice place picked out for it just outside the city.
  As I made my way back home, I also picked up a supporter bag from a general shop. A large gray bag roughly the shape of Lili"s. Since I doubt that she would want to join me for my overnight Dungeon diving, I needed to make up for her absence. After that, I went to a broken road near my home and started loading up rocks.
  Then I cleaned up at the Guildhall before I got myself ready for my date. Hestia still didn"t have nice clothing yet, so I ended up going with business casual -- dress pants and shoes, button-down with a leather belt with my sleeves rolled up to my elbows. I don't know what it was about rolled-up sleeves, but apparently, they bumped a man up a notch when it came to attractiveness. When I checked myself out in the mirror, I couldn't stop myself from smiling from ear to ear.
  I looked good. No, fantastic! A ten out of ten if there ever was one. My muscular frame pushed against the white dress shirt that was tucked into my pants, highlighting just how stacked I was without showing off any skin. I couldn't stop myself from flexing a little as I checked myself out. I probably would have stood there all day if it weren't for some adventurers coming in to clean up.
  Glancing at them as I walked out, I left out a breath of relief when I saw they weren't Soma familia. At-
  "Jericho?" Eina's voice interrupted my thoughts. Looking over, I saw her staring up at me with wide eyes, her cheeks dusted with a blush. I smiled at her, knowing just how good I cleaned up. That just made her blush that much harder as she fixed her glasses. "You're dressed very...nice," she observed.
  "Thanks," I accepted the compliment, turning to face her. "Hestia and I are finally celebrating forming our familia," I explained, not missing how her eyes closed over my form as she fixed her glasses again. She was checking me out. Huh. I didn't expect that from the straight-laced Guild employee. To be honest, I had written her off since she made it clear that her personal and work lives were kept separate.
  "Oh," Eina inked before nodding. "I'm sorry, I didn"t know. I, ah, I thought you were avoiding our lessons," she explained, giving me the impression that wouldn"t be a first for her. That didn"t surprise me at all. Her lessons had been...extreme, to say the least.
  "No, I," I paused, realizing that Eina could probably help me if only a little. "I got attacked in the Dungeon," I explained, my smile falling as her eyes widened in shock. "By the Soma familia."
  "We should talk privately," Eina said, her lips pressing into a thin line as she marched towards a consolation office. As soon as I crossed the threshold, Eina closed the door behind me and said, "explain."
  I quickly explained what had happened -- that I was attacked, by who and how. Eina"s expression grew more and more serious with every word. She sat down heavily on the couch while I was forced to stand since the chairs weren"t meant for someone my size.
  "Jericho, did you kill them?" She asked, her tone carefully neutral as she gazed levelly at me. I opened my mouth to say no because in the right mind would admit to murder? Only to pause before I could say the denial.
  Eina was probably in the best position to help me. I was flying blind despite my confidence. If she could tell me what I needed to make happen to make sure that my familia was protected, then...I needed to be honest.
  "...I did," I admitted with a slow nod of my head. "They outnumbered me, all of them were stronger and I wasn"t sure if my supporter was working with them or not at the time. I didn"t have a choice."
  "I"m sorry, this is because of me," Eina blurted, taking me by surprise. She took off her glasses, massaging her eyes as her shoulders slumped in defeat. "I kept shouting about what floor you were on and questioning you in public when I should have taken you into a room so we could discuss it. I-I"m just so used to adventurers ignoring me unless I confront them!"
  I...hadn"t really considered that and that wasn"t the reaction I was expecting to me confessing that I killed five people. But... "I don"t think so, Eina," I argued with a shake of my head. "This probably would have happened at some point -- I"m making a lot of money, and my size does single me out. I"m sure someone would have noticed something eventually."
  However, Eina shook her head. "They could have assumed you were going down with a higher leveled adventure, but when I confronted you in public, it made it clear that you weren"t. This is my fault -- I"m so very sorry, Jericho!" She said, bowing so low she nearly banged her head on the coffee table.
  Huh. When she put it like that, then...yeah, it was kinda her fault that I got attacked. That was...I"m not going to lie, I was kinda pissed about that. I could have died. I had to kill those guys because Eina couldn"t keep a secret. She glanced up at me, and my frustration must have shown on my face because when she glanced up at me, she winced.
  I took in a deep breath, swallowing my anger by thinking of how it worked out for me. I was taking steps in the right direction with Lili. I got around 30 thousand exp for the fight. I also got the development ability Swordsman that"ll go into effect the next time Hestia updates my falna.
  "I"m not going to say that it"s fine, because...I think you know that it"s not," I said after a long minute of heavy silence. "But I know you didn"t mean for this to happen. And you can"t control what other people do." She hadn"t been thinking that some opportunistic pricks would overhear her and use the info to jump me in the Dungeon.
  That was a mistake in itself, but it wasn"t an intentional one.
  "It won't happen again," Eina swore, looking up at me. "I fully understand if you request another Guild advisor, and file a complaint, but I promise you that something like this will never happen again!"
  I wanted to run a hand through my hair, but I couldn"t mess it up. I still had a date after this. "I know it won"t. And you don"t have to do that or worry about me putting in a complaint or anything like that." I said, letting go of my irritation. Eina practically jumped off the couch before she bowed again.
  "Thank you for your understanding, but I will make this up to you somehow. I promise," Eina swore again, straightening out to show off how serious she was about it. I gave her a small nod, caught off guard by the sheer intensity of her stare. She meant every word.
  "I believe you," I said, offering her a smile that I hoped didn"t look as brittle as it felt. It would be a stretch to say that it was water under the bridge, but it wasn"t. Maybe it could be with a little time, and I did want it to be water under the bridge eventually. It was just too fresh. "And I"ll see you tomorrow," I said, making my exit.
  Eina didn"t follow me out. When I closed the door behind me, I caught a glimpse of her collapsing onto the couch, her head in her hands. She was really torn up about it. Oddly enough, that did make me feel a bit better about it -- it was easier to swallow that it was a thoughtless mistake when I could see she felt so guilty about it.
  But, that was enough of that. I had a date tonight and, by God, it was going to have a happy ending.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  Versed in the lewd.
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  I really wish I had a mirror, I reflected as I fiddled with my rolled-up sleeves. I had a good idea of how I looked thanks to the ones at the Guildhall, but walking through a city of sweaty, filthy peasants tended to leave small details out of place. Was my hair still in the same position? Did everything look as I left it? I knew Hestia wouldn"t notice these things, or if she did, she wouldn"t care, but it was the first-date jitters.
  Even if it might be a formality, it was still a first date. The need to want everything to be absolutely perfect was getting to me, just a little. It didn"t need to, not really -- more often than not, so long as the other person was having fun, the details of the perfect date didn"t really matter, and I knew that, but this was an actual goddess. A goddess that came down from heaven.
  Things didn"t have to be perfect, but I wanted them to be. And...shit, I was bringing Hestia to an adventurer"s bar as our first date? I had money, I should be taking her to some fine dining faux-Italian rip-off or whatever equivalent this world had. Something fancy, and expensive and...I...was overthinking this. Again.
  Letting out a small sigh, I adjusted my collar before making sure that not a single hair was out of place on my head. I did the breath trick by licking the back of my hand, waiting a few seconds, then smelling to find that my breath nearly stank of mint. At least I didn"t have to worry about deodorant.
  I probably would have gone right back into messing with my clothes if I didn"t hear the sounds of footsteps approaching. Ordinarily, I never would have heard the soft taps that told me that whoever was approaching was small, but as my Sense stat rose, my hearing got better and better. I heard a soft breath that was nearly lost to the sound of the false door moving enough so that Hestia could squeeze herself through.
  I turned to the steps, seeing her slender legs first that gave way to a short wavy white dress with a deep purple hem at the skirt and the collar. Her hair was down, letting her long black locks fall all the way down to her butt -- it was weird just how different Hestia appeared without her hair done up. If it weren"t for her bright blue eyes filled with nervous energy, I probably wouldn"t recognize her.
  "You look amazing," I said, smiling at her as she blushed while fingering the hem of her dress. I held out a bouquet of flowers that I had picked up on my way back from the Guildhall, Hestia lite up when she saw them, crossing the distance to take them. "I saw that the others were starting to wilt a little bit, so I picked up some fresh ones."
  "I love them," Hestia smiled back at me, her gaze traveling the length of my body as she went to go put them in a vase. "And you look very handsome, Jericho." She returned the compliment, her blush deepening as she turned to face me. Again she fiddled with the hem of her dress, looking at me- ah.
  "I mean it, you look fantastic," I told her, guessing that she was worried about how nice she was dressed. I saw her relax at my words, knowing that they were the truth because they didn"t pick up on her lie detector.
  "I see you finally got your clothes," Hestia said, clasping her hands in front of her, her arms left bare of their signature white gloves. Now she was looking absolutely everywhere but at me, except stealing small glances every couple of seconds. It was adorable, if not very stealthy. I let out a small laugh as I closed the distance between us.
  It seemed I wasn"t the only one with first-date jitters.
  Slowly, I reached down to take one of her hands in mine. Hestia squeezed my oversized hand as I lead us up the steps into the ruined church. "Yeah, I got this and a few other outfits but I"ll keep my old outfit for dungeon diving," I said, making small talk as we made our way out of the church. One of the biggest hurdles, in my experience, was making small talk until you found a topic that swept the time away.
  "I"m glad you won"t be stuck wearing the same clothes all the time. Did it really have to take so long?" Hestia chatted away with me as we made our way towards the Hostess of Fertility. The sun was beginning to make its descent to the horizon, basking the streets in an orangish glow. It was picture-perfect.
  "I"m more shocked that they had enough cloth. When I told the tailors I wanted a few outfits, their eyes nearly bugged out," I said, earning a giggle from her. "I will admit, it is nice to not be wearing clothes that were soaked in sweat and blood all the time." My tank top had more than a few spots were blood wouldn"t wash out.
  "But," I continued, running a thumb over the back of her hand. "It"s your turn now."
  "My turn? For what?" Hestia questioned, mimicking the action back to me.
  "To buy more clothes," I explained as we slowly made our way to the Hostess of Fertility. "Dresses, shoes, you name it. Fair is fair, after all." There was something different about buying clothes from a store than having them custom made to fit your body. It wasn"t exactly fun or anything like that, but it was more enjoyable than picking out a shirt you liked and that being that.
  However, Hestia was shaking her head. "We can"t, we have to save every valis for Lili!" She reminded, her voice firm, earning a small wince from me. If there was such a thing as a downer topic, then talking about how a larger familia might be forcing us into indentured servitude if they found out what we were planning was it.
  "We do," I agreed easily enough, "but I can"t imagine that Lili would want us to go without. If you want," I offered when Hestia looked ready to refuse again, "I can ask her tomorrow about everything. If she can get a quota from Zanis, then we"ll have a real number to work towards."
  I couldn"t remember how much he had asked for in the anime, but I knew it was a stupid amount that wasn"t reasonable. Pretty sure it was like a million valis, or something. I was making some serious money on the upper floors but-
  "Ah," I caught my thoughts spiraling down that rabbit hole. Hestia looked up at me questioningly, so I smiled down at her. "Tonight is all about fun and taking it easy. So, no more talk about the Soma familia and what they might do."
  Hestia nodded happily at that, blowing out a small sigh that seemed to blast away her worries. "You"re right! Let"s not think about those jerks at all tonight! I want to think about..." she trailed off, blushing as she leaned against me, her bright blue eyes darkening with... "more pleasant things."
  Well then.
  "I couldn"t agree more," I told her honestly, shoving the issue with the Soma familia far out of my mind for the rest of the night. I could spend all day worrying about them tomorrow -- tonight was all about me and Hestia.
  After that, it didn"t take us very long to reach the Hostess of Fertility. The building itself didn"t look that much different than it did in the anime. A large sign up top that proclaimed what it was, a two-story building that could best be described as homey despite being an adventurer"s bar. Though, I guess that was what they were going for.
  "I like it," Hestia decided, spotting the building. "It looks homey," she said, more or less speaking my thoughts word for word.
  "Hm, I"m guessing it"s because adventurer"s come from all over the world to delve into the Dungeon. The owner is an adventurer, or was, so I guess she wants to give people a taste of home," I commented, wondering if the fact that Mia was an adventurer was common knowledge. It wasn"t ever brought up in the anime, but I knew that everyone that worked here was at least a second rate adventurer.
  Given the reactions to Mia"s threats, I"m guessing that most people knew.
  "Let"s go inside," Hestia decided, rushing forward to shove open the doors to make a grand entrance. I followed in after her, having to duck down to avoid hitting my head, but luckily the ceiling was fairly high. My gaze swept over the interior to see that it was fairly packed out with adventurers. I recognized a few of them, though only in passing.
  The bar was filled with the sounds of chatter, laughing, boasting and arguing. Some still wore their armor, but people of all shapes and sizes sat at the tables, eating and drinking their fill. All the while, waitresses dressed in forest green maid outfits with white aprons, identical to the one Syr was wearing before.
  It didn"t take me long to spot Ryuu. Her face was deadpan as she weaved between tables with a grace that I was learning only belonged to seasoned adventurers. Her eyes a deep blue that almost matched Hestia"s, her pointed ears sticking through her short blonde hair, the angles of her face were sharper than most -- almost in an uncanny way.
  "Ah! It"s Syr"s catch of the day, nya~!" I heard a woman exclaim and when I looked over, I saw that she was dramatically pointing at me. A girl wearing the same outfit as Syr and Ryuu, her eyes were gold with her pupils slants like a cat. The chestnut brown cat ears on top of her head only completed the image.
  "Uh," I started, seeing a few people glance over at us, their gaze lingering on me, then Hestia. The aura around her made it impossible to ignore her. "That"s me?" I knew it was an open secret how Syr roped customers into eating here, but I figured that would be a trade secret. You know, not the kind of thing that you blurt out in the middle of a packed room.
  The cat-girl made a strangled noise -- I couldn"t see it because of the angle, but whatever expression Hestia wore was enough to make a seasoned adventurer start sweating. She held her hands up in surrender, or to push Hestia off if she attacked before she turned her head to yell at the kitchen. "Syr! Come seat your special guests!" She yelled, making a strategic retreat back to the kitchen.
  Hestia let out a huff the same time as I let out a small laugh. I went to go pat her on the head as a reassurance, but I knew first hand just how touchy girls could be when it came to their hair. Instead, I placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze as Syr came out of the kitchen. A megawatt smile broke out on her face the moment she saw us, her clothing and hair immaculate, so since she wasn"t an adventurer, then that probably meant she wasn"t working very hard in the back.
  "You finally came! I was really worried that you were avoiding eating here," Syr said with a friendly smile as she looked over both me and Hestia. Her gaze glided over my length, much like Hestia"s had done earlier before her smile grew a bit bigger. "My, you certainly clean up nice Jericho."
  Before I had a chance to respond, Hestia darted out in front of me, putting herself between us. As if she were acting as some kind of human shield. Then she got in close with Syr as if they were huddling up to discuss a play, Sry playing along even as amusement danced in her steel-gray eyes.
  "W-what are your intentions to Jericho?!" Hestia demanded in a stage whisper that I could have probably heard without my enhanced hearing. I stifled a laugh -- Hestia was jealous. Normally, it was the guy that got antsy when others were eyeing up his date.
  "Ah," Syr started in a tone that suggested she was enjoying this entirely too much. Her dull gray eyes flickered up to me over Hestia"s head, her friendly grin growing just enough to show a hint of white teeth. Then she leaned in closer, cupping her hand around Hestia"s ear to stop me from overhearing. Whatever it was, it made Hestia"s ears turn bright pink before Syr pulled back.
  Hestia cleared her throat, throwing me a smile that would have looked painfully forced if it weren"t for the embarrassed expression she wore. "T-they have a table r-ready for us!" She blurted like she was forcing the words out of her mouth. She turned on her heel and practically fled towards a table tucked into the corner. Syr placed a hand over her mouth, her shoulder shaking from a few giggles that escaped her.
  Syr turned to me, giving me a kind smile, "you have a wonderful goddess." She informed, getting a lopsided grin from me.
  "The best," I corrected, "and thank you for doing this," I said as we made our way to the table. Hestia was looking around her like the walls themselves had eyes. I had no idea what Syr told her, but as soon as she met my eyes, she blushed so hard I worried that her heart might stop from lack of blood.
  "I"m just making up for slacking off," Syr dismissed the issue easily as we came to a stop. I glanced down at the chair and...huh. It was bigger than the others. For starters, it was a lot bigger and it looked like it could take my weight unlike the rest of the simple dining chairs. "It"s Mama Mia"s. I told her how big you were and she figured a normal dining chair couldn"t support you."
  "Thanks," I said, taking a seat. It didn"t have a cushion, so it wasn"t exactly comfortable, but it was a lot better than squeezing into a normal chair.
  "Like I said, just making up for slacking off!" Syr responded, though her expression told me she was pleased. "Now, everything on the menu is free! So order as much as you like-" Syr paused before clearing her throat, ever so slightly. If I had to guess, she was one of the cooks tonight. "Please order whatever you like," she corrected.
  Syr rattled off a few specials before Hestia and I ordered. I was nineteen, lived on my own and was putting myself through college -- well, I was. You could put a plate of anything in front of me and I"d eat it. Hestia picked whatever Syr suggested, her face still beet red as she looked absolutely everywhere but at me. What did Syr tell her?
  "I"ll bring your drinks and have that right out for you!" Syr said with a cheery smile, twirling around fast enough that her skirt fanned out before she disappeared into the back. Leaving Hestia and I alone.
  I turned to face her to see that she still wasn"t looking at me, finding the walls extremely interesting. More amused than annoyed with Syr, I let out a small laugh that brought her attention to me. As soon as our gazes met, Hestia looked away.
  "So," I started, seeing that Hestia wouldn"t be breaking the silence. "Did you enjoy your time at the spa?"
  The only way I could think to describe Hestia"s expression was a thousand-yard stare. She wasn"t even looking at me and I could feel her vacant stare.
  Okay. Apparently, spa days were somehow trauma-inducing. That"s one topic to steer clear of.
  "Er," what was a better topic? "Are you excited about your new job?" I tried, getting Hestia to glimpse at me before quickly looking away. She managed to give me a mute nod, but that was it. What in the hell did Syr tell her?
  It was less funny now. How were we supposed to have a date when she wouldn"t- Any thought in my head went right out the window when I felt Hestia"s leg brush up against mine. At first, I thought it was an accident -- my legs were a lot bigger than hers, so I needed a lot of room, but when her foot began to rub up against my calf, and her face turned so red and bright that she could be used to pull Santa"s sled, it was clear it was no accident.
  Ah. So, that's what"s going on.
  "Has she told you any more about it?" I asked, a knowing smirk on my face as Hestia"s leg continued to rub against mine. I wasn"t expecting this at all, but it was hardly a bad surprise. Hestia, when she was chasing Bell, was pretty proactive in trying to seduce him. Now that I thought about it a little when I compared how she acting in the anime to how she was with me -- I think Hestia was chasing Bell how she was chased.
  I knew at the very least Apollo was chasing after Hestia, and he didn"t exactly strike me as the wine and dine type. Hestia had just kinda thrown herself at Bell and hoped it stuck. If I had to guess, that"s how the gods up in heaven tried to get into her panties.
  Hestia shook her head, a small smile on her lips as her foot raised even higher. She got her other leg involved, not doing anything naughty yet but it was a clear invitation. Her foot ran the length of my inner thigh- well, as much as she could, nearly touching my groin. If she was doing the other leg, she would have noticed my hardening cock.
  When she did switch legs, instead of looking shocked or embarrassed, Hestia looked immensely pleased with herself. I couldn"t stop the laugh that escaped me even if I wanted to. Grinning, I said, "you know, I"m going to have to deal with that when we get up."
  Even as every single drop of blood went straight to Hestia"s face, that pleased grin didn"t falter. "No you won"t," Hestia spoke for the first time since we sat down. I tried not to think about the implications of that. Was...There was no way that she was offering public? No, now way. Not for her first- "The Hostess," Hestia continued, running her foot down the length of my cock that was so hard at this point it could be used to bludgeon someone to death.
  "They have rooms upstairs," Hestia said, reaching out with a hand to grab one of mine, tilting her head at the stairs. "Sty...secured a room...I know that you had something planned, but..." Hestia squeezed my hand, "I don"t want to wait."
  Fuck my plans for candles, blankets and making love underneath the stars. The primal caveman part of my brain told me to flip the table, toss her over my shoulder and march up those stairs. Instead, I squeezed her hand back, my grin growing as I leaned in ever so slightly.
  "You know, we haven"t even been served our drinks yet," I observed, getting a giggle out of Hestia as she withdrew her foot so she could stand up.
  "Please," Hestia said in a low whisper that was nearly lost in a sea of noise. The sheer need in her voice... You know what? The date was a formality. Let"s just skip to the ending that both of us were waiting for.
  Pushing myself up, I glanced over to see if anyone would notice our departure just in time to meet Syr"s gaze. There was a knowing smirk on her face as she held a handful of mugs of beer. "Enjoy" she mouthed at me before sending me a saucy wink.
  Well, I guess I knew who to thank for this turn of events.
  'Thank you' I mouthed right back at her as I stood up, careful to keep my back to most of the patrons. I was sporting some serious wood at the moment and it was very obvious. It was only because my gaze lingered on her, but I saw Syr's eyes widen a fraction when she saw my cock threatening to tear right through my new dress pants. I was never, ever, going to get tired of seeing that expression on a beautiful girl's face when she saw exactly how big my dick was.
  And with that, it was Hestia that lead us upstairs. I'm certain that at least one person saw us go because I heard a wolf whistle as we walked up. Hestia paused at the top of the stairs, her gaze zoning in on the center door. Hestia marched towards is with a sense of purpose, grabbing the handle with her free hand she threw the door open to reveal a very basic room. A simple bed that was made, a bookshelf filled with books, and a sitting chair to read in.
  I closed the door behind us, nearly silencing the crowd below. Hestia stood in front of me, her back facing me. I dropped my hands on her shoulders, making her lean into me. We stood there in silence for a long second. I swallowed down an offer to end things here before they went too far. Hestia wanted this just as much as I did. There was no point.
  Slowly, I pushed the open collar that hung on her shoulders down. Heatia shifted to let the dress fall, it coiling at her feet. Her sizable breasts were exposed, the familiar pink pebbled peak pointed straight ahead. I heard and felt Hestia let out a shuddering breath as my hands lowered to cup her breasts. My hands were big enough to cover them, but pale flesh spilled between my fingers.
  My fingers closed in on her nipples, earning soft sighs as I played with stiff breasts. Perfect soft, perfectly form and just...perfect. But, tonight was more than just fooling around before bed. Tonight was the night that Hestia lost her virginity.
  The plan was still in effect. Well, more of a desperate hope that this world functioned under hentai logic. Either way, the plan was to make her cum her brains out long before I inserted anything. If my years of watching hentai taught me anything it was that it made no difference just how big the dick was if she was aroused enough then getting split in half felt so good that it could inside a mind-shattering orgasm.
  Gently, I spun her around to see Hestia was already aroused. Bending down, much like I did that Amazon, I picked Hestia up and closed the considerable distance between our lips. Unlike before, the kiss didn't taste of jagamarukuns and salt. It tasted of cherries and something sweet. Chocolate, maybe. The kiss started off simple, our lips pressed together, moving in harmony before it began to deepen.
  Hestia wrapped her legs around me as I carried her towards the bed, groping her ass shamelessly. I hit the bed with my shin hard enough that I probably lost a point of health. As my tongue explored her mouth, the room filled with the sounds of Hestia's clumsy and desperate kissing. Her breasts pressed against my chest, she held me so tight that they were practically flattened against me so she could run her hands through my hair.
  Lowering her onto the bed, I ran into a problem that I saw coming a mile away. Hestia was smol. I was very swol. The height difference was way too much -- if I was on top then I could crush her, or something. So, that meant Hestia had to be on top. After all, the best part of a mating press was to kiss your lover at the same time. The impact was kinda lost when Hestia would be left kissing my stomach.
  I broke the kiss to plant a kiss on her jugular as a hand went down to her pussy, the plain cotton panties were thin, so there was already a damp line that traced her slit. Hestia"s moans were music to my ears as I angled myself off so I wasn"t directly on top of her. A dainty hand grasped at my back, feeling the powerful muscles that flexed and moved with every movement.
  "Jericho," Hestia breathed, opening her legs to grant me better access to her lower lips. After nearly a week, I knew exactly where to touch to drive her wild. Her tolerance for pleasure was slow-growing, but not enough to keep up with the assault on her senses I was delivering. Already, I could tell there was an orgasm brewing inside her. "Please...!"
  "Not yet, you have to be ready first," I whispered into her ear, making her shiver as my fingers massaged her clit. I had a health potion ready to be used if worse came to worst, but that was my very last resort. The one that came after trying to talk Hestia out of shoving a dick pornstars would bulk at inside her.
  Her moans grew higher in pitch as I continued to massage her clit through her panties, feeling her grow wetter and wetter with every second. I kissed lower, tracing her collarbone, then her breast until my lips clasped around her stiff nipple. Hestia"s breath hitched while her hips jerked. It wasn"t an orgasm, not yet, but I would fix that soon enough as I began to lap at her nipple.
  "Jericho!" Hestia moaned my name as she came hard. Her pussy gushed through her panties, soaking my hand as I rubbed her clit throughout the orgasm. Her lower legs shook, trembling as Hestia let waves and waves of pleasure crash over her.
  I never stopped playing with her body throughout it, drawing out her orgasm and to work her way towards her next one. When she finally got her breathing under control, I pulled my head back, sucking on her nipple until it gave way with an audible pop. Hestia let out a small giggle, making me flash a smile at her before I began to kiss downwards. Down her flat stomach, on her bellybutton...
  "Jericho?" Hestia breathed, her hands gripping my hair as I grabbed the band of her panties with my teeth and gave them a sharp yank. I tried this move back in high school, thinking was hot, only to fuck it up so it was embarrassing. Now, the sound of cotton tearing was one of the sexiest sounds I had ever heard.
  "Not yet," I repeated, placing my hands on her thighs that hung off the edge of the bed. I was awkwardly hunched over between her legs, forced onto my knees so I was eye level with her lower lips. Her vagina was beautiful -- her slit was narrow, the clit fully exposed, while the small opening her slit offered revealed the pink inner lips. It was glossy, reflecting light from the few lights, covered in her quim while a drop of arousal dripped from her as I watched.
  I think she knew what I was going to do before I did it because Hestia moved her hips to meet me halfway. I dragged my tongue across her slit, smiling when I heard Hestia let out a deep moan while her hips pressed harder against my face, her grip tightening to stop me from leaving. Not that I ever would.
  Her vagina wept arousal as my tongue pushed open her labia, the taste of her heavy on my tongue. To my surprise, she tasted rather sweet. I lapped it up, the room filled with Hestia"s growing moans. My hands snaked upwards, ghosting over her thighs, her stomach until they found her breasts again. I toyed with her nipples, flicking, pinching, and rolling them. Everything that I learned that drove her wild.
  Hestia"s second orgasm hit with the same force as her first only a few minutes of my ministrations. I knew it was coming, her breaths and moans got lighter and lighter until she was breathless.
  "Oooohhh..." Hestia moaned as her cum gushed out of her. It didn"t come out with the same explosive force as her very first orgasm, but I couldn"t keep up with the amount rushing out of her as her hips trembled until she was shaking. It dripped down my chin, spilling onto the floor until there was a small puddle.
  Her grip went loose as Hestia was lost in a sea of pleasure. Pulling back, I hovered over her, watching her eyelids butterfly open and close. Seeing that I was hovering over her, Hestia reached out to hold onto me. "Jericho...!" She moaned, her desperation was almost palpable.
  But...was this enough? Maybe? If I was having to second guess myself, then I should probably make her cum a few more times.
  "Not yet," I whispered right back, going in to kiss her while a hand dipped between her legs. Hestia took in a sharp breath before my lips pressed against her own before she moaned into my mouth. My fingers zeroed in on her abused clit, hammer on the pleasure button until, within a minute, Hestia was cumming again.
  Hestia pulled back, her gaze unfocused as she stared up at me. "Y-you"re still dressed," she observed and it took me a second to realize that she was right. I was still fully dressed and she was as naked as the day she was born. Probably. Kissing her quickly, I pulled back so I was standing. Hestia"s gaze drunk me in as I made quick work of my dress shirt, tossing it to the side carelessly.
  "You"re so strong," Hestia idly observed as I took off my undershirt, revealing my upper body. I looked down to see a torso made of defined lines and bulging muscle. I think I was actually more buff after a week here, which was even better.
  "I get a good work out every day," I replied, going to my pants. I watched Hestia as I unbuttoned them before pulling them down. I think this was the first time she saw me fully naked, my cock saluting proudly. She swallowed thickly, a look of nervousness and determination on her face. I don"t think she was ready just yet.
  "I have an idea," I told her, kicking off my pants before taking off my socks. There was no way to make taking socks off sexy, but I think Hestia was too far gone to care.
  "Oh?" Hestia muttered, blinking a few times as I walked around so I was on the other side of the bed- ahh, it was really soft. Like it was made of feathers or something. If only it was about three feet longer, it would be a perfect bed. Hestia rolled over, crawling towards me.
  "It"s a position I learned a long time ago. Face that way and crawl on top of me," I explained, it only took a moment for Hestia to realize what was happening. She crawled on top, her pussy facing me so she could suck my dick at the same time. As soon as she settled down, I wasted no time lapping at her pussy once again.
  Hestia squirmed on top of me, her moans were...different? Was she trying to get away from me? Pausing, I noticed the only attention my dick was receiving was a small hand grasping it. Not stroking it, but pulling.
  "I..." Hestia trailed off, shifting so that she could look back at me. Her expression was absolutely devastated like she was told the entire world was ending and it was her fault. "I can"t reach."
  What? "What?" I asked, confused but there was an edge of amusement.
  "I can"t reach! I"m too short!" Hestia shouted forcefully, clenching her eyes shut as if she could will herself to grow taller. I blinked, still not fully getting it, but then it clicked. In this position, Hestia couldn"t give me a blowjob while I was going down on her. She was too short.
  I snorted, a laugh bubbling out of me. That laugh only got louder when Hestia glared at me, "It"s not funny!" She shouted, making me laugh that much harder. Like a domino being tipped over, I couldn"t stop myself from descending into chuckles. All the while, Hestia glared at me, her lips pressed into a thin line while her bangs hung over her eyes to give her an ominous look.
  Eventually, I ran out of steam. "Alright, let"s try this then," I said, still smiling as I pushed myself back so my back was against the wall. Now that I was hunched over, the distance was reduced. Thankfully, Hestia wasn"t so annoyed at me for laughing that she refused to suck my dick. As soon as she was in range, I felt Hestia"s mouth clamp onto my dick. Just as my tongue was lapping at her pussy, hers was licking the crown of my dick.
  A hand went up to trace her spine, going down until it rested heavily on one of her ass cheeks. I shifted a little more, letting Hestia take me in further. Her tongue lavished attention all over the head, licking it all over like it was a lollipop. It was clumsy, but I couldn"t say that it didn"t feel good. With my free hand, I reached down and settled my hand on the back of her head before gently encouraging her to bob up and down.
  Hestia got the hint and threw herself into the task. Her head bobbed, taking me deeper than she ever had before. She managed to get passed my wide flared head, each time she moved she made it her mission to take me in deeper. She made a gagging sound when I bumped into her throat, forcing her to back off. My mouth was a little busy, so I couldn"t tell her it was okay if that was all she could take, but Hestia probably wouldn"t have listened anyway.
  Arousal dripped from Hestia like a leaking faucet while her head bobbed on my dick. She forced her head back down, gagging on my dick, but she held her head there. After a few seconds, she rose back up, letting herself breath before she went back down. Her tongue licked what she managed to fit into her mouth all over.
  She was nearing another orgasm, and I felt my first brewing in my balls. I redoubled my efforts, savagely lapping at her pussy until the room was filled with the sounds of our pleasure. I held myself back, my cock throbbing as Hestia began to rapidly bob her head, sensing my upcoming release.
  Her pussy gushed for a third time before cum erupted from my dick. Hestia kept her mouth firmly clamped on my dick, swallowing my cum as soon as it entered her mouth. I felt some drip down the nearly airtight seal, the goddess unable to keep up with the sheer amount of cum my balls could produce. All the while, Hestia came hard. Not wanting to get blasted in the face, I drank her release like she did mine.
  Sluggishly, Hestia raised her head, my cock leaving her mouth with an audible pop. Her legs trembled around my head, her pleasantly muscled thighs pressed around my ears. I heard her pant for breath before she slowly turned around to face me. Her face was a mask of ecstasy, her gaze unfocused and her skin flushed.
  "Jericho...I"m ready," Hestia decided, licking her lips. I nodded, thinking that she was as ready as she was going to be. I reached out, cupping her face with a hand before I nodded, agreeing. Hestia smiled, leaning into my touch before she made to swing her legs over so she was facing me as she straddled my waist, but her legs refused to move. "Ah..."
  Yeah, I think she was ready, I figured as I had to slide my hands underneath Hestia"s thighs, turning her so she faced me as I lined her entrance up with the tip of my cock. Hestia looked down in wonderment, moaning my name when my penis pressed against her entrance.
  "Are you ready?" I asked, making her look at me. Her eyes were filled with want, with desire. She nodded rapidly, shifting her hips ever so slightly so I was perfectly aligned with her entrance. This was it. I was about to take Hestia"s virginity. This was...
  Dying was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
  With that thought in mind, I gently began to lower Hestia onto my dick. Her entrance pressed down on the tip, more weight pressing down on my dick, but I noticed the issue already. Hestia was absolutely drenched, so it wasn"t a lubrication issue. Her entrance was too small-- or, rather, my dick was way too thick.
  It couldn"t fit.
  Fuck. Fuck! Fuck past me who thought giving myself a bitch breaker was a good idea-
  "Hnn!" Hestia took in a bracing breath before she blasted every trace of rational thought out of my mind. I felt my dick get enveloped with a warm, wet embrace, her walls enveloping my cock in a vice grip. Hestia thrust her hips down with all the strength she could manage, filling her pussy to the absolute brim with a single thrust.
  "Ughhhh...!" Hestia groaned, holding onto me tightly. I felt myself bump against her cervix, Hestia filling herself with my cock. She managed to take a lot more than I expected, though there were a few inches left over, still, she had a far deeper pussy than I ever expected. Hestia collapsed forward, her head settling on my chest as I felt her wall clench down on my dick hard enough that it hurt. She was cumming.
  Thank god for hentai logic.
  Her entire body shook, her pussy milking me, but it wasn"t enough to make me blow my second load so early. Hestia drooled on my chest, moaning my name wantonly as waves of pleasure crashed down on her. Cum gushed from her pussy, soaking my waist, but I hardly noticed. She was so tight. So very tight that it was an honest miracle that I hadn"t hurt her, much less gave her a mind-blowing orgasm.
  It took minutes for the tides of her orgasm to finally recced. Her breathing became less erratic before she managed to lift her head off my chest, a stand of drool connecting us. She blinked slowly at me as if she had no idea what was going on, but when she swallowed thickly and spoke, I realized that wasn"t true.
  "You haven"t moved yet," Hestia observed, lowering her head back down so it rested against my chest again. I traced her spine with my fingers as I answered.
  "I was letting your pussy adjust," I told her, "do you feel any pain or anything?"
  "I feel...full," Hestia admitted, getting a small laugh out of me. "And goooood. I want to...!" Hestia muttered before she gave a small thrust, making her moan breathlessly. Her walls clenched down of me, trying to keep me buried inside her. When her strength gave out, and she sank back fully onto my dick, she moaned loudly.
  It seems like I was going to be doing the work, but I was hardly complaining about that. I gripped her ass, my fingers sinking into her soft flesh, while her legs were hooked over my arms. With ease, I lifted her bottom half, making Hestia moan again as inch after inch after inch left her body, only to plunge them back inside of her.
  "Yessssss!" Hestia moaned as I began to pick up the pace, lowering and raising her up and down my cock. The sounds of sex filled the room as Hestia moaned carelessly, losing herself back into that sea of pleasure. Her juices dripped down my cock, flowing freely with every movement.
  Hestia held onto me, a deep, full-bodied moan when I gave a small thrust as I lowered her. My hips found a small tempo, thrusting into her pussy. One of her hands grabbed my bicep, squeezing the muscle, feeling it move each time I moved her. When I looked down at her, I saw that Hestia"s gaze was vacant, completely lost in pleasure. The expression that any man wanted to see when he was making love.
  The fucked stupid look, otherwise known as the Ahegao.
  Fuck, dying was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I don"t know who was behind the wheel of Truck-kun, but I owed him a drink.
  My pace picked up, thrusting into Hestia now that I knew she could take it. Hestia let out another long moan as I began to seriously fuck her pussy. Sweat began to build upon my brow, lifting Hestia was starting to get tiring, so without any warning, I flipped her on her back. Once I was settled in between her legs, I brought my hips back, drawing out inches of cock before I slammed them back in.
  "I love it!" Hestia muttered, her voice slurred as if she were drunk. "I love you!" She blurted as I began to hammer in and out of her gushing pussy. A wet spot formed on the covers, soaking through the blanket.
  I smiled, loving the sight of Hestia lost in pleasure. I felt another orgasm brewing in my balls, but I fought it off with sheer force of will. I wanted this to last forever, I wanted to lose myself in thrusting into Hestia and bringing her pleasure she could have never imagined. Her breast swung with every thrust, her nipples swinging in circles as I began to pound in and out of her cunt.
  "I love you," I told her honestly, my orgasm nearing despite my efforts. Hestia clenched down so hard on my cock I was nearly forced to stop in my tracks. With those three words, Hestia came again and by far this was her most extreme orgasm. More cum gushed out of her, her hips bucking wildly as she threw her head back and moaned, the orgasm ripping through her with explosive force.
  I let go of my self-restraint and unloaded my second orgasm, burying myself deep inside her. I think that set off another orgasm because she trembled, her breath shaky as waves of white-hot pleasure raced through her. I could feel the cum travel from my balls and through my dick, filling Hestia with a few spurts of it.
  Hot cum, with nowhere else to go when I filled her womb to the absolute brim, seeped through the seal of her vagina. Rivers of cum escaped from Hestia, dripping down her ass until it pooled underneath her. That, by far, was my largest orgasm to date. Seriously, there had to be like half a cup of cum or something.
  Hestia went still, her eyes closing -- for a moment, I panicked, but I quickly realized that she had simply passed out. I fucked her until she passed out. Hello pride, welcome home.
  Grinning to myself, I began to slowly pull out of her, more cum seeping out of her until it came out all at once when I freed myself from her vagina"s iron grip. I was only a little surprised when I saw that my cock was still hard as a rock. I did hit fifty in Endurance, so I guess that meant I got a third shot in.
  I looked down at Hestia to see her peacefully sleeping -- her legs wide open to reveal a river of white escaping her vagina, a sheen of sweat covering her, while her expression, even asleep, could only be described as satisfied. For the briefest of moments, I considered diving back in, to get another shot off so both of us would be fully satisfied, but I dismissed the thought-
  Blinking, I cocked my head when I heard a familiar sound. I wouldn"t have noticed before my hearing became so sharp, but I could hear moans and the sounds of...masturbating? Was someone else using a room next to us? My gaze zeroed in on the source, the wall to my right. The very last thing I ever expected to see was a steel gray eye staring back at me through a peephole.
  I looked at it, my mind grinding to a halt, blinking in surprise.
  The eye blinked at me, realizing that she had been caught.
  We stared at one another, my brain recovering from the bluescreen it just suffered. I knew who it was. Had she been watching us the entire time? Maybe? I was a little preoccupied, so I hadn"t noticed at all. Then, without any warning, the eye withdrew and the hole was plugged up. I stared at it for a moment, not sure what to do.
  I was even less sure when I heard someone fiddling with the door, the doorknob twisting to reveal...a very naked Syr. Her skin was creamy, without so much as a single blemish, her full breasts were capped with small nipples that looked like they had seen some recent abuse judging from the reddish hue to them. Her long legs carried her inside, bringing my attention to the heart shape her pubes were shaved in and how her groin was absolutely covered in her own arousal.
  "Sorry," Syr apologized casually like she hadn"t just been caught peeking and walked into the room completely naked. "I couldn"t help myself," she explained, her gaze drinking me in, but they settled on my cock that was still standing proudly, covered in semen and quim.
  "Uh," I was not prepared for this in the slightest. "It" But, what are you doing here?" I asked, not sure if I should cover-up. What the actual fuck was going on here? Syr wasn"t looking at me like Hestia did -- with love and adoration. There was something lurking in her eyes, but it was masked by naked desire and lust.
  "I noticed that you weren"t satisfied...after two times..." Syr breathed, striding forward with a sexy grace that brought my attention to just how wet she was. She was dripping onto the floor as she walked towards me, stalking me like a predator. Uhhhhh...was...she like this in the anime? I don"t...
  The offer in her words was clear as the sun on a cloudless day. She was offering to take care of me, to empty my balls. Looking at her, it would be a bald-faced lie, and a bad one at that, to say that I wasn"t tempted. My cock throbbed at the idea, making Syr smile ever so slightly, as I imagined bending her over and just fucking her.
  "I"m sorry, but no," I said with a small shake of my head. Not the same night that I took Hestia"s virginity, and had our first date. Not before we had any kind of discussion about other girls. Especially not when Hestia was in the same room.
  Syr just beamed in response, apparently pleased with my rejection, "aw, the two of you are so cute!" She commented, smiling at me as she made to retreat out of the room. "But, if you don"t want me to service you, then would you mind keeping this between us? I rather like your goddess, she"s very kind to the children."
  "...Sure?" I said, feeling that this entire situation was just kinda weird. I"m not sure I would want to tell Hestia in the first place that Syr was watching us the entire time and getting herself off.
  "Thanks!" She said in a stage whisper, stepping through the door, going to close it, but she poked her head through the crack. "And if you ever change your mind, you"ll know where to find me! Goodnight!"
  With that, Syr closed the door with a soft click. I stared at the door for a moment, replaying that entire interaction in my head, before a soft sigh escaped me as my gaze drifted down to my still rock hard cock. A beautiful woman just offered to take care of it for me, I just made love to a goddess -- my goddess...
  I never would have expected that this night would end with me jacking off to make my hard-on go down.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  My Stories: Gone Native: Earth Saga (DBZ/DC Comics), Risk It All (Young Justice/Gamer), Fool's World (F/SN), Legends Never Die (Ahistorical/CKIII Gamer), Castoff (Berserk/Witcher 3)
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  Versed in the lewd.
  Joined:Jun 25, 2018
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  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 197,804/1,000,000
  Strength: 60
  Endurance: 73
  Dexterity: 74
  Intelligence: 24
  Sense: 48
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 7% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Abnormal Resistance: Poisons, Toxins, and Drugs are 7% less effective. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Swordsman: Increased parameters when wielding swords. Effectiveness is determined by Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and Sense.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.
  Kissing: An intimate act between lovers that, if done well, can bring pleasure to the target. Effectiveness is determined by the Dexterity and Sense stat.
  Sex: Greatly enhances parameters when engaging in sexual intercourse. Effectiveness is determined by Endurance, Strength, Dexterity, and Sense stats.​
  "You've made some pretty crazy progress, Jericho," Hestia noted as she straddled my back, her hands lingering despite long since finishing updating my falna. I didn't mind as I closed the slip of paper, in fact, having her small hands caress my back felt rather nice.
  "I'm almost a fifth of the way there," I agreed, mulling over my progress for the past week. I made great gains in terms of exp now that I was doing quests and spending something like sixteen hours a day in the Dungeon. My stats, on the other hand, had slowed dramatically. I guess it was to be expected since stat grinding got much more difficult the higher they got, though that didn't mean it wasn't frustrating.
  Though, I did get a Perk recently for my Strength Stat. Unlike most gamer systems, Power Attack wasn"t a Skill, but a perk. Now, when I tried to hit something with all my strength, the "damage" went up. Whatever that meant.
  Then there was the lack of a reward for taking Hestia"s virginity. I got the skill Sex out of it, but I could have gotten that by sleeping with those two guards at the red-light district. Hestia was a goddess. If I really was the gamer, then there should be some grand reward for taking the virginity of a goddess, right?
  If there was, then I hadn"t seen it yet. Though, I couldn"t imagine I wouldn"t get one.
  "But is that stuff working?" I asked, pushing my thoughts away from the ever consuming frustrations with my progress.
  "It is!" Hestia exclaimed with no small amount of relief, patting my back where my now disguised falna resided. She brought a vial of stuff that could disguise what my falna looked like yesterday, but we were too...distracted to use it then. Now my falna looked normal to the naked eye -- my stats were numbers in the hundreds with their rank next to them, my Development Abilities were gone and, if I had to guess, my Skills were edited as well.
  "Should I get my status confirmed by the Guild later? I have lessons with Eina, so I can do it then," I asked, moving to get up and Hestia allowed me to. Though, as soon as I was in a sitting position, Hestia glomped me.
  "No...I think asking to get it confirmed out of the blue will make the Guild suspicious. They"ll ask when you level up, so it might be best to wait until them," Hestia refuted, humming contentedly to herself as she hugged me as tightly as she could. After a week, I was used to it. Hestia was affectionate before, but after we had sex, she was downright clingy. But, I guess that wasn"t entirely her fault.
  "Fair point," I said, wrapping an arm around her. "How much longer until you have to leave for work?" I asked, getting a small sigh as she continued to hug me with all her might. Ever since I started going into the Dungeon at nights, and she worked during the day, we only really saw each other for a couple of hours each day.
  Which was pretty much the same situation as before, but it seemed Hestia was convinced she had to cram eight hours of cuddling when we were asleep into the few hours we did see each other.
  "Not long enough," Hestia muttered unhappily, one of her hands going to mine. When she started, Hestia had claimed that she was going to have more flexible hours, but that seemed to be a hook to rope her into the job. She worked eight hours every day, starting at ten until seven, with a guaranteed hour lunch break, so it was still better than her other job.
  "If you don"t like it..." I left the offer in the air, knowing she was going to refuse before she shook her head. I knew she didn"t dislike it, especially when she came back each day far less haggard, but both of us shared the opinion that there were more hours in the day for other activities.
  "No, I do! Plus, we need to keep saving money to help Lili out of her horrible familia!" Hestia reminded, getting a nod out of me. We had quite the stash hidden away. Hundreds of thousands of valis. I still haven"t gotten a new bed or a new place, but outside of getting bare necessities, everything went into the bank. And by the bank, I meant my Inventory since Hestia"s hidey-hole was nowhere near big enough. "And I"m having a lot of fun while I"m there, I don"t have to deal with that many customers and my co-workers are really nice!"
  Hestia"s hand traveled up my arm, glancing up at me before she transferred her hand to my thigh. That got a crooked grin out of me, moving her hand up to where my half-mast dick resided. "I"m game, but you"ll be late for work," I pointed out.
  Her touch lingered, but it wasn"t a surprise when she pulled her hand back, a pout on her face. "I"ll make it up to you later," Hestia promised, tilting her head back and closing her eyes, telling me that she wanted a kiss. I was all too happy to oblige, closing the distance between our lips until mine pressed down on hers.
  It didn"t last anywhere near long enough. Hestia ended it before she could lose herself in the kiss, pulling back before she buried her face into my side and breathed in deeply. With sheer force of will, Hestia managed to push herself to her seat, leaving me alone on our bed. She was dressed in the bright red and white uniform of the Hesphustus familia.
  "I have to go to work. Are you going back into the Dungeon with Lili?" Hestia asked dejectedly, pulling on her slippers. My gaze roamed over her legs hidden beneath her stockings, her miniskirt leaving a small gap where her pale skin could be seen. It covered a lot more than her usual attire did, but I couldn"t say I didn"t like the view.
  "I am," I confirmed with a nod of my head. I only came back up to spend some time with Hestia before she left for work. "Only for about six hours, or so. Then lessons with Eina, and after that, you"ll be off work."
  "I don"t know how you can stand that," Hestia commented, referring to my full schedule that allowed absolutely no free time. "I"d go stir crazy in no time if I didn"t have any time to read."
  I gave a shrug, "I"m used to it." Two weeks in a fantasy world couldn"t undo years of working two jobs on top of going to school, first high school then college. I was more used to not having free time than having it. "And it"s not like I don"t enjoy dungeon diving. I like...I dunno, seeing how much I improve each day."
  If I didn"t enjoy it then there was no way I could stay down there for over sixteen hours a day. My falna wasn"t just numbers on a paper, those numbers represented me. I wasn"t just feeling the effects of self-improvement, I was looking at evidence of it. There was something oddly motivating about that. Not to mention, the amount of money I was pulling in.
  "I guess if you"re happy..." Hestia muttered, not quite able to wrap her head around that, slipping on her other shoe. She hovered at the door, looking back at me with a look of determination. She turned around fully, her hands curled into fists as a heavy blush appeared on her face.
  "I-I-I love you! BYE!" Hestia yelled, fleeing our home in a rush, driven by embarrassment. I just smiled away, feeling light as a feather as I heard her leave the dilapidated church. She still got embarrassed saying it, always fleeing as soon as the words left her mouth. It seemed Hestia was firmly stuck with flight when it came to fight or flight.
  A groan escaped me as I pushed myself off the bed, having missed the chance to offer to walk Hestia to work. Grabbing a bucket of water to splash on myself, I woke myself up by cleaning my face. In the past week, I hadn"t slept a wink, and while my body didn"t need sleep, my brain kept telling me that this was wrong and I should be sleeping at night. That feeling diminished as the days went on, thankfully.
  After checking my internal clock, I started putting my armor back on. It only took a couple of minutes since I was used to it at this point, but once I was ready, I made my way to the Dungeon for another long day of grinding.
  It was strange how normal this stuff became. Living in a fantasy world filled with elves, dwarves, hobbits, and beast people. With magic. I mean, I was off to fight a horde of monsters for money and a couple of weeks ago, my biggest worry was making sure I got enough hours at my second job.
  Before I could make that downward spiral into my musings, a voice called out to me. "Good morning Jericho," Syr greeted me, a pleasant smile on her face. In her hands was a bento box wrapped in a brightly colored cloth, topped with a perfect bow. A week later, and as soon as I saw her, the image of her naked appeared in my mind.
  I didn"t know her exact relationship with Freya, other than she was some kind of agent for the goddess of fertility and she looked like her. And, did she look like her. Her full breasts, her absolutely drenched pussy that dripped with every step she took, her eyes filled with lust as she stared at my cock, asking if I wanted her to finish me off. It was an image that was going to stick with me every time I saw her for a long, long time.
  "Morning," I greeted, blinking the image away. Syr"s smile grew a fraction as if she somehow knew exactly what I was thinking about. She held out the bento box to me, smiling sweetly.
  "Another long day in the Dungeon?" She asked as I accepted the meal with a smile. Since that day a week ago, Syr had started going out of her way to deliver me meals. I saw the tactic for what it was, but I was a little less certain on why she was going out of her way to meet me. Did Freya order her to? Or was this her own initiative since I doubt Freya would have ordered her to peek and masturbate. Or maybe she would, I have no clue.
  "Seems like it," I agreed with a nod, rolling a shoulder as I deposited the bento into the satchel I looted from Asshole the First.
  "Don"t overdo it, okay?" Syr warned, her expression growing concerned. I couldn"t be certain, but I think she suspected that I was spending all night in the Dungeon. If she did, then I guess that would lend more credence to the possibility that she was following Freya"s orders. "I"d be reallly upset if you stopped coming around, Jericho...!"
  "I won"t, I promise," I reassured easily, ignoring how she took a step forward, invading my personal space. I still hadn"t spoken to Hestia about other girls since...well...there was no easy way for that topic to come up, and what was between us was still too new. I"ll be the first to admit that I wasn"t the brightest, but I wasn"t that stupid. And I sure as hell wasn"t going to cheat on Hestia. "I have Lili watching my back, so I don"t have to worry about anything."
  Syr let out a small laugh, having met the pallum once before. Unlike the anime, it was under much better circumstances. "In that case, you"ll be safe and sound," she teased, clearly amused by the idea of a pallum protecting someone like me.
  "Thanks again for the bento, I"ll bring it back around sixish," I told her, getting a beaming smile from Syr in response.
  "Then I"ll see you then! Work up a really big appetite and order a bunch of food!" Syr said, waving goodbye and telling me that she was working as a waitress tonight instead of a cook. The anime really had underplayed how lazy she was about working. Well, maybe not lazy, but she certainly cut more than her fair share of corners.
  "Will do," I said, waving goodbye as I continued on my way to the Dungeon. Now that it wasn"t five in the morning, the streets were a lot busier. Most people cleared way when I walked, which made sense. I was a big dude, but, more importantly, I was a big dude decked out in heavy armor and carrying a huge sword. My gaze landed on Miach"s shop, and before I could think better of it, I found myself walking towards it.
  Pushing open the door, a small bell chimed to announce my entry. The place looked about the same since the last time I was here -- though, I did notice several dop items that I had given Miach as gifts hanging up to be sold. They were leftovers from completed quests that I didn"t need, and it was better to give them to Miach since he had a habit of giving out potions like candy.
  "Ah-! H-hello!" A boyish voice greeted me, bringing my attention to who stood behind the counter. It wasn"t Miach or Naaza. Instead, it was a young man with a mop of stark white hair and ruby red eyes -- a unique appearance that I would have recognized anywhere. The expression he wore told me he was a mess of nerves, probably because it was his first day on the job, but there was no mistaking who he was.
  Bell Cranel was behind the counter.
  "I mean," he hastily corrected himself as I struggled to recover from the sucker punch that was his sudden appearance. Was he working here as a part-time job? But Miach didn"t have the money for that since he was deeply in debt because he bought a prosthetic arm for Naaza when she lost hers. "Welcome to Miach"s emporium! How can I help you today?"
  It took me a second to find my voice, this was the very last place I ever expected to see Bell. After so long, I kinda figured that my being here had somehow written out his entire existence, or something. When he looked increasingly nervous, I realized I was staring at him.
  "Er, yeah," I started, trying to play it cool. I mean, I was meeting the main character of this series. Despite my gripes about his Skill Realis Phrase, I actually rather liked Bell -- especially when I was proving to be as bullshit as he was. He was hardly my favorite protagonist or anything, but as far as harem protagonists go, he was a cut above the rest. He was a sweet kid that was unwavering in his feelings towards Ais -- it was almost enough to make me forgive him for rejecting Best Girl in the canon timeline. "I was hoping to get some antidotes."
  "I can get that for you!" Bell blurted, sounding absolutely elated that he could. In a quick dash, he went to the backroom for a few moments. Then he came running back with a great big smile on his face, practically firing pure, undiluted joy from every pore. It was nearly blinding. He set a box filled with antidotes on the table, "Here you are sir!"
  "Thanks..." I said, grabbing a few vials. Glancing at Bell, I idly observed that he was a lot smaller than I thought he'd be. I mean, I knew he was only a little bit taller than Hestia, but he seemed like he was tall for his age in the anime. "So, did you just join up with Miach's familia?" I asked, fishing for a few valis in my pocket.
  Bell nodded, beaming so much happiness that it was getting hard to look at him. "I joined last night! Miach found me when I, ah, got kicked out of the inn I was staying at," he admitted with some embarrassment, but it didn't detract from his happiness, it simply made it softer in nature. He really was a sweet kid. "I asked to join and he said yes!"
  "Congratulations," I said with an honest smile on my face. I was happy for him. It was better than being written out of the universe or ending up in a familia like the Soma familia. "I'm Jericho, Hestia familia. Our gods are friends," I explained as I offered an oversized hand to him. His face lit up as he took my hand, uncaring how mine engulfed his.
  "Bell Cranel!" Bell returned before he chuckled, "ah, wouldn"t happen to be an adventurer, would you?" He asked hesitantly, clearly unsure how to begin. I would think that since I'm decked out in heavy armor, it was pretty obvious, but I nodded all the same.
  "Um, I was wondering if you could tell me a little about the Dungeon? As someone who's been there? I would ask Naaza, but she..." Bell trailed off, looking worried and sad. I only met Naaza once in passing, but that didn't really surprise me.
  "Sure," I agreed easily enough, having to squint when he started beaming again. "The first floor is nothing but goblins but don't underestimate them. They"re kinda like rabid animals that throw themselves at you, and they like to jump to tear out your throat. It's a little different for me," I said, gesturing to the near three feet height difference, "but I'd recommend taking them out fast. Be aggressive so they can't group up on you but, if you find that you're getting surrounded, run away."
  He blinked at that, and I saw why. A guy the size of me was telling him to run away from the weakest monster in the Dungeon. I just smirked at his puzzled face, "It sounds weird, but it's true. Keep this between us, but I got cocky in the Dungeon and nearly got myself killed by a swarm of goblins." Bell blanched, clearly reassessing what he thought of my abilities or goblins. "But the important part is to know when to run away. Your life is way more important than your pride, so if you're in over your head, turn tail and run. Live to come back bigger and stronger."
  Bell nodded determinedly, eating up every word. "I will!" He confirmed, nodding again. This was...kinda cool. I was mentoring what should be the protagonist of this world.
  Well...might as well make sure the kid doesn't get himself killed... "Actually, have you registered with the Guild yet?" I asked, getting a no from Bell. "When you do, ask for the Guild advisor Eina Tulie. She's mine and she'll make sure you'll know every last thing you could ever want to know about the Dungeon."
  I could see the growing joy in Bell"s eyes, the admiration. It was only because I knew him so we'll through meta knowledge, but it was easy to tell that he was starting to look up to me. That was pretty awesome. To seal the deal, I slid over a small pouch filled with valis as I took the vials. To set up the scene I was going for, I started to turn away, waving goodbye as Bell thanked me only to realize I had overpaid by a stupid amount.
  "J-Jericho! You gave me too much-"
  "It's a tip. Use it to buy some decent starter gear -- like a long or short sword, or armor that'll keep your insides on the inside," I dismissed, waving over my shoulder and indulging on a long harbored chunni desire. I must look so fucking cool right now. "I'll see you later Bell."
  "Thank you so very much!" Bell shouted as I left the store, I didn"t look back to secure my image of the cool, friendly senpai look I was going for. I went as far as to take the long way to the central plaza to make sure that I disappeared "mysteriously" instead of walking by the front window. Once I was certain I was out of sight, I ran a hand through my hair, blowing out a breath.
  "I didn"t expect that," I mused to myself as I approached the central plaza that was overlooked by the tower of babel. Running into Bell out of the blue was a shock. I was glad he found a good familia. Depending on Naaza, he could have someone to train him. And, hopefully, Freya wouldn"t notice him so he wouldn"t have to deal with her special brand of crazy.
  But, still, I"m glad he was doing alright for himself. And, I was even more glad that he wasn"t in the Hestia familia. I had a good thing going this past week -- I was earning a pretty great amount of exp, finally. Perhaps not enough to level up by the time Bell did, but I would only be off by a few weeks. Me and Hestia were great, I was making a ton of money, my stats were coming along nicely...
  Everything was looking like it was on the up and up. The only thing I had any suspicions about was Canoe"s utter lack of any kind of action against me. Maybe he was waiting, letting me fatten up my bank account before he robbed me for all that I was worth, but...
  Next time we spoke, he wouldn"t be walking away.
  It didn"t take long to spot Lili thanks to her oversized bag. She sat at the fountain, waiting for me with her head hung low. Even after a week, I still had trouble reading Lili, but if I had to guess, something was wrong with her. She seemed to sense my approach because she glanced up at me without any warning, pinning me with a gaze filled with worry.
  All the mirth I was feeling at meeting Bell was blown away like smoke in the wind. "What"s wrong," I asked, taking a seat next to her. Lili gripped her knees with white knuckles, her expression hidden from me but I could guess that she was scared and worried.
  "Lili found out how much Lili would have to pay to leave the Soma familia," Lili answered, her shoulders sagging. Ah, so that"s what it was. I"m guessing that the number was a rather big one if it had her this discouraged. Still, I had prepared myself for a stupid amount- "Zanis says it will take ten million valis for Lili to leave the Soma familia."
  "T-ten million valis?" Despite myself, that number caught me completely off guard. It was a straight-up gut punch. In the past two weeks, I more or less got a handle on how much a valis is worth, and asking for ten million valis to leave was like asking for a million dollars. It was absolutely insane.
  "Zanis says it"s because Lili has been a member of the Soma familia for so long," Lili answered my unspoken question. "So Lili knows "vital information" about the familia"s inner workings, so Lili would have to pay that much because of a "safety risk."" I could practically see the air quotes as she spoke, frustration leaking into her tone.
  "Well..." That was still way, way, way too much. Far beyond what a level 1 supporter could earn in a decade. "It sounds like he just doesn"t want you to leave." Asking for that amount was asking for the impossible. So, there had to be some other motive beyond money.
  In the anime, I"m pretty sure he asked for that much because Lili was connected to Bell, the Little Rookie. Right now, the Hestia familia was just me, a level 1 adventurer.
  "Lili thinks so too! But Lili has no idea why! Lili hasn"t paid her dues in months, she doesn"t stay there or anything! Why would he want Lili to stay?!" Lili snapped, not at me but venting her frustration that was boiling over. Her hands curled into fists, her head so slow that her chin was nearly touching her chest.
  Then she turned to me, tears gather in the corners of her eyes. "What should Lili do?" she asked, almost begging for an answer.
  There was a way to get around Zanis. Soma, the piece of shit that he was, would be impressed enough that if she fought off the intoxicating effects of Soma wine he would let her leave his familia. I couldn"t bring myself to make that suggestion. For one, I doubt that Zanis would let sleeping dogs lie, but, more importantly, I wasn"t sure if my relationship with Lili was strong enough that she could fight off the effects of Soma.
  I hadn"t saved her from certain death, accepted her for all her flaws, and forgiven her for her betrayals. Lili didn"t love me. She might like me, she might respect me, but gambling on her feelings being deep enough to resist Soma wine was a gamble that I wasn"t willing to take. Though, that could be because I was more than a little biased.
  Soma was a drug as bad, if not worse, as heroin or crack. I watched drugs ruin my dad"s life. Him doing drugs damn near ruined my life. When he died a year ago, when I was eighteen, I got saddled with more debt than I knew what to do with out of absolutely nowhere when I was already taking out student loans to go to college. I hated drugs and I hated debt, and, for a time, I hated my dad too.
  Soma, as his test, did the equivalent of sticking a needle full of heroin in Lili"s arm and told her to fight off the high. He was surrounded by drug addicts of his own creation, he grew apathetic to them when they kept disappointing him until it got to the point he could see a little girl screaming and crying and begging to leave the familia and do exactly fuck all to help her when all he had to do was say a fucking word. And he did nothing. Not until she drank Soma and proved that she wanted her friends more than she wanted the high.
  Fuck Soma. He was a garbage god and just as responsible for what was happening to the Soma familia as Zanis was. And I wasn"t going to put Lili through that even if I knew it would work.
  "Are you sure he doesn"t know about the others?" I asked, trying to approach this problem from all angles. I knew he was going to ask for an unreasonable amount, but that was more than I was expecting. If it was a couple of million, then I would have said that we wait a couple of weeks and earn that amount, but ten million? It would take months of pinching every valis so hard that they bruised.
  "Lili doesn"t think so. No one has said anything about them," Lili denied with a shake of her head. Still, I couldn"t help but be suspicious. Perhaps this was Canoe"s move? Maybe he was whispering in Zanis" ear that I was a cash cow that had a soft spot for Lili and they were trying to squeeze us for all we are worth? It made more sense than I would like.
  A sigh escaped me. "Then I guess we go with plan B. I wouldn"t piss on Zanis if he was on fire, much less hand over ten million valis to him." Lili looked worried for a moment, but I reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. Well, it was more three fingers, but it was the thought that counted. "We challenge Soma to a war game after I reach Level 2. I kick their asses, and you get to leave that...mess...of a familia." I said, biting back some very sharp words about those degenerates.
  Despite her tears, worries, and fears, Lili managed a small giggle at that. "Mr. Jericho...Lili finds it amazing that Mr. Jericho can say stuff like that," she commented, her tone still sad, but the angry frustration was fading as my words reassured her. She...must have been pretty worried that I would get scared off with a price tag like that and abandon her. To be honest, most sane people would.
  "Say stuff like what? That I"m going to kick Soma"s ass? Because that"s not a threat, that"s a promise," I pointed out, earning another giggle from her. However, she shook her head.
  "That Mr. Jericho can say that he will become a level 2 so easily. Most adventurer"s never make it past level 1," she pointed out. Admittedly, she was right. My point of view was a little skewed because I was comparing myself to canon Bell, who became a level 2 in a month and a half, level 3 a month later and level 4 two months after that. Everyone else was lucky or talented if they made it to level 2.
  "Is that doubt that I hear?" I teased, glad that the subject was changing away from a topic that dredged up more than a few bad memories.
  Lili shook her head. "No. Lili believes that Mr. Jericho will level up," she denied, looking up at me to show a small smile. "Soon, if he continues as he has."
  "Exactly right," I declared, pushing myself up and offering a hand for Lili to take. "And when I do, the first thing I"m going to do is kick down the Soma familia"s gates and demand a war game so loudly that there"s no way Soma can ignore me. You can take that promise to the bank," I reassured, smiling back as Lili took my hand.
  With that, off into the Dungeon we went.
  The tenth floor was different than the others. Gone were the claustrophobic tunnels, the low light, and rocky ground. The tenth floor was massive in every way. The ceiling was so high up that the fog that illuminated the grass-covered ground that it was pitch black. It was impossible to tell just how high up it was, but it must be at least a hundred feet. What wasn"t pitch black was illuminated by the heavy fog so thick it was difficult to see more than fifty feet around you at any given time.
  Barren trees were sprinkled across the floor, serving as landform weapons -- basically, the tree would transform into a club when a large monster grabbed it. And the rabbits. And the imps. And the kobolds and goblins too. If a monster so much as picked up a rock, then it got turned into some kind of weapon from a simple club, to a shiv to an axe.
  Seeing that firsthand never gets old, I noted, as I spotted a lumbering orc coming my way as it reached out to grab a barren tree. Orcs were the first monsters to be bigger than me. It stood at just over ten feet tall, its stomach was bulging, making it seem fat and round, but it couldn"t hide the corded muscles on its thick arms. Its mouth was filled with sharp teeth that didn"t quite fit in it, two large tusks protruding out of the corners of its mouth.
  Other than that, it looked like what I expected an orc to. Deep green skin, bald, pointed ears, and its eyes were filled with a dull, stupid, intelligence.
  Taking in a bracing breath, I rushed towards the orc as it hefted a massive wooden club that the tree turned into overhead. Faster than one would expect, it brought the club down hard enough that a crater formed, dust and dirt kicked up that obscured the fact that it had missed. Bursting through the dust, I slashed my sword down across its hands. Bone and muscle offered up some resistance, just not enough to stop me from cutting off its hand.
  The orc bellowed, stumbling back as it lost its balance. Twisting my grip, I slammed my sword into its knee, cutting through it so it tumbled over. It collapsed in a heap, writhing on the ground right up until I switched my grip and plunged my sword into its neck and severed its head.
  Orcs, as far as I was concerned, were exp cash cows that I discovered a few days ago. A hundred and twenty five exp. Each. I"m guessing since orcs were giant class monsters, they were worth a lot more than any previous monsters. Still, I just about creamed myself when I did the math after I killed my first one. At first, I thought I screwed up with keeping up with how much exp I earned on the way down. It wasn"t until I killed eight of them and gained a thousand exp that it sunk in.
  "Lili thinks that Mr. Jericho is enjoying this floor too much," Lili commented as she went to the carcass to retrieve the monster stone. This floor was still too new for me to risk fighting with her on my back yet, but my stats were getting there and I was getting used to fighting the monsters on this floor. It was only when she made that comment that I realized I was smiling, still overjoyed with the sudden influx of exp.
  "I"m glad I can finally fight something without having to bend over to take a swipe at it," I corrected, searching the heavy mist for another orc. The one downside to this floor was that the monster spawns went way, way down. Instead of getting constantly besieged like I was on the ninth floor, on this floor I spent more time looking for a fight than I did fighting.
  "It must be odd for Mr. Jericho to have to look up at something," Lili teased, getting a huff of laughter from me. It was a good sign that she was able to make jokes -- both because I was taking it as a sign of trust and that she was feeling a little better.
  "Eh, only until I knock "em down," I bantered, spotting another orc lumbering towards us, likely drawn by the noise. If Lili said something in response, then I didn"t hear it when a high pitched screeching assaulted my ears. Instantly, I looked upwards, catching a glimpse of a bad bat, a monster that seemed to have dialed up the sound of its echolocation up to fifty.
  Thankfully, Lili was quick to shoot it down, putting an end to its ear-piercing screeching. I watched its body fall to the ground, an arrow punched through its mouth. "Thanks," I told her, turning my attention back to the lumbering orc marching our way, picking up a landform weapon. "I really need to get a ranged option..."
  "Lili thinks Mr. Jericho is better off as he is. In a normal party, Mr. Jericho would be the vanguard, while Lili is support. Most have another member to prevent the vanguard from getting overwhelmed, but Mr. Jericho"s aggressiveness seems to have prevented that issue," Lili denied, retrieving the monster stone and making the corpse disappear in a cloud of ash, leaving behind an orc hide.
  "Makes sense," I commented, idly adding another one to our total of twenty. Five more, then we got fifty thousand valis, and fifty thousand exp. Wonderful, wonderful exp. Though, more importantly, should I get a third party member? Actually, wasn"t Welf stuck on this floor for like a year? I haven"t seen him since he taught me how to maintain my armor, but if I popped my head in and brought it up, he could say yes.
  The orc bellowed a war cry as it began to approach. Settling into a stance, I darted forward to meet the monster halfway. I swiped at me, swinging like its club was a baseball bat, and forcing me to bend out of the way. I felt the wind on my face as I leaned back to dodge the attack even as I lashed out with my sword. The wickedly sharp edge bite into the orc"s flesh, drawing a line of crimson that went so deep my blade scraped against bone.
  Twisting on the heel of my boot, I built up momentum and brought my blade back down on the monster"s legs. With the cut already half done, I cut the monster"s legs off, making it collapse on its face. Jumping up onto its back, I hacked into its skull and netting me another hundred and twenty-five exp.
  From my view, I peered into the fog, searching for another monster. If there were any nearby, then they weren"t orcs, unfortunately. "Hey, Lili, do you think I could use some monster bait?" I asked, wondering if that would do the trick to finally bring some monsters to us instead of us hunting them-
  Lili looked at me like I said the stupidest thing she had ever heard, so I"m going to go ahead and assume that was a no go on the monster bait. She opened her mouth to make a comment about my hair brained scheme, only for another bad bat to come swooping down to assault our eardrums. And it brought friends, three purple moths.
  I watched the exp get skewered by Lili"s hand crossbow, and it only took her a few moments to fetch the monster stones from their corpses. I opened my mouth to compliment her aim, only to be cut off again. This time, it wasn"t by the high pitched screeching of a bad bat, but instead a much deeper, brassy bellow that seemed to echo through the floor.
  Turning around, I gazed into the fog, confused on what made than noise. Was it an orc? I didn"t know what else could let out a roar like that. "Lili? Do you know what that was?" I asked, already starting to wonder how much exp it would give me if I killed it.
  Lili shook her head when I glanced at her, "Lili has never heard a noise like that before..." she said, her tone was suspicious. I frowned at that -- Lili had been as deep as the eleventh floor, so as far as I was concerned, she was an expert on the upper floors. If she never heard of it before then-
  Oh. Oh fuck. Oh, FUCK!
  "We have to get out of here! Now!" I snapped at Lili, jumping off the corpse of the orc to run towards her. Lili looked at me utterly perplexed, not understanding my sudden panic. Another bellow of the monster lurking in the fog changed her tune. It was closer now.
  Worse, that bellow was answered by another three more.
  It was all too simple to do the math. It had been about two weeks since the Loki familia went on their expedition. Either they were early, or it was a roundup, but regardless, it meant I knew exactly what was giving chase in the fog. Or, rather, what was fleeing from the Loki familia as they made their return trip up.
  Minotaurs. Multiple of them.
  Any thought of trying to kill them went right out of my mind as I grabbed Lili by the bag and booked it towards the exit. Minotaurs weren"t just a level 2 monster, but they were the strongest level 2 monster. It would be like fighting something twice as fast, twice as strong and twice as durable than me. At least. The only way to find out if I had a chance was no way to find at, so I wasn"t going to.
  "Mr. Jericho! What is that?!" Lili cried out as I ran with her as fast I could go. I pumped my legs as fast as I could, pushing myself to my absolute limit to get myself as far away as I possibly could. I knew exactly what I was going to see when I glanced over my shoulder, but I looked anyway.
  I saw a minotaur. Shockingly, it was roughly my height, a little bigger if you count the horns. Its body was lined with a blackish-brown fur, only the front half of its muscular torso was left bare, revealing blackish gray leathery skin. Its eyes seemed to glow a malevolent red as it chased us with its hooved feet.
  My heart plummeted to my boots as I pushed myself to go even faster, but I knew it was no use. It was faster than me. I could hear its labored breathing. Having been chased up about seven floors had tired it out a bit, but it was getting closer with every passing second. I wasn"t going to be able to getaway.
  What if I get out of its way? Let it go up to the upper floors? Newbies could get killed, but that was hardly my problem.
  I tried it. I darted to the side, taking a risk because it cost me precious momentum. I desperately hoped that it would just keep running off the exit to this floor, but those hopes were dashed. It was still following me, its instincts to kill were too strong for it to ignore. It kept chasing me. Plan A was out. On to plan B.
  "Lili, I"m going to stop in a second. I want you to run away!" I shouted at her, not missing her horrified face and...betrayal? Fuck, I didn"t think how that sounded. "I"m going to hold it off for as long as I can, but I need you to get help! Alright?!" I shouted, gripping my sword so tightly I"m pretty sure that warped the handle.
  "But, Mr. Jericho-"
  "I"ll be fine!" I lied through my teeth, "just come back with help! Tell the Guild that there are minotaurs loose on the upper floors! Ready?" I warned, and I could swear that I felt the fingers of the minotaur on the back of my neck as it grasped out to catch me. As soon as I saw that Lili nodded, I tossed her to the side before I turned on my heel, putting myself between her and the minotaur.
  Turns out that I had more of a gap than I expected, but it was rapidly closing the distance between us with a few steps, not slowing down in the slightest.
  Now the plan started. Waiting for Ais to save my dumb ass like the damsel in distress I was.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  The minotaur hit me like a linebacker, nearly folding me in half and it would have if it weren"t for my sword absorbing the bulk of the blow. Even still, it slammed into me hard enough that the harsh sound of metal on metal rang out as its horns made contact with my armor.
  For the briefest seconds, I thought it might hold. Minotaur or not, my armor was solid steel. And I meant solid, but that hope lasted right up until I felt a burning pain in my stomach where its horns tore through steel like it was tissue paper. Memories of rodeos appeared in my mind, and they saved me.
  Grabbing its horn, I managed to stop myself from getting disemboweled with a pained grunt. Attempting to use its own momentum against it as it jerked its head to the side, I tried to trip it up to buy myself precious seconds to do...something. Scream for help, or give Lili a head start before this thing killed me.
  Instead, I somehow forgot that it also had arms. It grabbed my wrist with a grip of iron before it threw me to the side like I didn"t weigh something like a quarter ton. I landed heavily, but I was already scrambling to my feet as soon as I hit the ground. My lungs were empty of air, my stomach hurt more than anything I had ever experienced, but I pushed myself up to my feet.
  It wasn"t my Endurance that made me do it. It wasn"t some chunni resolve to protect Lili or to win this fight against all odds. I just knew it deep down in my gut that if I stayed down then I was dead. Maybe I would get to start a new game, and maybe I wouldn"t. I had no way of knowing. What I did know was that I didn"t want to find out.
  As soon as I rolled to my feet, the monster was on top of me. It lashed out with a fist, a wild haymaker, no form or anything, but with a fist the size of my head, I guess it didn"t need precision. It raced towards my face in a blur, I would have died if my sword wasn"t already in the perfect position to divert the attack. Lashing out, I slashed at its wrist, making it punch empty air.
  Now the only problem was I was face to face with a pissed off monster that was so much stronger than me it went so far passed not being funny until it looped around back to being hilarious. It seemed to realize that at the same time, but somehow, I managed to react first. Closing the distance, I jabbed a leg between its legs and shoulder checked the monster.
  Both of us came tumbling down to the ground with me on top, having managed to trip the monster. Despite every instinct telling me to keep a hold of my sword, I let go of it. Its size was a burden when the fighting was this close. No sooner than I did, I seized the chance to do whatever damage I could to the monster.
  My thumbs went into its eyes, making the monster bellow in pain-
  Something hit me and I only realized it when I found myself off the minotaur as it clutched at its face in pure agony. I had to blink a couple of times, making sure that I didn"t have a concussion, but I wish that was the case. If that second minotaur that appeared out of absolutely nowhere could just be a trick of the light, that would be great.
  Whatever hope that I had that it was a hallucination was quickly dashed when it let out a deep bellow just before it rushed towards me like the one earlier had. Only this time, I was still on the ground. What could I-
  My body moved on instinct, knowing that I could never get out of the way in time. Instead, I would just have to do what I could. As it rushed towards me, intending to skewer me with its horns, I twisted so my feet were facing it. In a desperate attempt, right when it neared, I shot my feet out, catching it in the gut, while I gripped its horns to send it flying harmlessly over me. I felt the vibrations travel through the ground, into me. It must weigh as much as me.
  Twisting to my feet, I tried to get on top of the monster to at least blind it like I had the other, but my face was met halfway by a clumsy fist. Blood filled my mouth as my head snapped to the side, dark spots fluttering across my vision.I fought them off. If I blacked out now, then I was dead.
  With a wordless roar of rage, I punched the monster back, feeling like I hit a brick wall wrapped in thick leathery skin. Right. Brute force was absolutely useless to me here. What did I have? Pretty much nothing else. Sticking to what I knew worked, I went to blind the monster, only by that time it had recovered.
  Not knowing what else to do, I pulled up a handful of dirt with my free hand and threw it in its face. It worked well enough, enough to buy me some time to scramble to my feet, as I became painfully aware how my ribs ached. I didn"t have time to look, but I felt my armor pressing against my ribcage, dented from where this thing hit me.
  As the monster lashed out wildly, scratching at its eyes, I retreated towards my fallen sword. I saw the first minotaur was on its knees, still clutching at its ruined eyes, but steadily rising to its feet. It seemed to hear me approach with my sword poised to strike, so it lunged at me, but I sidestepped its clumsy attack.
  Gripping my sword with all the strength I had, I brought it down on the monster"s neck. My sword bit into its neck, hot blood squirting out, but it wasn"t enough. Barely a few centimeters into the monster before my sword was stopped in its tracks. Letting out a frustrated roar, I ripped my blade free at the same time the other minotaur cleared its vision. It bellowed, running at me with its head down low, but things were different now.
  The blind minotaur attacked at me, guided by its sense of smell, but it couldn"t see the Sparta kick that I planted in its gut that sent it spiraling into the other minotaur. My sword wasn"t tough enough to cut through its dense muscle and flesh, but the same wasn"t true for the minotaur that tackled it in the back.
  Both of them came to a crash and it was then that I saw my chance. Hefting my sword another time, this time I didn"t bring it down on the minotaur"s neck, but rather its horn. My sword bounced off, wobbling in my hands, a dent forming on the edge, but I was undeterred. Before the minotaur that could see could recover, I swung down again. This time, my sword managed to bite into the tough bone.
  It wasn"t enough, but it was a start.
  As the minotaur recovered, I tossed it, my hands going for its horns, trying to put some distance between me and the other minotaur. The very last thing that I needed was to get ganged up on. The minotaur that could see bellowed its rage, grabbing onto my arm and-
  "AHH!" I screamed as I felt my arm snap under its incredible strength. I always thought my instinct would be flight when it came to fight or flight, but apparently, I was wrong. I spat in its eye as I refused to let go of its horn as I tried to trip it up again. It"s hoved feet didn"t offer much in terms of stability, so once I put my leg behind its own, and turned sharply, it came crashing down.
  I controlled my fall, tucking myself into a ball as I made sure that I landed on its throat with my knee. I didn"t have the raw strength to hurt it, but I doubt it was tough enough that it could be fine after having a quarter ton of muscle and heavy armor land on its neck. Actually-!
  Rolling off the monster, I reached into my inventory and pulled out my other bag. The one filled with a metric shitton of rocks. I grabbed it with one arm, feeling its incredible weight, forced to grab onto it with my other despite the...lack...of pain in my arm? Whatever, not the time to think about that.
  I slammed the bag onto it as it clutched at its throat, trying and failing to breathe. The bag tore, but that didn"t matter. I doubt getting hit with a hundred and something pounds of rock to the face felt good. More importantly, it stunned it long enough that I could grab its horns and start to push. Kinda like I was starting a lawnmower, I brace one hand against one horn and tried to pull the one that was cut towards me.
  For a long second, I just about shit myself when absolutely nothing happened. Then, all of a sudden, the horn ripped free. The sound that the minotaur made was sweet, sweet music to my ears. It lashed out at me, a hand hitting my legs so hard that it swept them from underneath me by accident. But that was fine. As soon as I hit the ground, I was scrambling towards the fallen minotaur, my new weapon raised high.
  The minotaur hit me again, its fingers digging deep furrows across my arm. I snarled in pain and rage as I plunged the broken horn into its eye socket. I hoped that it would kill it instantly, but it still thrashed, dislodging the backpack as it twisted so it it was on all fours before lunging at me again. Even with its poor positioning, it managed to knock me flat on my butt, but I managed to keep myself from getting skewered again.
  "Fucking DIE!" I shouted at it, hammering the broken horn deeper into its skull. It slammed a fist into my chest that knocked any trace of breath out of my lungs, something giving way in my ribs as my armor dented around its fist. I couldn"t breathe. Air refused to enter my lungs, all I could do was gasp and gargle on my own blood. The minotaur bellowed in agony, sensing it"s death coming and did whatever it could to stave it off. The blind minotaur moved towards us, drawn by the sound.
  Even still, despite it all, I hammered the horn into its skull and this time something gave way. The minotaur went limp above me, falling on me, the horn finally reaching its brain. I pushed it off me, still gasping for breath, my lungs burning as I started tearing at my armor. Yanking it off, I finally gasped for breath, air entering my lungs as I felt something shift in my ribs.
  I didn"t have time to think about that. The other minotaur was on its way, driven by pain and lead to me by the smell of blood and the screams of its dying kin. I pushed myself to my feet, hurting all over, as I rose I ripped the horn free. Clutching it like it was a lifeline, I spat out an alarming amount of blood as I tried to prepare myself for another bout.
  Everything hurt, my arm was completely fucked and I had no idea how my arm and ribs weren"t broken. Still, I had one enemy left. Even blind, I didn"t dare go near it as it stumbled its way towards us, slowly retreating for every step it took towards me. Hot blood poured from my arm, the claw mark the second minotaur left across my shoulder was deep and I was having some trouble moving it. My shirt was completely drenched with blood and I could only hope that my insides were still inside.
  Reaching into my inventory, I grabbed a handful of health potions and downed them in a single gulp. I felt better, a lot better. After pouring some onto my wounds, the bleeding slowed significantly. I was going to kiss Miach when I got out of here. These health potions were saving my life.
  Only when I confirmed that I was back to full health -- how low it got, I didn"t want to know -- did I stop retreating. Taking a bracing breath, much like the minotaur did before, I rushed towards it and went low. Tackling what felt like a solid wall of muscle, I slipped behind it, grabbing it from behind as well as I could, using my momentum to follow through, I slammed the monster into the ground. The minotaur roared its rage, lashing out with an elbow that flattened my nose with a spray of blood but I pushed through the pain, gripping the horn in my hand with a death grip.
  As it struggled to get back up, I wrapped my arm around its throat, knowing that it was pointless to try to strangle it, I simply slammed the broken horn into its eye. The minotaur clawed at my forearm, stripping flesh until I felt fingers scrape against bone -- the pain was indescribable. It deafened me to everything, it filled my mind of agony until I couldn"t think about anything else.
  Even then, I hammered the horn into its skull, trying to reach its brain. It wasn"t because of the rage or the desire to kill. I wanted the pain to stop, and the only way to stop it was to kill the fucking thing.
  "Fucking. Die!" I cursed, slamming the horn one last time and the monster went still above me. Its hands went limp, falling from clawing my arm off before it just became deadweight that pinned me to the ground.
  My strength left me. I clutched my arm to my chest, hot blood pouring from it that soaked my tank top, my nose bleeding like a broken faucet. I just laid there for a minute, relishing in the fact that I wasn"t dead. Somehow. Somehow, against all logic, I wasn"t dead.
  My thoughts were sluggish, the adrenaline fading and it left a bone-deep exhaustion in its place. I should have lost that fight. I only won because we were a similar height, and that was it. If I hadn"t been able to blind that one minotaur before the second came, I would be dead. If I wasn"t able to break off a horn, I would be dead. If that fight hadn"t gone down exactly as it did, I would be dead. And, even then, it was a close thing.
  Despite my stupor, I wasn"t completely deaf to the world. Hearing the sounds of footsteps, I glanced over just in time to see Ais Wallenstein running towards me, her golden eyes widening when she saw me. Part of me wanted to just lay there until the end of time, but instead, I started to wiggle myself out from underneath, only for Ais to close the distance in a blink of an eye and flip the corpse off me.
  "Thanks," I said, wincing as I sat up. Ais knelt next to me soundlessly as she shook her head, eyeing the wound on my forearm. It looked...bad. I didn"t want to look at it too closely but I"m pretty sure I could see bone.
  "No, it"s my fault that this happened," Ais said, her expression was blank but her eyes were filled with worry. "They were running from us -- did you see any more?" She questioned, making me shake my head in response.
  "I don"t know," I admitted, "I didn"t see any others, but if more were nearby then they probably would have attacked me to." We were close to the exit, so I"m pretty sure one of these was the one that ended up attacking Bell in canon.
  Ais nodded, accepting my logic...but... "I sent my supporter to the Guild to ask for help, but if there is a chance one is rampaging up there, then I don"t think she"s going to make it in time before someone gets killed." At that, Ais" eyes hardened.
  "Will you be okay here?" She asked, standing as she drew her sword. I"m going to go ahead and chalk this thought up to blood loss and shock, but her armor was the stupidest thing I have ever seen. It only protected a little bit of her chest, and one of her boobs was left half exposed. I guess armor became more for style than practicality at higher levels, but that didn"t mean it didn"t look dumb.
  "I"ll be fine. I have some health potions in my bag, and I think those things scared off all the monsters in the area," I guessed, figuring that was why no orcs or rabbits showed their ugly faces during the fight. Still, Ais hesitated, looking at my sounds like every scratch was a personal sin. "Go. The rest of your familia is coming up, right? They can give me a ride back."
  That did the trick. With a determined nod, Ais took off to the ninth floor without another word, leaving me all alone. Shifting so I could face the direction Ais came from, as I reached into my inventory and grabbed as many health potions I could fit in one hand. Health potion spamming was a viable strategy, and one I was going to abuse. Dumping the vials onto my arm, I dared to look to see that my ripped and torn flesh was regrowing. Almost as if someone was hitting the rewind button, the skin and muscle stopped pumping out blood, then they began to creep forward to close over.
  Still, as good as they were, apparently fifty of them weren"t enough to heal my wounds completely. So, either I was using them wrong, or there was some kind of mechanic the game wasn't telling me about since the tutorial seemed to be off. By the time I exhausted my stores, my arm still looked like it had been mauled by an angry bear, but now it looked like it happened a week ago instead of about five minutes.
  Still, when my hands went to my stomach, I felt smooth skin still damp with blood where the minotaur skewered me. And my bones weren't broken anymore. That had to be Gamer Body at work -- if I had to guess, it either instantly healed what should be a fatal wound if I had enough hp to survive it, or it was some kind of battle healing. A broken arm wasn't fatal, but in that fight, it would have been, so it healed the arm after it broke. They were as good of a guess as any.
  Eventually, I heard the sound of footsteps again, this time I saw that it was the main force of the Loki familia. Spearheading the small group was Finn the Braver, followed by Riveria Nine Hells. Behind them were Tiona and Tione, the two bronze skinned Amazonians looked uncharacteristically serious. Finn noticed me first when I waved then over.
  "The, uh, Sword Princess is checking out the upper floors to make sure none got by, but those two were probably the last ones," I explained before anyone could ask, gesturing to the monster corpses. Finn looked them over before he turned a concerned gaze to my sorry state.
  "Did you kill-" Finn started to ask, only to be shoved aside when Tiona rushed over, her eyes wide and shining until I could see stars in them.
  "You're Blanket Guy!" She announced, invading my personal space, forcing me to lean back or I'm pretty sure she would have headbutted me. I blinked at her before I felt something splash onto my arm. Looking down, I saw Riveria had appeared by my side, an expensive-looking vial in her hand, a red liquid and- oh. My skin just kinda melded together like the wound was never there in the first place.
  "Er," what was she talking about- ah. Right. "Yeah, that's me. But most people call me Jericho. And thanks," I said, turning to Riveria, the green-haired elf simply nodding with what seemed to be a slight smile on her face.
  "I'm Tiona!" Tiona introduced herself, moving backward only because her twin sister, Tione, grabbed her by the shoulder. "Are you sure you're okay? I can carry you if you want?"
  I shook my head as I pushed myself to my feet with only a little difficulty. After testing my arm, I gave her a lopsided smile. "I'm good, thanks though. I mean it," I told her, all of them, getting a positively beaming smile from Tiona while the others just nodded back, except for Lefiya, who was hunched, panting for breath. My gaze settled on Finn, catching the deceptively powerful pallum inspecting my torn backpack and the corpses.
  "Are" He asked, lifting up the backpack with utter ease.
  I nodded, "I was doing a bit of training." I explained, long prepared to explain why I was wearing a hundred and something pounds of rocks on my back.
  "Is that why you were just wearing a blanket that one time?" Tiona asked, earning a small wince from me as I remembered that memory with more than a little shame. It was hardly my best moment, after all.
  "Well..." I trailed off, not missing Tiona"s adorable pout when she saw me hesitating.
  "Buu-! You said you"d tell me about it when I came back from the expedition!" Tiona reminded me pointedly, making me blanch. She giggled at that, likely sensing that it wasn"t exactly a story to be proud of. "I know, you can tell me on our way up!" She decided, grabbing me by my arm and she would have started dragging me behind her if I didn"t stumble after her.
  She was strong. Tiona looked like a normal girl, for the most part, but I don"t think I could break her grip on my wrist even if I tried.
  "Wait, what about the monster-" I started, only for Finn to wave me off. One of the bodies was already a pile of ash that was fading, and he was hands deep in the other one. He pulled the stone out, making the minotaur collapse into a pile of ash, leaving behind a monster stone and the horn.
  "This incident is our fault," Finn said, echoing Ais from earlier, "so this is the least we can do." He said, handing me the sizable monster stones and the broken-off horn. I looked down at them for a moment and nodded.
  I just about died. Again. Since I arrived here, I"ve been in plenty of situations that could kill me -- heck, every single time I go down into the Dungeon, I could die. Maybe I was becoming more desensitized, or maybe it was because it was an honest mistake, or maybe I was too mentally exhausted after just fighting for my life, but...
  "Don"t worry about it too much," I dismissed with a shake of my head, my gaze landing on my armor. I hadn"t noticed when I was tearing it off, but it wasn"t just bent, it was flat out crumpled. Just looking at it, I could see that without Gamer Body, I would be dead. If not from getting stabbed, then getting blindsided by the second minotaur.
  I tore my gaze away, "you patched me up, so other than needing some new armor and clothes, I"m all good now." I almost died. I almost got ripped apart by a bull monster. I...I wasn"t mad because I was too happy to be alive.
  Finn looked marginally relieved, then amused when Tiona started pulling me again, all but dragging me as we approached the exit. "We"ll replace all that stuff for you too," she decided and before I tore my gaze away from Finn, I saw him wince ever so slightly at that. "So don"t worry about that and tell me Blanket Guy!"
  "Ah, well..." I started as I started walking so she didn"t start dragging me. She was watching me so intensely it was kinda uncomfortable. She walked backwards through the halls, utterly fearless of the upper floors and anything in them. I felt a flush creep up my neck, realizing that there was no talking my way out of telling that story.
  So, I shrugged. "I got my clothes stolen by a couple of kids, and I didn"t have anything else to wear," I explained shortly, a self-deprecating grin on my face.
  "Kids?" Finn asked while Tiona laughed really, really, really hard like I had just said the funniest thing in the entire world. I gave her an odd look, glancing at her twin for an explanation, only to see she was staring at Tiona with dawning horror. It took me a second to register that Finn said anything at all.
  "You...are a level 1 adventurer, are you not?" Riveria was the one that figured it out first, getting a nod from me that made her frown ever so slightly.
  "You killed two minotaurs when you"re a level one?!" Tiona shouted, bringing my attention back to her, but not before I caught the glance that Finn and Riveria shared. She squeezed down on my wrist hard enough to hurt, her breathing getting oddly heavy.
  "Er, yeah?" I confirmed with some apprehension. I could hardly explain it was because I cheated with Gamer Body. Without it, I would have died within the opening seconds of the fight. By all rights, I should be dead right now. " wasn"t nearly as impressive as you"re thinking," I hedged, looking at Tiona.
  She was really clinging to me. It was a little odd since this is the second time we"ve ever spoken.
  "How"d you do it?" Tione questioned, looking interested, though far less so than Tiona, who seemed to be hanging off my every word.
  "A crap ton of luck and even more health potions," I started. As nice as it was to be admired, something like this was going to spread like a wildfire in California. When I challenged Soma in a war game, the best-case scenario was them thinking that I was a rookie getting too big for my boots. I needed them to underestimate me for as long as possible.
  Hell, maybe I would keep my level up under wraps until after I challenged them and pass my victory off as what leveled me up.
  However, that explanation didn"t seem to satisfy the twins, forcing me to continue. "One of their horns was already damaged pretty badly, so I ended up tearing it off when I realized my sword wasn"t going to be much use." Speaking of my sword- ah, Finn was carrying it. That was a really weird look. "And I managed to get a lucky hit at the beginning that blinded one of them. From there, it was just a whole lot of fighting dirty and trying not to die."
  "Wow!" Tiona gushed, "you killed two minotaurs with your bare hands?!" Well...technically yes, but...I dunno, it felt a little hollow knowing that I straight up cheated to win. I should be dead right now.
  "Well, I guess so?" I returned, smiling woodenly as we made our way out of the Dungeon. The entire trip up was lead by Tiona as she bombarded me with questions, all the while I wondered what I did to deserve this much of her attention. Even still, I answered them doing my best to keep my answers vague until we reach the Guildhall-
  "Mr. Jericho!" Lili cried out as soon as we walked up the steps. She glomped me, her hands curling up as she grabbed my bloodstained pants, her eyes filled with relief. "You"re alive! Lili...Lili was really scared you"d...!"
  I patted her head, idly noting that she didn"t have any animal ears on top of her head, "Sorry to worry you, but the Loki familia saved me." I told her, casting a look over at Finn and Riveria. Finn smiled as he nodded, knowing exactly what I was trying to do.
  "But-" Tiona started to blurt out the truth, only for Riveria to clap a hand over her mouth.
  "We were happy to help," Finn said just loudly enough that the half-full lobby would hear him. So, now as far as they were concerned, I was the extremely large rookie that got his butt saved by the Loki familia. Much better than level 1 rookie that killed two minotaurs with his bare hands.
  "Though," a new voice pitched in. We turned to see it was an elderly elf, rather heavy set around the waist, with his graying hair slicked back. He wore a guild uniform, and judging by the Loki familia"s expressions, he was fairly high up the food chain. "That could be the least that is expected of you, Loki familia. Please, follow me. There is much to discuss about this...incident," he said, turning on his heel and marching into the Guildhall to a part that I"ve never seen before.
  "Right," Finn said, letting out a tired sigh as he handed over my sword. "It was nice meeting you Jericho," he said, following after the elderly elf.
  "Bye! I"ll see you later Blanket Guy!" Tiona said, being dragged by Tione and Riveria. I waved goodbye, thinking that sounded a lot like a promise. Once they were out of sight, a sigh escaped me as I turned my attention back to Lili.
  She seemed to realize that she was still holding onto me so she quickly let go. "Is Mr. Jericho really okay? Where is Mr. Jericho"s armor?" She asked, eyeing the sheer amount of drying blood on me. The potions helped wash away some of it on my arm, but my face was still coated in it from my broken nose and my tank top was officially a lost cost.
  "Left it behind. I"m going to have to get some new armor, so I"ll go do that now," I said with a frown. I didn"t want to wait another...what, week to get my armor repaired? I would have to either go without or buy some premade armor and bring it to someone to make it fit me. "After a shower, of course."
  Then I pressed the monster stones into Lili"s hands, making her eyes go wide at the size of them. Up until this point, the biggest stone we"ve seen was about as long as one of her fingers and as wide as a pencil. These were proper stones, I couldn"t even guess how much these were worth.
  "After that, I think we"re done for the day. Would you exchange those for me?" I said, seeing the hesitation on Lili"s face. "I trust you," I told her, causing her to look down in shame. I hadn"t meant it like that, but I think she needed to know that. And now, finally, she would start trusting me.
  After a quick shower, I checked myself out in the mirror to see how my nose was. To my relief, it was perfectly straight. My Gamer Body skill seemed to be a little weird on how exactly its heal mechanics worked, but it saved my life so it could be as weird as it liked. Not wanting to put on my bloody tank top, I walked back into the Guildhall shirtless.
  Lili was waiting for me, holding onto a small bag of gold to her chest, her gaze darting around, expecting someone to materialize out of the shadows to steal it. Lili lit up when she saw me, rushing over before she handed the small sack of gold to me. It was fairly light, enough so that I checked inside of it to see what was going on because I doubt that if Lili was going to steal from me, she would be this obvious about it.
  Inside were golden coins different from the normal ones. If I had to guess, these were the thousand dollar bills of the Danmachi world. Doing some quick math...oh. wonder why Lili was so wary about someone stealing this from her. Those two monster stones were worth than two days worth of dungeon diving.
  "...level 2 adventurers make some crazy money, don"t they?" I muttered with a frown, getting an agreeing noise from Lili. But, I guess that made sense. Armor that level 2 Blacksmiths made hiked up in price, so despite making more money, they were forced to spend more money.
  "Will Mr. Jericho be coming to the Dungeon tomorrow?" Lili asked, making me think about it for a second. Eventually, I nodded. I couldn"t let a lack of armor stop me from making progress. I was making so much of it now, just a few more weeks and I could be a level 2.
  "I will. I can take the big guys easily enough, but I"ll be relying on you to deal with the little guys," I said, tucking the small fortune into my pocket. And by pocket, I meant my Inventory.
  "You can count on Lili!" Lili proclaimed with a firm nod. After that, we said our goodbyes for today. I watched her walk off in the direction of her home, another sigh escaping me. I still had some daylight left, so I might as well run some errands while I could. Hestia would get off work in a bit, and I wanted everything taken care of before then.
  With my newfound wealth, I ended up ordering a chest piece from Welf, and asked him to repair my sword"s edge since the dents in it were beyond my ability to repair. After that, I went to Miach and ordered not one metric fuck ton of potions, but three epic fuck tons of potions. When I described what the potion that Riveria used on me did, he told me it was a high potion, so I ordered some of those as well. It would just take some time to make.
  "Status," I said aloud, relaxing on my bed, a book in hand that I was staring at rather than reading.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 219,398/1,000,000
  Strength: 60 (+2)
  Endurance: 73 (+3)
  Dexterity: 74 (+1)
  Intelligence: 24 (+4)
  Sense: 48 (+2)
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 7% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Abnormal Resistance: Poisons, Toxins, and Drugs are 7% less effective. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Swordsman: Increased parameters when wielding swords. Effectiveness is determined by Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and Sense.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.
  Kissing: An intimate act between lovers that, if done well, can bring pleasure to the target. Effectiveness is determined by the Dexterity and Sense stat.
  Sex: Greatly enhances parameters when engaging in sexual intercourse. Effectiveness is determined by Endurance, Strength, Dexterity, and Sense stats.​
  My damage resistance probably saved me more than anything during that fight. It was at twelve percent resistance thanks to Durable, then Life-Giver, which had doubled my hp a while ago, gave me enough hp to survive those attacks. The fight was too intense for me to keep up with hp, but I couldn"t shake the feeling that I had just about died down there.
  Though, it was very nice to know that each minotaur gave me about ten thousand exp. Which also told me that when I hit level 2, the exp requirement to hit level 3 was going to be balls off the walls insane.
  "I killed two level 2 monsters," I muttered, thinking aloud as I set my book to the side. It was messy. Extremely messy, and a lot of it relied on the monsters being too stupid to work together and flailing wildly at me, but that didn"t change the fact that I had killed them. If I was able to kill the strongest level 2 monster, then it stood to reason that I stood a chance against a level 2 adventurer.
  In the anime, Zanis went down like a little bitch. Welf smacked him with his sword once, and that was it. Didn"t even cut him. And Welf was a newly minted level 2, so Zanis might not be as strong as I think he is. The fight might be a little more even than it should be.
  But...why take that risk? Zanis likely didn"t know who I was just yet. By the time he did, I wanted it to be too late.
  "I should keep going as I have," I decided, mulling it over for a few minutes. Keep striving for level 2, grinding my stats and racking up exp. And...actually...I had an opportunity, didn"t I? Later tonight, the Loki familia was going to party at the Hostess. If I went there, since what happened was their fault even if they didn"t mean for it to happen, maybe I could get an apology gift or something?
  Or, even better...if I asked for training from one of them, as Bell did with Ais, then they couldn"t turn me down! During the day, I could grind stats like crazy, maybe get some Skills too, and that would allow me to go even deeper into the Dungeon. Maybe I could talk them into taking me deeper into it before I hit level 2, kinda like they were power leveling me!
  Huh. Nearly getting killed by the minotaurs was probably one of the best things that could have happen-
  "I"m home!" Hestia announced, coming down the steps with a pep in her step.
  "Welcome back," I greeted, pushing my machiavellian manipulations to the side and focusing on my goddess. "How was work?"
  "It was wonderful! I sold a lot of armor today!" Hestia said cheerfully, practically skipping over to me. "I heard about an incident in the Dungeon, though -- apparently the Loki familia scared a whole bunch of minotaurs onto the upper floors! You didn"t see..." she trailed off, unable to finish when she saw my expression.
  I quickly told her everything that had happened, making Hestia go very, very, very quiet. When I was finally done, she exploded like an erupting volcano.
  "Loki! How-how dare her familia be so reckless!?! You could have been killed! I, I don"t know what...!" Hestia shouted, but much like a volcano, her initial outburst was the loudest. Reaching out, I pulled her in before the waterworks could come.
  "I"m fine. What could have happened, didn"t," I reassured, embracing her. "So don"t worry too much. I"m fine. I promised I wouldn"t leave you alone, didn"t I?" I said, getting a small giggle out of her. Pulling away from her, I pinched her chin to see that she didn"t look like she was about to cry anymore.
  Before I could, Hestia leaned in to kiss me. It was a raw kiss filled with need, her hands found themselves in my hair, gripping me so tightly it was like she was planning to never let me go. I kissed her back, my tongue snaking into her mouth as my hands dipped down to her shapely ass.
  She kissed me that much harder when my hands went beneath her short skirt of her uniform, her tongue battling against mine. Her kissing skills saw prodigious improvement over the past week, I noted as I nibbled her bottom lip. Her enthusiasm made up for her lack of skill before, and now it was damn near overwhelming.
  One of her hands left my hair, tracing down my chest, gliding over my abs until it rested on my groin. I smirked into the kiss as Hestia wasted no time unzipping my pants and fishing out my half-mast cock. She grabbed the hardening flesh, placing both of her hands onto it as she kissed me forcefully.
  What I didn"t expect was for her to climb up on top of me as soon as I was at full mast. She placed a hand on my chest to push me back so I was laying down, and I let her, though I gave her a questioning look. "No foreplay?" I ask, cocking an eyebrow as Hestia reached underneath her skirt to push her panties to the side.
  "I just..." Hestia trailed off, unable to put her thoughts into words. "I want you," she decided, teasing my cockhead with her slick slit before she pressed down. I watched her face as she enveloped my length in a tight embrace, a soft moan escaping her as she wore an expression of pure relief.
  Instead of slamming her hips up and down, she went back and forth. It was a lot easier for her that way, and it felt amazing for me. With my hands on her hips, my fingers massaging the soft flesh of her ass, I helped guide her hips. Hestia panted on top of me, bracing herself with her hands on my unyielding abs.
  Her mouth hung open, her gaze staring into mine as her body was racked with pleasure. Reaching up, I caressed her cheek and presented a thumb. She latched onto it, her tongue coiling around it as she treated it exactly as she would if it were my cock. A heavy blush framed her face, her bangs getting plastered to her forehead as she worked up a sweat riding me.
  After a week, I got pretty good at telling when Hestia was nearing her orgasm. Her walls clenched around my length, her moans became pants for air as she fucked herself breathless on top of me while her hip movements became more frantic. Dressed in her uniform, I couldn"t see where we were connected, but I felt her juices dripping down my cock.
  Then she came. Cum poured down my cock, soaking her panties that were tucked to the side, and my pants but I hardly cared. Hestia would have collapsed right on top of me if it wasn"t for my arms keeping her up. She quivered above me, her eyes glazing over even as she continued to stare at me.
  Slowly, she regained control over herself. And, to my continued surprise, Hestia picked up her pace right where she left off.
  Wordlessly, I took my thumb out of her mouth and began unbuttoning her blouse. Fucking her in uniform was great, but I would rather see her boobs. Hestia never stopped moving as I removed her top half, revealing her perfectly sculpted breasts. Having to hunch over, I lifted my top half off the bed so I could clamp my lips over one of her delicious looking nipples.
  "Ahhh~" Hestia breathed as I sucked on her nipple, playing with her other, while my other hand still playing with her ass. Though, maybe I could put it to better use. Reaching over, I moved her panties to the side to grant me access to her clit. Rubbing it with my thumb, Hestia threw her head back and moaned.
  Pulling back, her breast leaving my mouth with an audible pop. I opened my mouth to say something, but Hestia slammed her lips into mine, driven by hunger only sex could sate.
  As I kissed her, tasting the sweets she likely snacked on while working, I felt her walls start to clench down on me again. Between teasing her nipples and clit, her natural sensitivity and her heightened sensitivity from her recent orgasm, it only took a few short minutes before I felt her cum again. Hestia leaned into me, her hands holding me as tightly as she could as pleasure swept her away.
  Then, as soon as the tides of ecstasy receded, Hestia started moving her hips again.
  Well...if she was game, then so was I.
  I took off her skirt and ripped off her panties, leaving her wearing nothing but her stockings. All the while Hestia desperately thrust back and forth, filling our small home with the sounds and smell of sex. A sheen of sweat covered her, a drop of sweat forming on her chest, trailing all the way down to her pink nipple before it was flung off from the force of her movements. They swayed every time she thrust, right up until I lavished attention on them with my hands and tongue.
  Hestia came again, faster this time. Her eyes butterflied, the tides of pleasure claiming her for the third time. My lap was absolutely soaked with her fluids already, and more gushed out of her. She went limp against my chest, trembling in my arms as her walls milked me for my cum. Only none came.
  "Jericho...!" Hestia moaned, trying to move her hips again, but I kept them still with my hands. Her eyes opened, half-lidded, and her sapphire blue eyes were overflowing with sheer want...and something else I couldn"t quite put my finger on. Before I could ask, she tried the thrust again, and spoke with a husky voice, "Jericho, I want you. Please, fuck me."
  Well then.
  All of a sudden, whatever it was I was about to say seemed very unimportant as I flipped Hestia over. Because of the size difference, unless I wanted to smother her, I couldn"t lean over. Tucking my knees underneath me, with Hestia still fully wrapped around my cock, I laid her down, adjusting my positioning. Hestia squeezed down on me, her hands going down to my wrists as I gripped her waist.
  I pulled back slowly, watching her pussy do its absolute best to keep me sheathed inside her, my cock covered with her juices. Hestia breathed, her breasts rising and falling as she braced herself for what was to come. Then I slammed my hips forward hard enough that her breasts bounced, "Hu!" Hestia moaned as I pulled back out, then hammered my hips against hers.
  "You look like you"re enjoying yourself," I noted with some humor as my hips found a tempo. Normally, I had music going on to help me find a rhythm, otherwise, I thought too much about my hip movements and threw it off completely. Hestia couldn"t answer as I thrust, her mouth wide open as she threw her head back.
  The sounds of her pleasure were music to my ears as I fucked my goddess into a puddle of goo. I looked down at her, watching her squirm under my ministrations, her sensitivity must be making this torturous for her. To be honest, with just how much dick was inside her, I always expected to see some kind of bulge to mark where my dick resided.
  As I entertained myself by fucking Hestia until her breasts swayed in small circles, I felt the signs of yet another impending orgasm. Her...fourth in about half an hour. Hestia"s hips bucked, her walls clamping down on me again, massaging my cock to milk me of my orgasm, but my cock endured unflinchingly.
  "K-keep going!" Hestia moaned even as she squirmed, her chest heaving with every breath, her body was coated in a sheen of sweat.
  The thing about Hestia"s extreme natural sensitivity -- it made it so very easy for her to get worked up and cum, but she didn"t have the stamina to keep that up. Four orgasms in, and she looked like she was getting fucked for hours.
  "Are you sure?" I questioned, getting a frantic nod from Hestia. I didn"t need any other prompting as I started to hammer away at her. Because of the size differences, my options for positions was limited. However, I had a few in mind. Twisting Hestia so her back was facing me, the goddess limply letting me do what I wanted even as she moaned in approval, I held her hips up and started pounding into her doggy style.
  I lost myself in the sensation of her pussy wrapped around my cock. Despite only a week of sex, I was rapidly learning her most sensitive spots. I tormented them, feeling Hestia cum on my cock a fifth time. Then a sixth. And a seventh. Another half an hour passed, Hestia was face down into the bed, her mouth wide open as she drooled, her eyes open but seeing nothing as I mercilessly fucked her.
  Sensing that her eighth orgasm was nearby, I massaged my thumb against her puckered asshole before entering. Hestia groaned, proving that she was still somewhat aware as a weak spatter of cum raced down my cock and dripped off my balls.
  Looking down at her, I let out a small sigh. Yeah, she was done- "Noooo," Hestia moaned when I began to pull out of her, her hips moving to keep me lodged as deeply as she could take me. "You haven"t...I haven"t...!"
  Ah. My stats and skills had a bit of a drawback, as we learned over the past week. The higher my endurance was didn"t just mean that I had more and bigger nuts to bust, but it took me longer to bust them. With Hestia"s stamina, she was having trouble making me cum once, much less the three times.
  "Hestia, it"s-" I started to reassure her, but she was shaking her head.
  "It"s not fine!" Hestia argued, twisting around so she could look at me. The pleasure she displayed before was gone, replaced with an upset expression. "You"ve been taking care of yourself because I can"t do it for you. I can"t satisfy you." She pointed out, trying to thrust while she spoke but her hips didn"t have any strength in them left.
  "I-" I started, not knowing what I could say about that. In a way, she was telling the truth. After we were done the past couple of nights, I took care of my erection since Hestia was usually too out of it. Fucking an unconscious girl, even if it was because I fucked her unconscious, left a bad taste in my mouth.
  "Jericho...did Syr come into our room the first night we made love?" Hestia asked directly, getting a wince out me. That probably told her all she needed to know because she nodded slowly. "I thought so. I thought it was just a weird dream, but..."
  "Hestia, you don"t have to worry about me cheating on you," I told her with a small frown. I"ve been cheated on in the past and I wasn"t going to do that to someone else. Especially a goddess who knew when I was lying and loved me unconditionally.
  Hestia was quiet for a moment, but it was the fact that she didn"t look angry that kept me from pressing the issue. She took in a deep breath, coming to some conclusion based on how she nodded to herself. "You...could?" She said in a small voice, looking up at me with a piercing gaze. "I can"t satisfy you, so..."
  "Hestia-" I started, only to cut myself off. I wasn"t expecting this. I figured, eventually, I"d muster up the courage to ask her about other girls, but the very last thing I expected was for her to bring it up first. I took a second, gathering my thoughts before I continued. "Hestia, would you really be comfortable with that?"
  It took Hestia a moment to respond but she gave me another slow, deliberate nod. "I think so...I mean, I...yes. I think I am. But, could you...let me meet them first? If I can"t satisfy you on my own, then..." She started and stopped, embarrassed and unsure. I simply nodded, knowing what she was getting at.
  "Before I do anything with anyone, I"ll run it by you first, okay?" I told her, leaning over to give her a long kiss. Hestia nodded before my lips pressed against hers. I savored the feeling of her body against hers and, despite myself, I felt as giddy as a schoolgirl. My life was so fucking awesome.
  Breaking the kiss, I pulled back to smile down at her, "would you like to go to the hostess tonight?"
  Hestia blushed, a small smile tugging at the edge of her lips.
  "I would."
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  Orario had a bustling nightlife, it seemed as Hestia and I walked through the streets. The magic stone lamps were on, a crescent moon hanging overhead, countless stars twinkling in the sky. As a city boy, born and raised, that was taking some getting used to. I never knew just how many stars were hidden by the light given off from the city that never sleeps.
  There were almost as many stars as there were people milling about through the busy streets as we stepped onto the entertainment district. The streets were lined with bars, restaurants and more. Every single one of them looked like they were packed to the absolute brim with groups of people in varying stages of drunkness wandered about.
  "Are you feeling okay?" I asked, looking down at Hestia as she watched a group of adventurers drunkenly play a game of cards in the middle of the street. No one tried to stop them simply because of their fine armor, marking them as third-rate adventurers at least, which meant that they were at least a level stronger than me. And, given that I"m pretty sure this chaos was because of the Loki familia"s return, I"m guessing that no one would have said anything if they were dressed in rags. No one wanted to cross one of the most powerful familias in the city, after all.
  "I"m fine," Hestia said, holding my hand. "Just a little sore," she admitted after a moment. I guess that was to be expected -- Hestia was quick to please and quick to exhaust, and it was for that reason we haven"t had much time to experiment. I guess she wasn"t quite ready for doggy style, or any position that wasn"t missionary.
  "Would you like a health potion?" I asked as we made our way through the busy streets. I"m not sure what was in those potions, but it seemed like there was next to nothing they couldn"t fix. Soreness was included in that list, thankfully.
  "I"m fine, don"t worry about me," Hestia dismissed with a shake of her head. "It just feels funny when I walk, and my legs are still a little weak." I wiped a smirk off of my face, feeling manly pride swell at that. Instead, I nodded and glanced away, my gaze landing on the Hostess of Fertility. I don"t think it was as packed as it looked in the anime.
  And I really underestimated just how big the Loki familia was. Adventurers hung around the entrance, one of them sleeping as another three drew dicks on his face while they cracked up about it. I couldn"t be sure if they all belonged to the Loki familia, but there had to be at least a hundred adventurers scattered about on the main road. Every single one of them was treating the celebrations as a frat party -- and, if that was the case, I"m willing to bet all the money in the world that there were more Loki familia members in the red light district.
  "Do you think we"ll have to wait?" Hestia asked, eyeing the crowd warily. "Or...come back another time, when it"s not so busy?" She asked, a flush creeping up her neck as she squeezed my hand. We weren"t here for food, but for Syr and I had a tough time imagining that Mama Mia, the owner, would let Syr take a break. If I was here for only Syr, I probably would have agreed with Hestia.
  Before I died, I was a college student. I practically survived off the free food and booze that parties offered before I got claimed by Truck-kun. This party looked liked it was about to become a real swinger -- everyone was getting drunk beyond reason, no one was trying to organize the chaos, and considering a lot of these people were actually superhuman...well...I feel very, very, very sorry for whoever had to clean up the mess.
  "Let"s just stop by. Even if she can"t take a break, then she might appreciate some friendly faces. Or, maybe I could help out in the kitchen. Before I found myself here, I was a line cook and a barista," I told her as we approached. Hestia blinked in surprise at me, getting a smile out of me. "I started out as a dishwasher there before I worked my way up."
  "I didn"t know that..." Hestia trailed off, frowning lightly. "Do you...miss it?" She asked, trying to pass off a very loaded question as a casual one. I gave her hand a squeeze as I shrugged carelessly.
  "Not really," I dismissed her concerns easily enough. "Most of my family is dead, and the friends that I had were fairweather." People that I partied with, but few I would ever confide in. Well, excluding drunken rants. "So, no. I don"t really miss it. At all, really." It was hard to when I so clearly traded up.
  Hestia looked relieved at my words, relaxing as we pushed through a small crowd of adventurers chugging what looked to be an entire keg of beer. They gave way to me, careless of my presence as I pushed open the door to reveal that the inside was just as packed as the streets. Every table was taken, the bar filled, everyone shouting on top of one another until the tavern became a mess of noise.
  The waitresses ran between the tables and patrons, their green uniforms marking them out as they carried arms full of plates loaded with food and what appeared to be several kegs worth of beer in frothy mugs. However, none looked stressed or frustrated by how packed the place was -- I guess that was to be expected when this place was staffed by first and second-rate adventurers.
  "Ah! It"s you!" A brown-haired cat girl exclaimed, pointing dramatically at me. Something about it struck me as familiar before I recalled it was the same cat girl that greeted us last time. "You gotta lot of nerve showing your face around here! Do you have any clue who had to wash the sheets when the two of you were done?!" She shouted, her voice thankfully lost in a sea of noise.
  Hestia went bright red while I gave a sheepish smile. "You?" I hazard a guess, only for the cat girl to scoff.
  "No! Ryuu had to do it and since she"s so nice, I"m being offended on her behalf!" She clarified, earning a cocked eyebrow from me when, as if summoned by her name being uttered, the elf materialized behind her.
  "I would have preferred it if you had helped me instead of watching and giggling," Ryuu deadpanned, making the cat girl go stiff. She turned on Ryuu, a nervous expression on her face as Ryuu simply stared her down.
  "O-oh! It sounds like Mama Mia needs me!" She lied through her teeth as she ran towards the kitchen. Ryuu seemed to let out a sigh as we watched her go before she turned towards us. Her expression was blank, making it impossible to tell what she was thinking, but I did notice how her gaze drifted from me to Hestia for a brief moment.
  "We currently have a rather long seating wait. Unless you wish to see Syr, then I would recommend finding somewhere else to dine tonight. You aren"t likely to eat until well past midnight," Ryuu spoke, her tone even but it somehow managed to carry through the near-deafening shouting around us. I kinda felt bad. I could recall what those sheets looked like after Hestia awoke from her stupor. We really did leave a mess to be cleaned up.
  "We were hoping to speak to Syr, but, if you"d like, I can try to make up for leaving a mess? I have cooking experience and I can wash dishes?" I tried, getting a slow blink from Ryuu before she shook her head.
  "You shouldn"t concern yourself with what Anya said. There is nothing to make up to me -- cleaning the sheets fell under my duties list, nothing more," Ryuu denied with a small shake of her head. I couldn"t tell if that was what she really felt, or-
  "We can help!" Hestia answered for me before I could accept what Ryuu said at face value. "Jericho can help in the kitchen, and I have a lot of customer service experience!" she exclaimed, her expression unusually serious. Ryuu blinked at the sudden offer of help, especially when Hestia was being so forceful about it.
  Ryuu hesitated, and it was Mama Mia who decided despite the fact that she was standing on the other side of the building, several tables full of screaming patrons between us while she was serving drinks. "If they want to help, then let him. Get Lady Hestia a uniform," Mama Mia ordered Ryuu -- I had extremely underestimated just how sharp a level 6 adventurers hearing could be.
  Hestia lit up, happily following Ryuu as she nodded and lead Hestia upstairs. Mama Mia gestured to me to come to her, which I did with a little difficulty. "You"re in the kitchen with Syr, big guy. If you try anything while you"re on the clock, then I"ll toss you out on your ass in a heartbeat, understand?"
  "I understand," I agreed with a nod, not wanting to test the smaller woman. I had a foot and a half on her, and even my success with the minotaurs didn"t inflate my ego enough to think I took a chance against Mama Mia. The woman looked like...a mom, which I guess explained her nickname. Brown hair pulled back in a simple ponytail, a round face, brown eyes...yeah, she looked like a mom.
  "Then get in there," Mama Mia said, jerking her head towards the kitchen. "And don"t hit your head on nothing." She ordered as I ducked to enter the kitchen to reveal Syr, who frantically washed dishes in an oddly modern-looking sink. She turned to face me, tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.
  "Save me!" She cried overdramatically, splashing soapy water on her already drenched uniform. Before I could ask from what, another waitress dropped off a stack of plates that were nearly as tall as my goddess onto an already considerable stack. Syr was beyond behind, there were so many dirty dishes that I"m shocked that any of the patrons outside were eating on one. "They won"t stop coming! Jericho, take me away from this horrid place!"
  "Can"t do that, I"m afraid," I said, rolling up my sleeves as I threw on my best prince charming smile. "But I am here to rescue you. I"ll wash and you dry?" I said, the tears in her eyes vanishing like smoke in the wind, replaced with a sunny look that was almost blinding.
  "My savior!" Syr cried, stepping to the side as I began the familiar work of washing dishes. It was funny, in a way -- so much of my life had changed, but I still found myself washing dishes in a restaurant.
  "Will I be getting a kiss from the damsel in distress?" I flirted as I cleaned a plate and handed it to her. Syr giggled, taking it from me.
  "Nope!" She answered cheerfully, and that caught me off guard to the point that I nearly dropped the plate. She giggled again at my surprise that must have been visible on my face as she dried the plate. "Strike while the iron is hot," she quoted, giving me a coy look.
  "Ah," I realized why she was rejecting me. "It"s not like I could have, though. Sleeping with another woman after I just took my goddess"s virginity? That"s just bad manners," I told her, continuing to wash the dishes. The more I did it, the faster the task came back to me. I wonder if I was going to get a skill out of this?
  "Hm, I wasn"t blaming you," Syr returned, smiling sweetly at me as we found a rhythm. "Just pointing out that it"s rather forward of you to come back to me after you left me wanting."
  I quirked an eyebrow at that, "not as forward as peeking then coming into our room completely naked." I pointed out and that remark got me an adorable pout and a faint blush. She glared at me playfully as she accepted another dish to dry.
  "I couldn"t help myself," Syr defended her actions without a hint of shame. "It was so obvious what you were here for, and I just wanted to help..." She trailed off, her smile growing a fraction as she gave me a coy glance. "And the act of making love is so beautiful, how could I not want to witness such a thing?"
  To me, it sounded like she was trying to be poetic about being a voyeur, but I wasn"t going to say that to her face.
  "But I didn"t expect to see what I did," Syr continued with a blush. "I"m guessing you"re here because your goddess realized that she can"t handle you all by herself?" I paused as I washed another dish, glancing at her before I let out a small sigh.
  "Something like that," I confirmed with a nod. "It"s not that she bad in bed, or anything like that. I just..." I trailed off, not sure how to say it without coming off like I was humble-bragging. "Last for too long. And she was a virgin up until last week, so-"
  "So, you have the exact opposite problem most men have," Syr teased, this time as I handed her a dish, her touch lingered on my hand. Right when I started to wonder if it was on accident or not, she tossed a wink my way. Right. I think in terms of seduction skills, She had me beat. Handily.
  "Something like that," I agreed with a nod.
  "Hmmm," Syr hummed as the conversation lapsed. We washed in silence for a long minute and, for the life of me, I couldn't tell if it was an awkward silence or not. Well, it was for me, obviously, but I couldn't tell if it was mutually awkward or not.
  "I suppose..." Syr began right when I was about to speak -- there was no way that wasn't intentional. "I could be...convinced to help you with your rather...large issue." Syr spoke slowly and deliberately, "but only if you do something for me as well."
  Sensing that she didn't mean doing more dishes, I asked, "what would you like me to do?"
  Syr blushed cutely and, at this point, I'm nearly positive she was somehow doing it on purpose. She smiled as she turned her attention to drying dishes. "The act of making love is such a beautiful thing -- two hearts becoming one through a connected body, passion and pleasure intermingling until one cannot be separated from the other. Even simple sex has its own beauty -- the passion, heat, and is desire made manifest."
  Ah. I knew exactly where this was going.
  "You want to watch," I predicted, a teasing note in my tone. Syr turned to me, her deepening blush striking me as much more genuine as she hip bumped my leg.
  "Muuu!" She pouted at me, "I was setting up a mood, you know."
  "Right. Sorry. Please continue," I said, swallowing a laugh.
  "There's no point now! The mood is already gone," she muttered, hip checking me again. Then she relented with a dramatic sigh, her shoulders slumping as if the will to live had suddenly vanished from her. "But, yes, I would like to watch. Whoever you might bring up in that room."
  Again, I paused as I washed the dishes. much did she know? First, she gets Hestia to blow off the actual date portion of our first date to skip to the fun ending with a few words, then she guesses why we were here and now she apparently knows that Hestia gave me a Green card to sleep around? That was...a little unnerving, to be honest. I guess she really was raised by Freya.
  "Well then, I guess I could help you with that as well," I said, tossing her a smile as the rapidly diminishing pile of dishes began to dwindle. Syr returned the smile, opening her mouth to say something, only for a loud shot to cut her off.
  "EHHHHH?! What are you doing here you big titted chibi?!" A voice demanded and it was only then that I noticed that I could hear the shout so clearly because the crowd outside had nearly gone silent. I didn"t recognize the voice, but the manner of speech, there was no doubt in my mind that it was Loki, the god of mischief.
  "EHHHHHH?!" Hestia shot back, sounding just as annoyed by Loki"s presence as Loki was with hers, "what are you doing here you flat-chested beanpole?!" Despite myself, I let out a snort of laughter as I made to peek out of the kitchen, only for Syr to give me a small push, nearly making me bump my head as I stepped through. She gave a mischievous giggle but closed the door behind me.
  Wondering what that was about, I turned my attention to the two goddesses having a staring contest. Loki looked nearly exactly as her anime counterpart. A redhead pulled into a simple ponytail, while her black and blue clothing was...weird, to say the least. She wore the sleeves and shoulders of a hoodie, but the hoodie ended there. A blue tube top clung to her...admittedly meager chest, leaving her flat stomach bare all the way down to a pair of black shorts that clung to her waist, covering about as much as a pair of panties would. There was a small gap before the black and blue stockings, which covered the rest of her legs.
  Her hands were on her hips, leaning over to glare at Hestia, who stood on her tippy toes to glare up at Loki. She wore a green uniform with a white apron -- she looked good in it, just not as good as she did in her red uniform.
  "I"m here to celebrate my familia"s triumphant return from the Dungeon," Loki snapped at my goddess, her tone full of mockery. She planted her hands on her hips, a wide grin that seemed to consume her face. "They nearly broke the record that the Zeus familia set!" She said, throwing back her head and letting out a boastful laugh.
  "Oh? Almost? All I heard was a bunch of your familia members chased a bunch of minotaurs to the upper floors!" Hestia shot back, earning a wince from Loki. Yeah, I"m unsure about the anime, but I"m guessing that there were some repercussions for that in this timeline. "You almost got my child killed!"
  "Ehhh?" Loki sneered so hard I"m absolutely certain that she pulled a muscle in her face as she poked Hestia in the forehead, "that"s right! You finally stopped mooching off of Heph-y and got yourself a familia."
  "I stopped mooching off Hephaestus awhile-" Hestia started to argue, only to pause midway when she realized that defense wasn"t going to do her any favors. She stamped her foot out of frustration when Loki looked so smug that it was honestly kind of impressive. "Don"t change the subject! Your reckless familia caused a lot of trouble!"
  Behind Loki, I saw the heavy hitters of the familia. Finn simply smiled, nodding in agreement while Ais flinched like the words had been directed at her personally.
  "And we had to pay a bunch of money for that so it"s all good! We"re here to party now, and you"re ruining my buzz!" Loki snapped right back at Hestia, leaning in so close that their foreheads were touching. "So you should buzz off!"
  "I was here first," Hestia argued, gesturing to the uniform. "You should leave!"
  "Huuuuuuuuh?" Loki said, tilting her head- leaning back so she could look down at Hestia. "Did you have to get another part-time job to make ends meet? Maybe you should leave the city since you clearly can"t hack it!"
  Hestia leaned back as well, trying to look down at Loki despite being nearly a foot shorter than her. "I can too hack it! My child has been making tons of money in the Dungeon," Hestia boasted, making me go very still. My gaze swept over the crowd, most of them looking amused by the shouting contest, a few of them taking bets, but-
  No. No. No, no, no, no, no. No. God. Fucking. Damnit. No.
  My gaze landed on Canoe. Of all people that could be here, in the absolutely packed tavern, it had to be him, didn"t it? He sat in the corner, nursing a mug of beer as he watched the argument with an amused expression. Then, as if he could feel my gaze, his gaze drifted over to me. My heart stopped in my chest as he smiled at me, raising his glass in a mocking fashion.
  I swallowed down whatever panic I felt with no small amount of difficulty. I know I said that I would kill him the next time I see him, but doing so in front of so many witnesses kinda seemed like a bad idea. Instead, I forced myself to nod in his direction, pretending that I wasn't planning to murder him just like he was pretending that he wasn't planning to rob me blind.
  Tearing my gaze from him, I stiffly started to walk towards the scene, bringing Loki's attention to me. "Whoa, you're huge!" She observed, making Hestia look back at me.
  "Ah! It's Blanket Guy!" Tiona exclaimed, brushing past Loki so fast she nearly knocked the goddess over. Tiona grabbed onto my arm, smiling brightly up at me and I nearly bust out laughing -- not because of Tiona, but because of the utterly stunned look, Hestia pinned onto her. If I had to summarize her expression it would be 'whos this bitch?' "You're okay!"
  "Yeah, I'm all good," I returned, resisting the urge to glance over at Canoe. Originally, I came over here to keep Hestia from blurting out where we kept our savings, but this was perfect. Maybe, now that he's seeing me be all friendly with the Loki familia, even if our goddesses...didn't get along, Canoe would decide that the Hestia familia was more trouble than we were worth. "I just heard some shouting and-"
  "Oi!" Loki interrupted, her eyes narrowed slits, giving her the appearance of a cat that just caught the canary. "You're Hestia's child?"
  I thought that was a little obvious so I simply nodded, "I am?" I confirmed, not liking at all how her smile grew to dangerous proportions. Apparently, I'm not the only one who noticed.
  "Loki! Don't bully him, we caused a lot of trouble for Blanket Guy already," Tiona exclaimed while Riveria nodded her head in the background.
  Loki held her hands up in surrender, but her smile just got sharper. "I ain't going to cause trouble for him," she lied through her teeth. I didn't need a built-in lie detector to know that. "I'm just really curious how a level 1 adventurer that's only been one for about two weeks managed to kill a minotaur with his bare hands on the tenth floor all alone."
  Well then. So much for keeping that a secret.
  "Loki," Ais spoke up from behind the red-headed goddess, her soft voice carrying over the whispers that erupted over that tidbit of information. "Bad."
  Loki flinched like she had been struck by a bolt of lightning, utterly caught off guard. "I-" Loki started to argue, pointing at me accusingly, but before she could continue, Riveria nodded again.
  "Bad," she echoed, her solemn tone unable to hide a note of amusement.
  "Yeah! Bad Loki! Blanket Guy wanted to keep that a secret!" Tiona shouted, clutching my arm protectively. I still had absolutely no idea what I did to deserve this kind of attachment, but it was completely worth it to see Loki's betrayed expression.
  "Oi! Don"t make me the bad guy in this!" She protested, sputtering at the reaction she was getting. "I was just pointin" out that he could be lyin" about his level or-" Loki cut herself off when Tiona humphed, turning her head sharply to the side as if she couldn"t bear to look at her goddess anymore. Loki"s jaw dropped while the rest behind her started laughing, teasing her rather than mocking.
  "We apologize for our goddess," Riveria stated, nodding at me while ignoring Loki sputtering at her while Bete, a silver-haired werewolf, laughed at her far more mockingly at the goddess"s heartbroken expression.
  "Don"t go apologizin"-" Loki started to argue but fell silent when Ais shook her head.
  "Loki," she said sternly, "bad." She repeated as if she were disciplining a dog rather than a goddess. Though, when Loki looked at me, I guess it worked.
  "Eh...sorry about blurting out that you"re a level 1 that can kill a level 2 monster with your bare hands in the middle of this crowded tavern," she said loudly, making me suspect that she wasn"t exactly repentant. But that was okay. Maybe...maybe this was okay. It made my plan of staying under the radar until it was too late for the Soma familia die a dog's death, but maybe this would convince them to back off just as much as me being friendly with the Loki familia?
  Though it did bring up its own sort of problems, but so long as it didn"t end with anyone dying then I could handle them easily enough. Meddlesome gods, I could handle. Probably.
  "You better be-" Hestia started to yell, only to fall silent when I clasped a hand over her mouth to stop her from escalating the situation.
  "It"s fine," I told her, not knowing if I was telling the truth in that regard. "But, what happened probably isn't as impressive as you"re thinking. I got lucky. And I didn"t kill it with my bare hands, I had to use a horn that I ripped off to finish them off," I said, telling the truth. From a certain perspective.
  That seemed to mollify, Loki somewhat, but there was still that shameless smile on her face. I"m guessing this was anything but over. Especially considering that the night was still young.
  As if she could read my thoughts, Tiona looked up at me, her eyes practically sparkling, "hey, Blanket Guy, sit with us!" She requested, pressing her chest against my arm, her tone eager. I really, really, really needed to figure out exactly why she took such a shine to me because she was acting a lot as her sister did in the anime. Towards Finn. Who was her love interest. As far as I was aware, we had like two conversations.
  "Actually, I"m not sure if we can, we agreed to help the-" I started, only for Tiona interrupt.
  "Then I"ll help too-"
  "No," Mama Mia spoke up from behind the bar, pinning a judging glare onto all of us. Every pair of eyes went onto her as she idly cleaned a mug, "just enjoy yourselves. You two as well," she informed, jerking her chin at us. Tiona just beamed as she dragged me, and Hestia by extension, who if the muffled shouting was anything to go by, wasn"t exactly happy about spending any time near Loki.
  A table vacated when Tiona neared, and I don't think she even noticed. She practically shoved me into a chair that I barely fit in that groaned loudly underneath my weight, Hestia sitting to my right with a humph, while Tiona- Tione threw herself into the chair before Tiona could. Looking over, wondering if I had somehow, accidentally, NTR'd Finn, only to see that Tiona was giving me a too-sweet smile.
  Ah. Big sister does not approve. Got it.
  "Tione!" Tiona whined, pouting before panicking when she realized the rest of her familia was taking a seat at the table. To my annoyance, Loki sat in front of me, Ais to her left while Tiona managed to snag a seat to her right. Ais simply looked between me and Loki, her gaze narrowing in suspicion as Bete sat next to her and the others took their seats.
  Loki made a show of leaning forward, her elbows on the table as her fingers served as a bridge to support her chin.
  "So, Jericho, was it?" Loki asked, her tone loaded with not so hidden contempt. Given the more exasperated expressions her familia wore, I'm guessing it wasn't true contempt. "What makes a guy like you join the chibi's familia? Did she get on her hands and knees to beg-"
  "I asked her to join," I interrupted, the easy smile on my face becoming a little strained. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hestia shoot Loki a smug look while Loki's smile only grew.
  "And why not ask to join another, more established familia? I can't imagine anyone refusing you if you showed up on their doorstep-"
  "Loki," Bete spoke up, crossing his arms as he leaned back in his chair. "You're being a pain in the ass right now," he informed, making Loki puff out her cheeks in a pout much like Hestia. Loki turned to the werewolf while I did the same, a surprised look on my face. I didn't expect that. From what I knew of Bete, he was an asshole with a chip on his shoulder the size of a mountain. Why- ah.
  Because I wasn't a rookie that ran away scared from Ais. I was a rookie that killed a minotaur with my bare hands.
  "Boo! Stop bullying me!" Loki cried out as She came out, delivering drinks. She smiled when our eyes met, giggling at what I'm pretty sure was my expense. Loki grabbed a mug and started to down it, prompting Hestia to grab her own mug to down it. Something that didn't go unnoticed by the red-headed goddess. She grabbed the mug from Ais, yanking it out of her hands while Hestia did the same to me.
  "Ah~ indirect kiss with Ais," Loki announced before she downed the second mug of beer, making Ais flush. Hestia"s mug paused on her way to her lips before she turned to me.
  I have a feeling tonight wasn"t going to end well, I figured as I read her mind and took the mug back to take a sip of it. I couldn"t stand the taste of beer -- when I did drink, I preferred bourbon or vodka, but as far as beer went, I guess it wasn"t completely god awful. Handing the mug back to her, Hestia downed the pint of beer like a champion before slamming it back down on the table. She wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve, sending a stunned Loki a smug look.
  "W-what was that?!" Loki cried out in unison with Tiona, though I"m guessing their motivations for saying it was very different.
  "Tee-he," Hestia giggled, a look of pure superiority on her face. I"ve never seen her act like this before, but she was looking at Loki like she was something Hestia had scraped off her shoes. In a friendly way, if that made any sense. Like two friends saying awful, horrible things to each other but it was in the name of good fun, so it was all good.
  "Tee-he?" Loki echoed, her eyes widening as her jaw dropped. "Tee-he?!" She shouted again, slamming a fist into the table hard enough that Finn"s beer sloshed out its mug. The rest of her familia simply watched in amusement, having long since gotten used to their goddess"s antics. Well, except for Ais. She was staring uncertainty at Loki and Hestia, likely trying to figure out if they liked each other or not.
  From what I recall from the anime, they didn"t like each other very much, but it was a "no one can mess with my younger sibling but me" kind of deal. A friendly rivalry.
  "No! It"s not possible!" Loki denied with a shake of her head, likely realizing what Hestia meant by that giggle. I heard Tiona gasp next to me as it clicked into place for her while Bete just cackled. Ais looked around her, sharing a lost look with Leafiya. "You"re one of the big three! I watched the things you did to Apollo when he tried to lay a finger on you!"
  "Ha-ha-ha," Hestia laughed in delight, making a great big show of attaching herself to my side, snuggling up close. Tiona"s jaw dropped while Loki numbly fell into her chair, looking on in abject horror and bewilderment. "That was with Apollo, Jericho is a million billion trillion times better than him! And, unlike some goddesses, I don"t have to sexually harass my familia for affection!" She announced triumphantly, though I could barely hear her over the sound of Bete laughing his ass off.
  He really was enjoying this far too much.
  It seemed to click with Ais what she was talking about, her golden eyes darting up to meet my gaze. She flushed, quickly looking back down. Which was fair. I could feel every pair of eyes in the tavern on me, and that was more than a little embarrassing. I really didn"t expect Hestia to announce that we were having sex to a crowd of people. Much less doing it so proudly.
  "Hey, maybe you"ve had enough-" I started when Syr brought another round of beer already that no one had ordered. I gave her a pleading look when Hestia shut me up with a hand over my mouth, much like I did to her earlier, only for her to giggle as she set the round on the table. Putting two mugs in front of Loki and Hestia. That little instigator...
  "I do not sexually harass..." Loki started to argue but quickly falling silent when every female member of her familia turned on her.
  "Loki"s a dirty old man," Tiona commented while Ais nodded in agreement. Loki looked to her left and right, tears gathering up in her eyes and for a moment, I thought we might have gone too far with the teasing. Right up until she grabbed both tankards of beer and started dumping them in her mouth, drowning her sorrows with what looked like well-practiced ease.
  Not to be outdone by the red-headed goddess, Hestia grabbed her tankards and started chugging. There was a pretty big height difference between them, but I doubt either goddess weighed more than a hundred pounds soaking wet. I watched, impressed, but not surprised when both of them sported flushed faces as the four pints of beer began to reach their livers. In perfect unison, they slammed their tankards onto the table and shouted out a demand for more.
  While they started an impromptu drinking contest, I took a sip of mine and tried to fight off a grimace, thinking that while it took a very...very, very different from than I thought it would, this was more or less what I wanted.
  "I"m sorry," Tiona spoke up, giving me a sheepish look, "I didn"t think Loki would cause your trouble like that when I pulled you over..." she trailed off while Ais nodded again, take a sip of her beer and openly grimace as she swallowed. Seemed that I wasn"t the only one that had a tough time with the taste.
  "Eh, don"t worry about it. No harm done," I dismissed the issue easily enough, hoping that I was telling the truth. However, Ais shook her head firmly.
  "You wanted to keep it a secret and Loki ruined that. She"s..." Ais trailed off, struggling to find the words but ended up falling silent instead. Still, I understood what she was trying to say.
  "A pain in the butt, but she"s your pain in the butt?" I hazard a guess, watching the two goddesses knock back another tankard like they were drinking water. Hestia was going to be sick tonight. That was going to be barrels of fun.
  Ais seemed to think that over while Tiona nodded. "We were hoping to make it up to you -- not Loki blurting out the secret, but for almost..." getting me killed. But, I wasn"t even mad about that anymore. Because that was perfect.
  "Well," I started, wanting to be sly about it, "if that"s the case then-" I started, only for Tiona to lean forward, shoving Loki to the side hard enough that she fell backward in her chair. Hestia laughed so hard at that she tipped backward as well, laughing the entire way down.
  "Yeah?" Tiona asked far too eagerly, but I was fine with that.
  "If none of you would mind helping train me? I"m the only member of my familia, so there"s no one else that I can ask. And I learned from a reliable source that I actually suck at fighting," I requested, trying to keep an eye on everyone"s reactions at once but there were just too many people sitting at the table for that.
  Tiona nodded so quickly I"m pretty sure she was going to give herself whiplash, Ais seemed to be thinking about it, while the others remained impassive. The big three, Finn, Riviera, and Gareth looked interested in the request itself, while Bete looked like he couldn"t care less. Lefiya, on the other hand, looked concerned.
  "Um, should we really train another familia-" She started, bringing up either a rule or something but Tiona overruled her.
  "I"ll train you," Tiona decided, beaming happiness and joy out of every pore, practically throwing herself over the table to get closer to me. She might have crawled over it entirely if it weren"t for Tione to pushing her back with a hand, a deeply disturbed expression on her face. "Tione!?"
  "Is this what I"m like?" Tione muttered to herself, ignoring her twin sister"s attempts to push away her hand.
  I leaned back in my chair, feeling it shift underneath my weight as I watched the interactions. I took another sip of my beer, mulling over what happened tonight. I entered into an agreement with Syr that appealed to her voyeur tendencies, might have scared off the Soma familia, and Tiona was going to train me with, or without her familia"s approval.
  Tonight was a good night.
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  "That"s right, get it all out..." I reassuringly whispered to Hestia, holding her hair back as she puked her guts up in an alleyway. Rubbing small soothing circles on her back, coaxing up another wave of vomit and unlike in anime, Hestia sure wasn"t puking up rainbows. Grimacing, I turned to the others in the Alley, Riveria doing the same as me to Loki, who puked in unison with Hestia.
  "I"m...I"m never drinking again," Hestia moaned right before she puked again. She was braced against the wall, coughing loudly as she emptied her stomach. I sighed, looking over at the others. A lot of the Loki familia didn"t stick around to continue the party inside, leaving only Riveria, Ais and Tiona behind. I"m guessing that Tione would be joining us soon enough because she was hitting the bottle pretty hard back in the Hostess.
  "T-that chibi...outdrank me...!" Loki groaned before puking, her tone laced with the bitter taste of defeat. "My liver was the one thing I had going for me! Stupid big-boobied midgit...!" Her rant was cut short by more vomit. Riveria simply sighed as she patted Loki"s back, looking at the other members of her familia.
  "There"s no need for both of you to suffer through this," River started in a kindly tone, her point punctuated by another wave of vomit from both goddesses. "Go back inside. Perhaps make sure your sister doesn"t join us out here." So I wasn"t the only one that noticed how much Tione was drinking, though I"m guessing it was out of character for her.
  Ais shook her head, her eyebrows drawing together while her lips pressed into a thin line. I don"t know what she was thinking about so hard, but Riveria seemed to have and idea. The elf smiled lightly, nodding in acceptance of Ais" unspoken denial. "I see, and you Tiona?"
  Tiona threw on an incredibly fake smile, pretending like she hadn"t been looking at me, "Oh, I, uh...want to make sure Loki is okay?"
  "Liiiiiarrrrr...!" Loki moaned before dry heaving, slapping a hand against the wall out of frustration that whatever was left in her stomach wasn"t coming up. I had to swallow a laugh at the dramatic pain in her voice, then another one at Tiona"s panicked expression. Riveria gave Tiona a reproachful look, while Ais tilted her head questioningly.
  "A-anyway," Tiona quickly moved on to a different subject, turning her attention back to me. "You said you were looking for training, right? What kind?" She asked, not so subtly changing the subject as she scratched the back of her head.
  That was a question I actually hadn"t given a whole lot of thought to. I wanted to train my stats for the most part, but actually learning how to fight was appealing considering that I"ll be fighting people soon enough. But, I"m pretty sure that I would train my stats as I learned how to fight. So, that"s what I said.
  "My fighting probably needs the most work. I...uh, well, I just kinda swing my sword around until whatever I"m fighting stops moving," I admitted, still rubbing soothing circles into Hestia"s back. Memories of the fight with Sword and Shield Guy came to mind -- I had killed the others because surprise was on my side, but once it became an actual fight I got my shit wrecked.
  Tiona nodded, "that"s how most adventurers are in the beginning, especially if they don"t have someone to teach them." Then she threw on a megawatt smile, clasping her hands behind her back, pushing out her modest chest. "I can teach you whatever you want to learn!"
  Seriously, what did I do to earn this many heart points?
  Ais tilted her head at Tiona, ""re acting like Tione?" She questioned, sounding just as lost as I felt. Tiona flinched as if Ais had physically struck her, making an alarmed look pass over Ais" face because she had no clue the critical emotional strike she just delivered. Riveria just let out a small huff of laughter while Loki groaned, pushing herself off the wall as she wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve.
  "I-!" Loki started, letting out a burp that warned of more vomit, but she swallowed it back down. "I haven"t signed off on this yet! I"m...I"m still the goddess of this familia, even if it is filled with dirty traitors!"
  Loki turned her attention to me, clearly still drunk, but she was making a stand. Well, she was swaying dangerously side to side, but Riveria kept her standing. "Yooooouuu...I don"t think you"ve thought this through, you really...really...really big guy," she exclaimed jabbing a finger in my general direction, but she was off by a couple of feet. "And don"t think for a single, itty bitty second that I didn"t notice you eyeing up that dirty middle-aged man at the bar!"
  I winced at that. Canoe had made a quick exit after I sat down with the Loki familia, and I hadn"t stopped myself from watching him leave. I could only hope that what he saw and heard tonight was enough to convince him that it wasn"t worth pursuing me and my wallet anymore. I guess I hadn"t been as subtle as I thought-
  " take the virginity of a goddess...and you steal the maiden heart of one of my favorites...!" Loki stumbled towards me, nearly face planting and ignoring Tiona"s sputtering. "And now you want to sleep with a dirty old man?! You...fiend! You deviant!"
  I blinked, looking at the other three for an explanation but Tiona was too busy hiding her face while Ais looked embarrassed by the mention of sex. Riveria simply sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. I looked back at Loki to see her thrust a finger at my chest, only to miss and would have fallen flat on her face if I hadn"t caught her.
  "Uh, that wasn"t what you thought it was?" I tried, really not wanting to get into the troublesome situation I found myself in. Mostly because I knew they wouldn"t be able to help. I doubt they felt bad enough about the situation to throw their weight around to take down the Soma familia for me.
  "HUUUUUUU?!" Loki made a disbelieving noise, slapping my hand away and nearly falling over because of it. "Then what was it like, huh? Stop toying with fair maidens hearts!"
  I hesitated before I gave a mental shrug. I wouldn"t expect anything, but if the Loki familia made the Soma familia...go away, then I wasn"t going to stand in their way. "He"s a member of the Soma familia. About a week ago, five members of his familia attacked me in the Dungeon and I"m pretty sure that he put them up to it."
  Loki blinked at that while Tiona peeked from behind her hands. "Is that why you want to learn how to fight?" She questioned, getting a confirming nod from me. She shared a look with Ais while Loki shook her head.
  "Oh. So you didn"t want to have s-s-s-s-s-s-sex with him?" Loki questioned, sounding like she didn"t quite believe me. I blanched at the mental image that she put in my head. Great. I was going to be seeing that for some time. I wonder if there was a brain bleach potion out there?
  "No. I don"t want to have sex with him," I said as bluntly as I could manage. I wanted to nip that misunderstanding in the bud then and there. Loki blinked at me, looking like she was struggling to comprehend that I didn"t want to have sex with him, but she slowly nodded.
  " Soma guys have been giving you some trouble?" Loki asked, squinting up at me. She really was out of it. I stopped bothering to keep count just how much both goddesses had over the past few hours, but it was a lot. Too much, obviously.
  I gave a shrug, glancing over at Hestia, wondering why she was being so silent, to find her leaning against the wall fast asleep. least she wasn"t drunk enough that she laid down in her own vomit. Glancing back, I gave Loki a nod. "Pretty much. I"m the new guy and some of them have noticed that I pull in a fair bit of money for being a rookie. Then my supporter, Lili, is trying to leave the familia but their captain is doing his best to make it impossible for her."
  Behind Loki, Tiona wore an expression of anger while Ais frowned.
  "In that case-" Tiona began, only for Loki to make a sweeping gesture that nearly knocked her over. With a sigh, Riveria caught her goddess and brought her back to her feet.
  "In that case," Loki continued, pausing for a long moment as she seemed to be fighting off more vomit. "In that case, you could join my familia, you know?" She offered, reaching up to me, pulling me down so she could whisper in my ear. "Tiona is really sweet on you," she informed in a stage whisper, her breath reeking of beer.
  "L-L-Loki!" Tiona snapped, rushing over to pull the redheaded goddess away from me as if she was telling me new information. Hadn"t she told me pretty much the same thing like a minute ago? Or did they somehow think that Tiona was being subtle about her advances?
  "I"m just sayin" that if he joined, then all those problems would go-"
  I held up a hand, a small smile on my face. It would be a lie to say that the offer didn"t feel good, but there was no chance in hell I was going to take it. There were all kinds of reasons why I should -- stats, access to better gear, and so on. In terms of net gain, joining up with the Loki familia was by far the smartest option. Hands down. With my falna, I could be a level tomorrow if they power leveled me. I could be a level five within a month.
  No matter how anyone looked at it, joining up with the Loki familia was the smart option.
  "Sorry, but I refuse," I stated, making Loki look irritated while Tiona"s face fell, obviously disappointed. "Hestia is the only goddess for me."
  "Tsk," Loki muttered, letting the topic drop. Riveria chopped her on the top of the head lightly, starting an argument between them while Tiona kept Loki restrained. Ais paid them no mind, looking at me and Hestia, a slight smile playing at the edges of her lips.
  "You have a good goddess," she observed as I went to pick Hestia up. I smiled right back at her, my goddess resting her head against my shoulder as if she were a child.
  "The best," I corrected.
  "I..." Ais started, glancing back at Loki before her gaze returned to me. "...want to make up for our mistake. I can...train you?" She offered hesitantly, sounding like she expected me to refuse.
  "I"d appreciate it," I said, inclining my head to her, making her eyes widen a fraction. However, not a second later, the small smile on her lips grew ever so slightly. "Is there a time and place you would want us to met up?"
  Ais seemed to think about it for a moment before nodding. Then she seemed to realize that she hadn"t told me, so in a soft voice, she continued. "The outer walls of the city by the eastern gate," Ais decided, using the same location as the anime.
  I nodded, confirming, but before I could respond, someone else joined us in the alleyway. Tione. Lefiya carried the bronzed skin Amazonian, her eyes a puffy red while a dribble of snot dripping from her nose before she wiped it away. She barely managed to cross the threshold of the alley before she leaned over to start puking.
  "No wonder he doesn"t want to marry me!" Tione wailed between bursts of vomit, Lefiya sending Ais a panicked look. The golden-eyed girl made to go over, but hesitated, sparing me a glance.
  "I"ll meet you there...tomorrow around dusk?" I said, getting another nod from Ais. "And good luck. Seems like you"re going to have your hands full.
  And with that, I left the alley that reeked of puke.
  "Goodnight," I muttered to Hestia, laying her down on her side on our bed. I put a bucket next to the bed, just in case she had something left inside of her. She didn"t respond, fast asleep, completely unprepared for the killer hangover she was going to suffer later. On that note, I poured a glass of water, left the pitcher and some potions. I don"t know if they would help with a hangover, but better safe than sorry.
  Especially because I"m pretty sure that she had to work in the morning.
  After making sure that she was tucked in, I left our home and as soon as the door slid shut behind me, I couldn"t stop the deep sigh that escaped me. "Tonight didn"t go the way I thought it would," I muttered, running a hand through my hair. I knew Hestia liked it long, but I was getting tired of it always being up in my face.
  It didn"t go wrong in a bad way or anything, but I expected a lot of mindless sex with Syr. Instead, I was blue balling myself since I didn"t finish myself off after me and Hestia had sex. I spared a thought of finishing myself off just to get the poison out of me, but jacking off in an abandoned church...
  My feet carried me out of it, feeling aimless. I promised Hestia that I wouldn"t go into the Dungeon, and no matter how hungover she was, I knew she was going to ask if I kept my promise. I could try going back to sleep, but after a week of none of it, I felt wide awake. Should I do some training or something? Ah, my backpack got all ripped up. Shoot.
  "I guess...I" some errands?" I muttered, my feet carrying back down the path that lead into the city. It was weird -- now that I actually had some free time, I felt completely lost. At the very least, I had another six hours to do whatever I wanted, but I had no idea how to spend them. So, I defaulted to running errands. That was probably pretty sad, but whatever. "I"ll go check in with the Guild...see if I can snag another quest and look into getting a cheap sword."
  With my plan set, I walked into the city. Now that it was nearing midnight, the streets were a lot emptier, but they were still fairly busy. The anime hadn"t shown it, but apparently large familias returning from long expeditions spread their good cheer. I saw dozens of drunks stumbling down the street, most of them were regular citizens from the look of it.
  It was kinda like the Superbowl. A reason to invite people over, get drunk and have fun. Or scream at the tv. I never cared much for football, but when I went to a Superbowl party, I didn"t go to watch the game. The city had that same air about it -- the Loki familia had returned, perhaps not victorious, but they returned and that was reason enough to party.
  Because of them, it took some time to reach the massive tower of babel. Not for the first time, I glance up, trying and failing to see where the top was in the night sky. I"m not sure if there was magic involved, or if the tower itself was connected to Heaven or something, but if it didn"t then I"m pretty sure it could be considered a space elevator. Made of marble. I entered the building every day, but when you took the time to really think about things, it really stood out just how weird fantasy worlds were.
  Putting one foot after the other, I walked into the Guildhall, noting that as always at this time of night, it was pretty much empty. A few adventurers cashed out for the night, a skeleton crew of guild employes, but for the most part, it was empty. I wandered over to the quest board, my eyes darting between quests, but, as always, the bulk of them was beyond my current abilities.
  "Twentieth floor...seventeenth...fifteenth..." I muttered, failing to find any that were for the tenth floor or lower-
  "I think you"ve already snatched up any quests for the upper floors," Eina announced her presence behind me. Glancing at her, I saw that she had a teasing smile on her face -- there had been some grumbling when I kept snatching up quests as soon as they were posted. For everyone else, they were a great source of money, but for me, they were exp boosts. The money and item rewards were just an added bonus.
  "Eh, just making sure. You"d tell me if there was another one getting posted soon, right?" I asked, throwing on an easy smile while Eina"s smile grew in return. For a moment, my hopes soared.
  "Absolutely not," Eina said in the same tone, ruthlessly crushing my hopes. "All quests are made available when they"re posted." She explained, giving me the textbook answer to my question. I knew because she made me read the textbook.
  "If I want to get a quest ahead of time then I must be specifically requested by the poster," I finished for her, making a show of rolling my eyes so hard they could have fallen out of my head. "Yeah, I remember, but aren"t rules just made to be broken? And what are friends for?"
  "Sorry, Jericho, but I won"t be breaking that rule for you," Eina returned, seemingly enjoying the playful banter. Then I caught her glancing at my attire -- a black v-neck long sleeve thermal looking thing, and a pair of blue pants that weren't quite denim, but it felt close enough. "And I hope you don't plan to go into the Dungeon wearing that," she said, a warning in her tone.
  I shook my head, "no, I learned from that mistake already. I'm just here to check out if there are any quest available. Maybe head upstairs to look into getting another sword, too, while I'm here." I liked Welf and his weapons but at the end of the day, he was a level 1 blacksmith. I had a crap ton of money at the moment, so while brand loyalty was important, so was having a sword that would last longer than a week. Hopefully, a level 2's weapon would last longer.
  Eina's smile fell ever so slightly, " don't have to push yourself so hard. Not only is it dangerous, but it's unhealthy!" She pointed out sternly, "Not only are you staying up all night, but you've been continuing on during the day too! Just how long do you spend in the Dungeon, Jericho?"
  Ah. She found out. "Uh...awhile...-"
  "I don't want guesses, and that expression of yours tells me you know exactly how long you spend in the Dungeon every day," she accused and all of a sudden, I felt like I was being scolded by a teacher. Her tone and attire probably didn't help matters there.
  Wincing, I gave a lopsided shrug. "Around...sixteen hours or so?" I admitted, bracing for impact as Eina sputtered.
  "Sixteen hours?!" She half shouted before she realized what she was doing. "What about sleep? When do you eat? Jericho, you have to take care of yourself-"
  I cut her off by raising a hand. It would be a lie to say it wasn't a little frustrating getting chewed out for something like this, but it was infinitely easier to swallow since I knew that Eina cared. "I've been sleeping for six hours a night for the past couple of years, and I eat in the Dungeon. I'm fine, Eina. If anything, I'm feeling a little lost because I have free time at the moment."
  I half expected Eina to argue the point -- since she didn't know I didn't need to sleep, I knew what I was doing looked unhealthy and dangerous to outside observers. It wasn't just Eina who noticed, Syr did too. Somehow.
  "I...You know yourself best," Eina conceded, closing her eyes for a brief moment. "I'm sorry -- I thought you were...avoiding me, or something." Recalling what she had said before, it seemed like she expected that to be the case.
  "Don't worry about it," I dismissed the issue easily, making her smile.
  "But, I'm glad to see that you're taking the day off," she started and...oh. I knew exactly what she was about to say. "There was an incident in the Dungeon today when the Loki familia returned from their expedition. They scared a bunch of...mino...tarus...Jericho..." She trailed off, her gaze narrowing in suspicion.
  "Hm?" I hummed, trying to look as innocent as possible. Which probably gave me away because Eina's Look was sharp enough to cut.
  "Why do you look so guilty? Like you did something, very...very. Very foolish?" She asked ominously, her smile looking a lot sinister in nature.
  Right. Well, it"s not like it was a secret anymore, "Okay. The thing is, I tried to run away-! Hey, hey," I tried to calm her down when Eina looked about ready to erupt. "I tried to run away, but the things were too fast. They caught up-"
  "So you fought them," Eina finished, her voice dangerously quiet.
  "So," I continued, "I sent Lilly up to get reinforcements, know, someone had to stay behind to cover her retreat. And since I was the only one had to be me." Um. I don"t think I was doing a good job of explaining my situation.
  Eina took in a deep breath and held it for about ten seconds. Which told me that, no, I didn"t do a good job of explaining my situation. Then she let it out very slowly as if she was forced to calm herself down, otherwise, she would try to throttle me. I opened my mouth to continue, but she held up a hand as her lips pressed together into a thin line.
  "So," Eina repeated, "you fought them."
  "So, I fought them. Two of them. Well, one at first, then another one came out of nowhere...but...yeah," I confirmed with a small nod. Eina took in another deep breath, counted to ten before she let out the breath in the form of a sigh that seemed to deflate her. She nodded to herself, making red flags raise high before she gestured me to continue. "And, uh...I...killed them?"
  "You killed two minotaurs?!" Eina exclaimed, only to realize what she did a moment later. She slapped a hand over her mouth as if the action could take the words back. I pressed my lips together into a line -- it seemed that she still had a habit of shouting information that she shouldn"t when it caught her off guard.
  "I"m so sorry-" She started, but I shook my head.
  "It"s fine. Loki already blurted the secret out, so no harm done," I tried to dismiss the issue because, well, chewing people out really wasn"t my thing. Especially when they looked as genuinely remorseful as Eina did. However, the half-elf simply shook her head, a defeated expression on her face when I mentioned that I wanted it to be a secret, even if it wasn"t one anymore.
  "No, it"s not alright," Eina refuted, sounding frustrated with herself. "I could have just caused a lot of problems for you if Loki hadn"t already," she muttered, looking up at me. "I already promised that it wouldn"t happen again, and it did. I"m so sorry, Jericho."
  I opened my mouth to completely dismiss the issue, but Eina didn"t look like she was ready to let it drop. She saw my hesitation, and followed it up with, "please, let me do something to make it up to you."
  Despite myself, that piqued my interest, "like what?"
  My question seemed to catch her off guard despite her making the offer. She seemed to think about it for a moment, before saying, "you said you were looking for a weapon, right? If you"d like, I have a day off in a couple of days and we could meet up?"
  I blinked -- that sounded a lot like something that happened in the anime. The only issue was, I couldn"t wait for a couple of days.
  "Actually," I said instead, "how about we do something now?" I offered, "my sword is going to be repaired by tomorrow, so I was just going to do some window shopping and pricing an upgrade."
  "The shops are closed at this time of night, Jericho," Eina reminded lightly. And she had a good point there. It was easy to forget that I was a nocturnal now when I spent most of my time in the Dungeon. " the reason you spend so much time in the Dungeon that important?" she questioned gently, trying not to pry and that told me she thought the reason was far graver than I wanted shit tons of exp.
  She was used to dealing with Protagonists with tragic backstories and stuff. I needed the exp to level up so I could...beat up the Soma familia and rescue Lili.
  Huh. I had a Protagonist motivation now. When did that happen?
  "It is," I confirmed again with a small nod of my head. Eina nodded as if she expected that answer. "Sorry," I said after a moment, not sure what exactly I was apologizing for, but I felt like I should.
  "Don"t be," Eina dismissed, throwing on a smile, "if now is the only time that you have, then I"ll make it up to you now." She decided, taking a step back from me before gesturing to the side at one of the private rooms. "I"ll go tell my boss that I"m taking a break, you go wait in there. I"ll think of something."
  With that, Eina walked away and, of course, my mind jumped to one thing. My gaze darted to her waist, watching the subtle sway as she walked to the front desk. And by subtle, I"m pretty sure she was just walking normally. Even still, my brain tugged to the obvious meanings of her words.
  She wanted me in a private room and promised to make it up to me? What else could she mean, though?
  But, in the anime, she made it a point to not get romantically involved with adventurer s under her care. Was I overthinking it? Yeah, I was overthinking it. At least that's what my upper head decided. Having been blue balled, tempted by Syr and now with Eina, my cock was about ready to revolt.
  Quickly turning around so no one would notice the growing erection that struggled to rip through my pants. And now that my stats were starting to get up there, it was a real concern that my dick would rip through my pants. I stepped inside the office room used for consultations, crossing my legs, that didn't work.
  Right. Try thinking of something other than Eina and what she could have meant. Don't think of that shapely ass that was perfectly complemented by business pants. Also, stop thinking about elf porn. And stop trying to picture what Eina would look like choking on my dick.
  Somehow, I don't think this was working. No, it clearly wasn't because I'm pretty sure I just heard a thread snap in my pants where my cockhead valiantly struggled for freedom.
  Instead, I turned my attention to the room only for it to prove to be the most boring, unimaginative, office I had ever set foot in. A couch, chairs, knee-high table, flowers in a vase...I'm pretty sure there was this exact office space if you googled 'generic offices.' There wasn't even a book or anything I could read or use to cover my glaring erection.
  "I just had to go with a tight fit," I muttered darkly, having given in to temptation because tight clothing when you were as jacked as I made myself was a big win. Though, to be fair, if I went with a loose fit, in sure the problem would be a lot worse. It just looked like I was stuffing one of those comically large pencils down my pants. All I could do was hope that she didn't notice.
  So, naturally, when Eina entered the room after a minute or so, the very first thing she noticed as my dick tearing at my pants with all of its might. As if my dick was just so stupidly massive it created its own gravitational pull that just drew her attention to it like it was a matter of physics instead of bad luck. Her eyes widened, her face flushed red, before she quickly looked away, pretending that she hadn't noticed.
  That told me that I was getting my hopes up. When she said 'make it up to me' she didn't mean taking care of my rather obvious...situation. That was...not great, but unsurprising. There were a lunchbox and a book in her hands, telling what she did mean. An innocent not-date between friends. Right. Of course, that's what she meant.
  "I was thinking that since you're so serious about delving deeper into the Dungeon, I could move up some of your lessons," she explained, taking a seat across from me. Ah, and it seemed by innocent not-date, I meant torture session. Just...just perfect.
  "Uh," I started, trying to think of absolutely anything better than studying. A lot of not PG-13 things came to mind, none of which helped me. "Sure, sounds good," I lied through my teeth. Eina didn't seem to notice as a relieved expression appeared on her face as she cracked open the lunchbox and book.
  She opened her mouth to begin the lesson and I was instantly bored again. It wasn't because she was a bad teacher or anything, but to learn you had to be in the mood to learn. And I certainly wasn't. I watched her pink lips move, but I didn"t hear what she said. All I could think about was how fantastic they would feel wrapped around my dick. Worse, she wasn"t even trying to be flirty, or anything.
  I was just bored and horny, the absolute worst combination imaginable.
  Then I noticed that she was blushing again, and I"m pretty sure I just got caught ogling her. I threw on a smile, hoping that she hadn"t asked a question to cover it up, but her gaze dipped down. All the way down to my groin to where my erection remained, taking the lion"s share of the blood and leaving me running on whatever hormone causes arousal.
  Eina kept talking and I kept not listening. Every so often, though, her eyes would glance down while her blush renewed. Was she interested in me? I was less certain -- with Tiona and Sy, they pretty much threw themselves at me. Hestia, well, things escalated with her because she offered to give me a handy. Which was always a problem of mine -- I rarely, if ever, made the first move. Too uncertain, too afraid of rejections and so on.
  But, was she looking at my groin because she was interested, or was it because I was obviously sporting a hard-on? She didn"t look uncomfortable, or anything, just embarrassed.
  You know what? Fuck it. I was a new me, I was a badass adventurer, and I was mega-hot now.
  "My eyes are up here, you know," I teased lightly, catching her glancing down again. Eina winced at being called out, her face going bright pink while her eyes widened.
  "I-I wasn' t-" she started to protest, her mouth snapping shut when she saw me grinning. She looked away, clearly embarrassed. "Sorry," she muttered with mounting mortification. So, bad opening line.
  "No, don"t be," I said, feeling like I tripped right out the gate. "It's fine. Kinda my fault in the first place," I admitted, gesturing to my entire situation. What I meant as a flirtatious joke made the atmosphere beyond awkward.
  " take some kind of potions...or..." Eina trailed off, apparently not letting the topic drop despite how it clearly embarrassed her.
  "No, nothing like that," I was quick to pick up where she left off. "It"s know," except she didn"t know because she lacked a cock. "It"s just been a while for me, so it"s...acting up." And now I was making it sound like my dick had a mind of its own. Which, to be fair, might actually be true.
  "Oh..." Eina trailed off, her attention falling to the book that she was reading. The seconds that ticked by felt like they were each separate eternitys. After a few of them, Eina glanced back over, her gaze landing back on my crotch before her gaze flicked back up to me.
  Okay. Be bold. "Eina?"
  "Yes?" Eina said, her gaze just as intense as mine was. She still looked embarrassed, but there was a calmness there.
  "I"m going to kiss you now," I told her, Eina"s expression not changing at all when I said that. "Would that be okay?"
  "I..." Eina started, only to trail off. She met my gaze after looking away for a moment, twiddling her thumbs in thought before she gave a small nod. I leaned in, having to hunch over a bit so my lips pressed against hers. She tasted of strawberries, I noted as I kissed her, our lips moving in a steady rhythm.
  I felt one of her hands land on my thigh as I deepened the kiss, her breath soft against my cheek. The wrong thigh. Ever so gently, I reached down to the hand that was on me and moved it over to the correct leg, directly onto my cock. Eina went stiff for a moment, her hand shifting as if she couldn"t understand what she was grabbing. Her hand ran the length of my cock-
  Eina pulled back so suddenly, practically jumping out of her chair, that I was left kissing empty air for a split second. I blinked, looking up at her with surprise, to see that there was growing mortification on her face.
  "Uh," I started poetically as Eina took a step away from me as I moved to get up. "Is...everything okay...?"
  "I"m just..." Eina started, failing to find the words as she turned around to bury her face into her hands. I stood there for a few seconds, feeling at a loss because I had no clue what the sudden change in heart was about.
  Slowly, as if she might take off running otherwise, I took a step towards her. I rested my hands on her shoulders in a reassuring gesture, "do you not want to do this?" I questioned, thinking that she had jumped away from me as if I had burned her. I was getting some pretty mixed signals at the moment.
  "If I have to..." Eina muttered as she accepted my touch, but her words made me go still. Unless I had vastly, vastly, vastly misread the situation, then she seemed to be into it. But "have to" made this sound...rapey. I didn"t think I was that socially incompetent to make a mistake with consent, but that wasn"t something I was going to take a risk on.
  "Oh?" I muttered lowly into her ear, simply standing behind her as I withdrew my hands. "And why would you have to?" I asked, making her fidget where she stood. I heard her swallow thickly, and if my hearing was any sharper, then I could probably hear her heart beating as fast as a hummingbird.
  "You...could go to my boss, and file a complaint," Eina pointed out, her voice shy but I couldn"t tell why. I was really starting to worry that I completely and utterly royally fucked up. "I could get fired. Or you could tell them that I started...this and I would get fired."
  With her back turned towards me, I took a step back. As much as I was worried that I had screwed up and completely misjudged how into this Eina was, I also had my doubt about that as well. She had been into it. Now that I took a step back from her and the situation, I"m nearly positive that it was a case of her getting cold feet.
  Right. So, I was going to get blue balled. Again. Well...if she didn"t think that she had a choice in this, then I had better give her one.
  "Eina," I started slowly, "I"m not going to do any of that." I told her flat out, making her turn around to face me. "I"m not going to tell your boss a single thing, I"m not going to file a complaint, and if you want to stop this, then I"ll stop."
  Eina shifted from foot to foot, looking unsure as I took another step back. I tried to make my descent into the couch look natural, and like I hadn"t completely misjudged how far away I was from it. I landed heavily, the couch forming what would probably be a permanent dent, all the while I looked her levelly.
  "But, if you want to continue," I said, spreading out my arms so they pretty much covered the length of the couch as I rested them on it. "Then I"d be happy to."
  Eina hesitated, staring at me with wide eyes as she flushed all the way down to her neck, and further I"m guessing. She hesitated long enough that I was about to apologize for the misunderstanding and then never enter the Guildhall ever again out of embarrassment. Right when I was about to move, Eina took a step forward and a tension that had been suffocating me vanished without a trace.
  She didn"t meet my gaze as she took another step forward, crossing the small distance. When she stood in front of me, she dropped to her knees, her hands going out to mine as I obediently made room for her. A hand went to my groin, undoing the buttons and, for a moment, I was too stunned to say anything. I was expecting more kissing, or getting a little handsy, but she was jump straight into the deep end, wasn"t she?
  After undoing my buttons, she grabbed the hem of my pants, her gaze intense as she looked up at me. I shifted, letting her pull my pants down, letting my cock spring upwards so fast that it nearly uppercuted her. I saw Eina swallow thickly now that she was so close to my cock, if I was any less hard then it probably would have flopped onto her face at this point.
  "This only goes as far as you want it to," I reminded as Eina licked her lips, her gaze briefly meeting mine. To my relief, she nodded carefully.
  Then, without a word, she opened her mouth and dragged her tongue on the underside of my cock. One hand went to the head, idly pressing her dainty fingers on the pillar of flesh as her hot tongue started from the bottom and went all the way to the top, her forest-green eyes never leaving mine as she did so.
  I sighed in relief, falling into silence as Eina continued, her gaze never leaving mine as she lavished attention onto my cock. That silence continued even as she reached into my pants to fondle my balls, her tongue lapping at the head while her free hand performed lazy strokes. I don"t think either of us so much as blinked as she began her blowjob.
  After a long minute, Eina pressed her lips onto the tip of my cock, her glasses falling to the tip of her nose. I swallowed thickly, anticipation humming in my veins as she began to press down. Her soft lips parted around my cock with ease, her mouth warm and wet -- within a moment, she took me down deeper than Hestia had ever managed. I don"t know if it was a case of lack of experience on Hestia"s part or experience on Eina"s, but as she continued to take me deeper, her tongue playfully licking my cock as she did so, I was willing to bet experience on Eina"s.
  I groaned at the sensation, savoring the feeling of her wet mouth around my cock, her tongue battering at the underside of my dick. Reaching down with one hand, I couldn"t stop myself from resting it on top of her head. Her forest-green eyes never left mine, the sight of it was more intoxicating than the beer I choked down earlier. An actual elf was sucking my dick. Her lips felt better on it than I could have ever imagined, and in recent weeks, I was no stranger to blowjobs.
  She stared up at me with wide green eyes darkening with lust, her hands braced on my thighs as she began to drag her head up, nearly taking my dick out of her mouth entirely. For a moment, I worried she might, only for Eina to slowly push her head back down, her tongue lavishing attention on my cock wherever she could reach.
  It was probably wrong to compare them, but I couldn"t stop myself. Hestia"s blowjobs were enthusiastic, the clumsiness was cute, and how she tried to take more of me each time was simply...divine. Eina, on the other hand, was clearly more skilled. Which raised some questions because I had her pegged as a virgin married to her job, but I guess you couldn"t judge a book by its cover.
  She shifted her weight into a more comfortable position, her speed increasing, each time she took me a little further until I was pressed against the base of her throat. I could have forced her to take me in deeper, but I reframed and instead, used the hand that was on top of her head to fix her glasses so they didn"t fall off. Eina hummed her appreciation, her hand skillfully fondling my heavy balls.
  "Ohhhhh..." I groaned, my cock throbbing in appreciation, which only spurred her on more. "You keep that up, and I"m going to blow sooner rather than later." As if to test the truth of that statement, she started to twist her head from side to side, rubbing more and more of my cock with her tongue as she does. Soft hums escape her throat, vibrating my cock as she fucked her mouth with my dick.
  Then she kicked up a notch. Eina gagged a little as my cock pressed against her throat, she shifted again and I knew what was coming next. She dragged herself deeper onto my cock, sputtering, tears forming in her eyes, but she didn"t stop. Eina took in one inch, then another, and another and another.
  All the while I marveled at the sensation of her throat. My cock throbbed again, a warning on what was coming, but I fought it off out of habit. Eina tried to push herself down even further, absolutely determined to take me all the way, only to sputter as she pushed herself back. Her green eyes were determined as she tried again, her mouth never leaving my cock while her gaze never left mine.
  Eina pushed herself as far as she could go, taking me another inch, but she was forced to pull herself back. I felt her harsh breathing on my spit covered cock, it felt cold before Eina quickly rewarmed it again by taking me in as far as she could go. She gagged, sputtering, but she held firm, managing to take me even deeper but she couldn"t bury the entire length of my cock in her throat.
  "Don"t force yourself," I told her, her mascara smudged from the tears that formed in her eyes. "There"s always next time."
  Eina seemed to disagree because this time, as she drew herself back, a look of pure willpower appeared on her face -- it looked at complete odds with droll falling from her chin, her makeup smudged. Even still, she pushed herself even further, my cock once again entering her throat, throbbing to the point it was nearly painful as an orgasm brewed in my balls. This time, no matter how she gagged, Eina pushed herself until her nose was pressed against my groin.
  Then she hummed.
  "Of, fuck," I hissed, "I"m cumming," I informed, my cock throbbing as I let loose. Eina kept herself where she was without any prompting, though she made a shocked noise as she felt just how much I was unloading into her. After an entire day expecting to get a nut? My balls tried to empty themselves as if they expected to never get another nut off in my entire life.
  Eina gagged, slowly drawing herself back as I came down her throat. I didn"t even try to count how me ropes of cum I was unleashing into her, simply losing myself in the blissful pleasure. I was lucky I was sitting down because if I was standing, my legs probably would have given out from underneath me. All the while I just kept cumming even after Eina passed the point of no return, forced to swallow cum else she would have been covered in it. And, even then, she couldn"t keep up with the sheer volume my cock seemed bent on releasing.
  "Oh, fuck me," I groaned, feeling as light as a feather as Eina took my cock out of her mouth, her cheeks full, only to be hit with one final blast that smacked her in the forehead and dripped over her glasses. For a moment, both of us just recovered from that -- Eina swallowing cum while I panted, feeling like I had just run a marathon.
  "Wow," Eina returned, her voice rough. I let out a little laugh at that, bringing her attention back to me. Or, rather, my still rock hard cock.
  "I don"t suppose you could do that again before your lunch break ends?"
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  "How"s the sword looking?" I asked, stepping into Welf"s workshop. The place looked about the same as the last time I saw it -- organized chaos, soot stains everywhere and tools of his trade left everywhere. The only place that could be described as clean was a wall with hooks in it where polished weapons hung that gleamed in the low light that his forge offered. Welf himself was the same as well with his short red hair drenched with sweat, soot stains on his face, and hands and looking like he hadn"t slept in a week.
  "I hammered out the edge and gave it a good sharpening," Welf answered as he handed me my weapon, not so much as showing a hint of the damage it had suffered. It looked as it did when I first bought it.
  "Thanks, it looks great," I told him honestly, surprised just how reassuring the weight of my weapon was. I hadn"t realized how much I had missed it until it was back in my hands, and I had only been without it for a day.
  "I didn"t want to ask since you looked pretty rough yesterday," Welf started, watching me with a satisfied smile, "but what did you hit with it? I about started crying when you bought it in, it looked like you were bashing it against a rock or something."
  I gave a shrug, "did you hear about the minotaurs that managed to get to the upper floors?"
  "Oh," Welf uttered, wincing as I nodded. Yeah, that pretty much summed up everyone"s reactions so far. " that case, I"m surprised it held up so well," he muttered with a grimace as his gaze roamed over me. "Are you okay?" He asked after a moment, getting a nod from me as I fished a hand into my pocket and pulled out my second reason for coming here.
  "Yeah, I"m good after a bunch of health potions. Seriously, there"s nothing those things can"t cure," I said, pulling out the minotaur horn. "As for what I was hitting it against, this is the culprit," I informed, making Welf"s eyes go wide as he stared down at the drop item. It wasn"t all red like Bell"s had been, which I suspected was because the minotaur he killed was a lot stronger than the ones I had. Even still, it was a level 2 drop item.
  "Oh, man," Welf said, taking the horn from my hand after getting a nod of permission. He inspected the horn for a moment, turning it over in his hands as he nodded at something only he could see. "I thought it was going to be years before I saw one of these -- minotaur horns are a pretty rare drop item, you know? They only get really common when you reach the lower floors, and by then there"s literal armies of them and they"re all level 4."
  Huh. Now that he mentioned it, I recalled something like that in Ais" series. I never read it much, I didn"t have money for the light novels and the updates for the manga updated about as frequently as Berserk, or so it felt at times. Well...I guess I had that to look forward to eventually.
  "Do you think you could do anything with it?" I asked, making him pause, an excited gleam in his eyes. My lips twitched upwards at the sight. Welf looked like a kid told that Christmas had come early this year, and he got every present on his wishlist.
  "Are you sure?" He asked, giving me a look that told me that the correct answer was that I was absolutely sure. "I"m just a level 1 blacksmith, so I can"t do any kind of serious enhancements to it," he reminded, and I nodded, pretending that I hadn"t absolutely been considering going to a level 2 blacksmith a few hours earlier.
  "Yeah, I"m sure. Better the blacksmith that you know than the one you don"t," I figured with a shrug of my shoulders. Though admittedly, a pretty big influencer for that decision was the knowledge that Welf was fairly close to leveling up and that even among level 2 blacksmiths, he was something special.
  Welf looked relieved, holding onto the horn like he was afraid I would suddenly change my mind, "Thanks." He said with a surprisingly genuine smile on his face. Then his expression became a bit more serious, "do you have any ideas what you"d like to do with it?"
  I did, actually. "I was wondering if you had started on my armor yet?" I questioned and it only took Welf a moment to figure out what I was getting at.
  "There"s not enough to make any plate armor, especially for a guy your size," Welf said more to himself than to me as he turned the horn over. To be honest, I think he might have forgotten I was here altogether. "But, I can reinforce the armor with it if I distill the adamantine from it...or, I could make one thin plate out of it..."
  "Actually," I corrected after a moment, "I was wondering if you could make some light armor out of it for a pallum? My supporter doesn't wear any, and after getting wrecked by minotaurs, that makes me a little nervous." Lili didn"t have Gamer Body to fall back on, or any of my advantages.
  Welf considered that before nodding, "I can do that. I"ll need measurements and stuff like that -- there isn't much here, but if it's for a pallum, then it should be enough to make a chestplate out of it. Like I said before, it"s going to take me about a week to make your armor. Maybe longer now since I"m going to lose a day with this guy," Welf informed, turning over the horn again as if he could barely believe it was in his hands. At the very least, it seemed that I made his day.
  "That"s fine," I said with a shrug of my shoulders, "I wasn"t planning on going any deeper into the Dungeon for the next couple of days, so no rush." Again, that decision was made a few short hours earlier when Eina resumed our lessons like she hadn"t just been choking on my dick. And without being so backed up semen was practically leaking out my ears, I was in a much better disposition to actually listen.
  Turns out that the eleventh floor is where things start to get crazy. There were those giant monkey things that Bell fought on that floor, and armored armadillo-like things too, so the giant monsters got a lot more dangerous on top of higher spawn rates. Not to mention that infant dragons could spawn on that floor, and they were a level 2 monster.
  Maybe if I had my armor, I might have risked it anyway, but I didn"t. Between the training lessons I was going to get with Ais and Tiona, my stats were going to shoot up, not to mention that I was making a rather nice amount of exp on the tenth floor. In short, I was well on track to keep my promise with Lili and Hestia.
  Welf gave me a look, nodding at that but his lips tugged down into a slight frown. "I heard about the minotaur incident through the grapevine, so correct me if I"m wrong, but didn"t it happen on the tenth floor?" He questioned, his tone friendly but suspicious. Right. Because a week ago, I was on the seventh floor.
  "Yeah," I confirmed, knowing exactly where this was going. Welf stared at me for a moment and I basked in it. It was so much fun being a bullshit character. The anime hadn"t really covered it, but Bell"s, and mine, progress was balls-off-the-walls incredible. The tenth and eleventh floors were for veteran adventurers, and I reached the tenth in a couple of weeks.
  "Huh," Welf summarized his thoughts as he scratched the back of his head in thought. He looked away, considering if he wanted to ask, but I knew he didn't have much of a choice but to. A small sigh escaped him as he came to that same conclusion before he looked back at me. "Jericho...please let me join your party," he said, bowing his head to me.
  "Sure," I agreed so readily that Welf faltered. My grin grew at his disbelieving expression, giving him a shrug. "After my run-in with the minotaurs, I figured that I should listen to my supporter about getting a third member. To be honest, if you hadn't asked I would have eventually."
  Welf grinned at me, straightening up, "you have no idea what a relief that is." He admitted, completely unaware I knew exactly how big of a deal this was for him. "I've been stuck on the tenth floor for the past year as a solo adventurer. I'd probably be stuck there for another year if I didn't find a party. Thank you." And he couldn't find one up until now because of his refusal to make magic swords -- basically medieval fantasy nukes.
  His familia looked down on him for refusing to use his talents to their absolute fullest because of his pride and everyone else lost interest when they learned that he refused to make them.
  "No need to thank me," I brushed off the issue easily enough. "But, we won"t be moving on to the eleventh floor until I have some armor to make sure I don"t get myself killed," I explained since the eleventh floor was his goal. He was trying to level up, just like I was, but because he didn"t have a safety net, he couldn"t afford to take the risks that I could.
  The leveling up system was weird -- all I knew was that once you got enough "high-quality exilia," or something like that you could level up. The amount you could get was entirely dependent on the adventurer. Most leveled up after years of grinding against foes like Goliath, a level four monster, and helping taking it down. Then you have cases like Lefiya, who leveled up by graduating university. Not to mention Bell, who killed a minotaur that was classified as a low level 3 as a level 1.
  As stupidly high as my exp requirement was, I was pretty glad that I had a far more clear cut system.
  "You"re already planning to go to the eleventh floor?" Welf questioned, sounding surprised and...pained. Ah, right. It sounded like I was humble bragging, didn"t it? He was stuck on the tenth for a year, and I planned on moving on in a few days.
  "We are," I confirmed, "it"s mostly because of my size -- the monsters are only like a foot taller than me rather than three or four like everyone else, so that"s a big part of it," I admitted shamelessly, glad to see that Welf nodded, thinking that made sense. The other explanation would be I went from a newbie to near veatern stats in a few weeks. And, once my training started later today, then my stats should shoot up.
  "Ah, well, I wasn"t going to say anything about it," Welf said with a lopsided grin, before his expression became a tad more serious. "But, I"ll make sure you get your armor as soon as I can make it. I"m a blacksmith first and an adventurer second, so your armor is my priority," he clarified a little stiffly. A reminder that we were customer and provider, rather than the bro that he and Bell had been.
  "I understand," I nodded, "so long as I get it by the delivery date, then it"s all good. Would you be up for going with us now or...?" I trailed off, gesturing to his disheveled appearance. Now that I think about it, I don"t think I"ve ever met Welf when he hadn"t pulled an all-nighter. Seems like I wasn"t the only one that was nocturnal.
  Welf started to nod his head, only to realize that he shouldn"t. A small sigh escaped him before he shook his head, "no, I have to smelt this down and forge a plate of it. It"ll take all day to do it, so I have to pass today. Tomorrow, though?"
  "Tomorrow, same time," I confirmed with a nod, "I"ll see you then." with that, I waved goodbye to Welf, feeling satisfied with my progress with him. If only my gamer system had some kind of relationship tracker, or any kind of tutorial at all, but it seemed that we were on track to becoming friends. Maybe once I reach level 2, and after he leveled up, he would eventually consider making a few magic swords if only because of practicality.
  I walked down the familiar roads, shoving my sword into my inventory when no one was looking. My gaze landed on the tower of Babel, thinking about what had happened only a few short hours ago. I could still feel the phantom of Eina's soft lips wrapped around my cock as she took me all the way down. I hadn't asked, mostly because it would have been pretty rude, but if she was able to deep throat a bitch breaker, then I'm guessing she had more than a little experience sucking dick. She certainly felt like she had a lot of experience.
  Even now, after she sucked two loads out of me like a succubus, I still had trouble comparing the straight laced guild advisor that I knew to the girl that placed herself between my legs and went to work on my dick. Especially after she reverted to the same girl that I had known before once her lunch break was up, all but kicking me out of the room while she made herself presentable.
  My dick twitched at the sight of the tower, but I tore my gaze away as a sigh escaped me. I wonder if I should head back there? We didn"t exactly have any time to actually talk about what just happened, and given how fast she pushed me out the room, I was worried that she might regret it. But, if I go there now...not only would it look desperate, but Eina worked the night shift. She would be exhausted. And her throat would probably be sore, so it would be a bad time to talk in the first place.
  I would give her some space, I decided, my feet carrying me home to check in on Hestia before I went Dungeon diving for the day. I knew she was going to feel absolutely awful, but I needed to make sure she wasn"t the "I"m actually dying" level of feeling awful. I walked through the city, idly noting just how much it had changed over the course of the night.
  Before, it was a non stop party. Now, looking at group of adventurers puke their guts up into a garden, it seems that Hestia wouldn"t be alone in her misery. There were more than a few drunks milling about in place of the normal citizens, but more were either hungover or sobering up. Not to mention, there was a literal parade of Walks of Shame, from girls and guys alike.
  I guess it was no wonder this wasn"t included in the anime, I mused, stepping off the main street before my nose caught the scent of something other than sweat and puke that seemed to linger in the air. Glancing over at the source, I saw the fantasy equivalent of a food truck with a line standing in front of it. The employee behind the counter handed over what must have been the biggest, meanest, sloppiest breakfast burrito that I had ever seen in my life. Before I knew it, I found myself walking towards the medieval food truck. I didn"t need to eat anymore, and I still wanted one.
  Taking my place in line, idly listening to the quiet grumbling and moans of those waiting for a hit greasy food to help them with their hangovers. It took a few minutes but I neared the front of the line. It was then that I saw a familiar face turn down the street, walking towards the stand. Since I towered over anyone, it only took her a moment to glance at me.
  "Hey," I greeted, glancing behind me to find that the line had grown considerably, looking back at her, I offered up a grin. "Saved you a spot."
  Ais looked up at me questioningly, her golden eyes turning towards the line those suffering a hangover or those that soon would be, before she nodded her thanks. She took her place next to me, forced to crane her head back to meet my gaze. "Thank you," she said softly.
  "Eh, don"t worry about it," I dismissed, shugging. "I"m guessing your familia has you doing a food run since the rest of them are down for the count?" I asked, Ais" brow furrowing at the unfamiliar term but, as much as she was an airhead, she wasn"t stupid. She gave a small nod in response.
  "Yes," she answered simply before she fell silent. After a few moments, she seemed to realize that the ball was in her court to continue the conversation. "Is your goddess...?" She asked, trailing off in a soft voice.
  "She"s either dead asleep, or wishing that she was," I answered, taking a step forward when a sloppy drunk group of girls waddled away from the stand with arms full of greasy food. "Figured I would get her something to help since she has work today." If she didn"t skip, but given who her boss was, I"m doubting that was a good idea.
  Ais nodded and fell silent again. It really was tough to keep a conversation going with her. At the very least, the silence didn"t feel uncomfortable as we waited for our turn. I gestured for Ais to go first, which she did and it was only after that she started ordering that I realized that might have been a mistake.
  "I need thirty-two breakfast wraps, a hundred orders of pancakes..." I stopped listening, recognizing the hundred yard stare of the girl behind the counter. I felt that. I felt that all the way down to my soul -- there were few things worse in this world that customers who came in with stupidly big orders with absolutely no warning. And that stare of hers became more devoid of life every time Ais added something to her order... "with extra red bean paste. Extra red bean paste," Ais repeated, just to make sure that it wasn't forgotten.
  "Coming right up," the woman behind the food stand said as she relayed the order to three other women who started cooking like their lives depended on it. They all had smiles on their faces but I knew better. When a waitress or a cook said 'no problem' or "its fine" when getting an order like that dropped into their laps, what they really meant was 'I hope you die in a fire.'
  Ais watched them work like a well oiled machine, blissfully unaware of their internal grumbling. I glanced behind me and saw that the line grew even more, and they weren't grumbling internally. Ais didn't react to it, but if I could hear it then she certainly could.
  "What's taking so long?" Someone grumble loudly, announcing their displeasure. I couldn't hear who answered him, but I could guess what was said. "A bitch ordered what?!" He exclaimed, and the people in line shuffled, bringing my attention to who said it. It was an adventurer, but rather than the flushed face of a drunk, he seemed to have sobered up at some point and regretted the decision.
  Other than that, he looked like the most generic adventure that had ever existed. Were this an anime, he would be one of the characters in the background that was so unimportant that the artists wouldn"t bother giving the guy eyes. His grumbling seemed to spread to others -- everyone here already felt terrible, and now they would probably have to wait forever for their fix of food.
  Ais looked over, her face displaying some confusion, but largely unconcerned as...whoa, the ladies in the back might be master chefs because piles of food were already starting to form on the window. Then I heard the grumbling get louder as someone loudly sighed before stepping out of the line. For a moment, I thought they were going to walk over to confront Ais, but it never happened.
  The adventurer walked out way, took one look at who had order the insane amount of food on such short notice, and promptly kept walking. Well, that was one thing I wouldn"t have to deal with today because there was nothing more stereotypical than dealing with a belligerent drunk. However, Ais looked troubled. I could only tell because her usually blank face hinted at it -- her lips were pressed together into a thin line and her eyes were sad.
  "Don"t mind them," I reassured her, pretending like I hadn"t been thinking awful things about her as well. "You could have paid for their meal and they"d still find something to moan about," I said, but it was clear that my words didn"t help. Ais simply let out a small sigh that made her shoulders droop ever so slightly as she nodded.
  "They"re..." she trailed off, thinking about it. "Scared of me," she spoke after a small silence. Well...she wasn"t wrong.
  "Eh, it"s only because they know you by your level," I answered, making her frown in thought before she craned her head up to look at me.
  "Are you not scared?" She questioned, tilting her head. Maybe if I didn"t know what I did about her, then that question would have caught me off guard. Or, maybe, I would be scared of her -- Ais was a first class adventurer, and if things went the way as canon, then she was a few weeks away from hitting level 6. It was kinda like going up to a celebrity, except the celebrity is famous because of how well they can kill things.
  I shrugged, deciding to be honest. "Not really. I mean, you don"t strike me as the kind of person that enjoys lording their power over everyone else." I knew that solely because her series made it very clear that she didn"t. From what I saw of her series, Ais was more of a socially awkward airhead when she wasn"t fighting to become stronger.
  That seemed to cheer her up, her small frown turning into a gentle smile. The moment was ruined by the lady behind the counter coughing to get our attention and...what...
  "How did you make that so fast," I couldn"t stop myself from asking, staring at a mountain of food fit to feed a small army. Which, I guess the Loki familia was.
  The tired woman behind the counter gave me a cheeky grin, "trade secret. Now, what can I do for you big guy?``she asked and, to be honest, I was expecting her to tell me that they had run out of ingredients. I glanced at the mountain of food, then to Ais, who was staring at it as well. A small laugh escaped me and I caught her attention.
  "If you"re willing to wait a bit, then I can help you carry that," I offered. Hestia was probably dead asleep anyway, and would be until the last minute. There shouldn"t be any problem. Ais looked relieved, her slight smile growing as she nodded.
  "Thank you," she said before I ordered. I ordered two mothers of all breakfast wrapps, and they had actual weight when the woman handed them to me. And, as agreed, I loaded up on food crates while Ais got the other half.
  The Loki familia lived some distance away, outside of the city proper. I could tell I entered the rich neighborhood when we walked past mansion after mansion, each one better than the last. The Loki familia"s...well, there was no mistaking it. It looked oddly out of place -- the rich decorations on the exterior to the point that it became gaudy. White marble walkways that lead to a fountain of Loki blowing a horn that poured water, beyond that the walkway lead to a central plaza. While all the others were tasteful, Loki"s home was a mess of decorations, like someone went down a checklist rather than trying to make the place look nice.
  Finn was waiting for us, though he seemed unsuprised to see me as we approached. "We"ve been seeing a lot of you lately, Jericho," he commented, one eye closed as he watched me step by the iron gates. There was a smile on his face, but there was something about his tone that sounded a lot like a warning to me.
  "We ran into each other in line," I supplied a reason, not exactly sure what he was hinting at. Or if he meant anything at all, and I was just reading too much into it.
  Ais nodded, "he let me skip. And carried food," she added, holding up her arms as if to bring attention to the mountains of food stacked in them.
  Finn"s gaze lingered on me for a moment before he opened his other eye and gave a small shrug. "Sorry about sending you out alone. Loki"s been unreasonable since she woke up," he explained, an exasperated grin appearing on his face while Ais simply nodded, as if she expected that.
  Finn walked up to me, his hands out reached, "thanks you for your help, Jericho, but I can take it from here." He said, and if it wasn"t for the fact that I saw Lili carrying a massive bag all the time and he was a level 6 adventurer, I would have hesitated before handing over the food. Leaving me with my much more reasonable smaller order.
  I caught Ais looking at me as Finn began to head inside. She looked like she wanted to say something, but couldn"t find the words or know how to say it. In the end, I broke the silence, "I"ll see you later today?" I asked, making her blink. I think she might have forgotten about the training because she looked surprised.
  Ais nodded, and it seemed that the surprise wasn"t a bad one. "I"ll see you then."
  With that, Ais walked inside while I left the property. I idly glanced around the mansions, replaying that encounter in my head before I pursed my lips in thought. "Well...that happened," I muttered as I dug into my order and pulled out my food. I didn"t really know what I expected with that sidequest, but getting the stink eye from Finn wasn"t it.
  Taking a bite of the most delicious greasy, egg, bacon, sausage and cheese I started to make my way home. At the very least, I got a good meal out of it.
  My feet carried me home as I ate my meal, wishing that I had some coffee to wash it down with. Huh. I should look into if coffee was a thing here -- they had modern plumbing, clothing and magic stone based electricity, then surely this world had coffee as well? I didn't have time to check it out now, but I was putting a pin in that thought for later. I didn't need three cups of coffee in me at any point to keep me going, but that didn't mean I didn't want that much coffee in me.
  Unfortunately, the Loki familia lived in the exact opposite direction as my familia did. Now that I think about it, that was probably intentional to put as much difference between the poor and the rich as possible. It took me a little while to make my way back, walking down familiar broken stone roads. Looking at the rundown building, especially have just come from a much nicer neighborhood, I couldn't help but notice just how shabby they were.
  Now that we weren't pinching every valis, we really should look into getting a better place. If only because squeezing in another person into that hovel would actually make it unlivable. A mansion was still out of our price range, but I'm sure that we could get a nice apartment or rent out a small house outside the city. I never pictured myself living in anything but an apartment before, but there was the appeal of living in a small house with Hestia.
  Though, that meant I would have to do crap like cut the grass. And that wasn"t happening. I guess I could just hire someone to cut the grass for me...yeah, that"s what I would do. Hire gardeners, maids and shit to take care of the house for me. It was a nice mental picture. I would have to bring it up with Hestia once I was done training with the Loki familia-
  As I walked down the broken cobblestone towards the broken down church, my gaze landed on something outside of the building. A red pool that suspiciously looked like blood. No, it was definitely blood, I saw enough of it in the Dungeon, and there was no mistaking that dark red liquid for anything else.
  "Holy shit," I muttered, my gaze spotting droplets of blood that lead down the street. There was a fair amount of blood in the pool that looked like it was still wet. Did someone get stabbed or something in front of my home? I knew I lived in a rough neighborhood, but that was something else.
  Then my gaze narrowed as I realized the pool had smears around it. No, it wasn"t that someone got stabbed in front of my house. Someone was stabbed, then they rounded the corner before collapsing in front of my home. I looked around me for any obvious evidence of a trail because whoever got stabbed lost a dangerous amount of blood. I didn"t spot a trail behind me, but when my gaze landed on a drop of blood on the stone path towards the front of the church.
  My feet started moving before my brain realized it -- whoever got stabbed was in the church. Possibly dying. I ran through the collapsed doors, noticing that the door to our room was left open. I nearly slammed my head on the top of the door I raced down the steps, "Hestia?!" I yelled, going down ten steps with two.
  "Jericho!" Hestia yelled back as I descended, and for a moment, my heart went still in my chest. Before I turned the corner, I had a horrible thought that...maybe Hestia didn"t find the stab victim, but rather...she...I turned towards the bed and I nearly sagged with relief when I saw that wasn"t the case. Hestia looked at me with panic in her eyes, red blood staining her white dress and her gloves. "It"s Lili!"
  That didn"t compute as I crossed the short distance between us, looking down at the small form on the bed. Blood plastered hair to her face, but I could barely recognize her. What skin wasn"t deathly pale was bruised and covered in blood -- her nose was broken, her eyes were swelling shut while her lip was badly split. However, that paled in comparison to the dark stain on her beige coat where she was stabbed, her blood soaking into the fabric of the bed.
  Even looking at her, it still didn"t make sense. This couldn"t be Lili. There was no way.
  But, impossibly, her eyes opened as much as she could manage and I saw familiar light brown eyes. "Mr...Jeric...ho?" Lili muttered quietly, my heart dropping like a stone to my boots. Her head fell limply to the side, reaching out with a hand and my stomach started doing flips because her fingers were dislocated. Like someone had stomped on her hand.
  "Lili..." My mind was blank, struggling to understand what was happening. It was easier to accept my death and my new life than what I was seeing before me. "What happened?!" I half shouted, looking at Hestia, who looked to be on the verge of tears.
  Lili swallowed thickly, tears welling in her swollen eyes, "Lili...tried to leave...Soma familia..." She gasped out, her voice pained.
  "I..." No, this was not the time to ask what in the hell she had been thinking. That didn"t matter. I could get my answers when she wasn"t about to die. I saw an empty vial resting on the bed, prompting me to reach into my inventory and pull out whatever health potions that I had left. My heart clenched painfully in my chest when I felt only pulled a few vials out.
  "Hestia, what...?" I trailed off, uncorking the vials as Hestia kept pressure on the wound, briefly moving her hands so I could pour the vials over it. Like my arm, the wound didn"t magically disappear, but it looked better. It just wasn"t enough, the stab wound was about a half a foot away from being dead center, but Lili was so small that there was no way that something vital wasn"t hit. Worse, the exit wound was just as big.
  "I don"t know!" Hestia shouted, wiping her eyes of stray tears. "I just woke up and went to check the laundry and...! I just found her like this!" She looked just as lost that I felt. Right. I had to step the fuck up right now. Take charge. Be a man. Whatever the fuck it took to make sure that Lili didn"t die.
  "We need more health potions," I said, knowing that normal potions wouldn"t cut it for a wound like this. "High potions. A lot of them," I reached into my inventory and pulled out a sack of coins, I didn"t even know how much it was. I went to hand them over to Hestia, but my legs were a lot longer and I was an adventurer. No matter how much I wanted to stay here right now, me being the one to run to Miach"s shop was the smarter option.
  "I"ll be right back with the potions," I forced myself to say, looking down at Lili, still unable to believe what had happened to her. I...fuck, I should have been here. If I hadn"t walked Ais home with her food, or decided to get breakfast...fuck. Fucking fuck. Hestia looked at me with wide eyes and I forced myself to swallow a lump in my throat, "stay here, keep pressure on the wound and don"t let her fall asleep. Talk to her," I said, having absolutely no idea if the advice would actually help.
  Hestia still looked up at me with clear panic, at a complete loss on what to do even with my directions. I opened my mouth to say something, but I paused. A sound echoed down the steps, an echo that I would know anywhere after being an adventurer for a few weeks. The sound of chainmail rustling, of metal on stone. Of someone taking a fucking step down our fucking steps into my fucking home.
  I turned to the door, moving on instinct. As soon as the adventure took the final step, I moved and time seemed to slow to a crawl. I didn"t see his face. I didn"t even know if he was a he because I didn"t see the gender either. All I saw was an emblem emblazoned on a shoulder pauldron of some medium armor of a wine cup in a moon. The Soma familia.
  In my house. After assaulting Lili.
  Murderous rage didn"t feel like I thought it would. I thought it would be so intense that I would completely lose control, or black out and only realize what I had done after the fact. That"s how I always pictured it in my head, but that wasn"t the case. It was almost like I was calm as I lashed out with a hand, catching the adventurer unaware, gripping their face in my hand. I knew exactly what I was doing when I slammed their head into the wall hard enough that it cracked open.
  There were no thoughts of what the story was -- perhaps the adventurer was trying to help Lili. Or maybe he was here to finish her off. None of it mattered. At all. Hot blood erupted, coating my hands and the wall as my face twisted into a snarl. The corpse collapsed into a heap and I was faintly aware that Hestia was screaming behind me. I didn"t look at her.
  Instead, I looked up the stairs to make eye contact with another adventurer. Her eyes were so wide that they could have fallen out of her head, her jaw slack but there was still a sword in her hands. And a moon and wine glass on her stupid looking boobarmor.
  I didn"t think to get the story from her as I raced up the steps, my blood boiling in my veins. She stumbled back, her sword going into a defensive position but I didn"t care. I batted it away with my hand, slicing it open, but that was okay because I grabbed her neck at the same time and squeezed. I never realized just how strong I was before. Her neck snapped with a deafening crack, killing her.
  "Oh, fuck, you live here?" I heard a voice ask. A voice that was faintly familiar, though I had only heard it once before. With blood on my face, with a corpse of a young woman in my hand, I slowly looked over to my left to see who was speaking. My gaze roamed over the three men standing behind the man who spoke. A man that I had seen twice before.
  "You"re dead." After all, I made a promise, even if it was only to myself.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  My Stories: Gone Native: Earth Saga (DBZ/DC Comics), Risk It All (Young Justice/Gamer), Fool's World (F/SN), Legends Never Die (Ahistorical/CKIII Gamer), Castoff (Berserk/Witcher 3)
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  I strode forward staring at Canoe as I approached, tossing the corpse to the side. Their lips moved, shouting something as they drew their weapons, but I didn"t hear it. I couldn"t. It was like my head was underwater, or the red mist that descended was so dense it blocked all sound. But, at the same time, my mind was perfectly clear. If anything, I was experiencing a clarity that I had never experienced before.
  All because only one thought ran through my mind as I reached into my inventory and pulled my weapon from it. I saw their faces morph into ones of surprise, but I didn"t care. They would all be dead soon. I was going to kill them. All of them.
  What would have happened if I had arrived any later? What if the line was a little longer? What if I had stayed around to talk with Ais? What would have happened if I wasn"t here?
  Lili would have died. Hestia...she might not have died, but if she suffered a fatal wound, or used her godly powers then she would have been sent back to Heaven. I would never be able to see her again. Ever. All because I wanted to get some breakfast or chat with Ais before we trained later today.
  My heart thundered in my ears as Canoe shouted something out me, holding his sword out while the other flanked out. They weren"t wearing armor, telling me that they didn"t have time to put it on before they gave chase, but they did have their weapons. One carried a hammer and a shield, Canoe and another carried a simple long sword while another in the back had a bow. She flinched when my gaze landed on her, shifting nervously.
  I gripped my weapon with white knuckles, Canoe"s mouth still moving, taking a step back for every step I took forward. The other two had flanked me completely, shifting nervously as they stood ready to rush me. I took in a deep breath, sparing a wish that I had my chest armor on, but I didn"t need it. I was topped up on health, I had my sword, and none of them had armor.
  I was going to hack them to pieces.
  With that thought in mind, I moved. I raised my blade high, acting like I was going to bring it down on Canoe, only to throw myself to the side when an arrow rushed where my right eye had been moments before. The one with the hammer rushed to meet me, his shield up and his hammer swinging at me. Unfortunately for him, I had learned something from my fight with the minotaurs.
  I blocked the swing with my arm, barely feeling it when it snapped and only because I expected it, I felt the bone shift back into place like it was never broken in the first place. As he completed the swing, I grabbed his arm, his eyes having just enough time to go wide before I slammed my pommel into the top of his head. I was so much stronger than I was before, the only thing I could compare it to was a tomato being hit by a hammer.
  Still gripping the corpse, I pivoted, turning on my heel as I heaved the corpse. Canoe and the other swordsman rushed at me, a slow panic creeping on their faces. I felt my face twist into a snarl as I flung the corpse at them, knocking them both- ah, was that another arrow sticking out of the corpse? I think I blocked another shot on accident.
  That gave me my next target, I decided as I turned towards the archer. Our gazes met and she flinched, her hand pausing ever so slightly as she went for another arrow. It cost her a second at most, but I learned that a second could be the difference between life and death. That second, I decided, would cost her her life. I crouched down, feeling the powerful muscles in my legs bunch up and tense before I launched myself into the air.
  I weighed a lot, I learned over the weeks. Chairs groaned when I sat in them, there was a permanent indentation in the bed from where I laid and the same for the couch. I didn"t know the exact amount, but if I had to guess it was somewhere between three-fifty to four hundred pounds. Nearly a quarter of a ton and every single ounce of it was pure muscle.
  I leaped over several broken and old pews, easily clearing them as I jumped towards the archer, my sword in hand. Whoever she was, she didn"t let her nerves get to her too much because once I cleared the three pews that separated us, she fired off an arrow. This time there was nothing to block it with and I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder, an arrow sticking out of it. She made to retreat as I neared the ground some feet away from her, but she completely misjudged just how huge my reach was.
  With a five-foot sword, my long arms, there was no escaping me when I took a swing. The girl threw herself back, only to slam into a wall as I brought my sword down. My blade bit into one of her legs, carving through it as she threw her head back and screamed, blood pouring from the wound. I still couldn"t hear a single thing over my heartbeat in my ears. But, I knew that wasn"t going to be the case for everyone else.
  The others scrambled to their feet, so I couldn"t use my sword to finish her off. That was a problem. If she kept screaming then people would investigate, or they could have other members of the Soma familia nearby to reinforce them. So, I raised my boot and like I did with so many monsters before, I raised it over her head, her hands trying to ward me off for a split second before I stomped on her head. It gave way underfoot, my sock getting drenched with blood but that was fine. With me, that was practically normal at this point.
  There were only two left, and now our positioning was reversed. I was blocking their exit, and if they turned their backs to me to go after Hestia or Lili...gods might walk the earth, but not even they would be able to undo what I was going to do to them if they tried that. They would die, and they would die screaming. I would make sure of it.
  They were cautious now, their weapons poised to strike as they slowly advanced. I"m guessing that they were used to working together, but I didn"t recognize the other guy. It didn"t matter, I suppose. Teamwork wasn"t going to save them.
  I took a slow step forward, blood and brain matter squishing in my boot as I held out my sword in front of me. I wish I could have gotten a lesson in with Ais or Tiona so I could actually call myself a swordsman, but it should be fine. The Skill Swordsman increased my stats when wielding a sword, it didn"t specify by how much, but I"m guessing a bit. Enough to close whatever stat gap there was between us.
  My gaze landed heavily on Canoe, his generic brown eyes narrowed, his face puffy and red while sweat dripped down his brow. He was nervous. Scared, even. Good. Throwing myself forward, I moved in a blur, but Canoe was just as fast. Sparks flew where our weapons clashed, his sword warping where the edge of mine bit into. Welf really did do good work. And, unfortunately for him, I had learned other lessons from my previous fights.
  My sword was hardly my only weapon.
  I lashed out with a knee, driving it into his gut and knocking the breath from his lungs. The second Soma member lashed out with his weapon, and I narrowly dodged a thrust to my throat. Twisting my blade while Canoe backed off, I took a wild swing at the man but he managed to block my blade. Only this time, the blade folded around mine as he tried to stop my attack. The adventurer managed to dodge the swing that would have taken his head off, but he was weaponless.
  I turned to him to kill him so I could focus on Canoe, only for the middle-aged man to tackle me. His shoulder hit my hips, trying to knock me to the ground, but he couldn"t. Not with my Perks, it was practically impossible for me to lose my balance. I brought the hilt of my sword down onto his back, feeling a rib give way to me before I took another wild swipe at the other adventurer, driving him away long enough that I could throw Canoe off of me. I was saving him for last.
  The other adventurer pulled out a dagger about the size of his forearm. Or was it a short sword? I couldn"t tell the difference. Didn"t care either. He glanced at Canoe to realize that he wouldn't get any help from him before lunging at me, realizing that unless he got in close then he didn't stand a chance. We both knew that unfortunately for him. I lashed out with a fist that caught him in the side of the head even though he tried to dodge it. He went down like the sack of shit that he was as he slammed into a pew, the rotting wood giving way and showering him with splinters.
  I've gotten a lot stronger, I noted as I saw teeth flying. The last time I was in a situation like this, I had to completely rely on the element of surprise, and even then I nearly lost. Now, I was winning through brute force. It was a refreshing feeling, in a weird way, I mused as I raised my sword high before plunging it down into the adventurer's chest. Crimson blood erupted from the wound when I yanked my blade out, my chest expanding as I took in a slow breath. Almost absentmindedly, I grabbed the arrow sticking out of my shoulder and yanked it out.
  Now, there was only one.
  Slowly, I turned around to face Canoe to find him on a knee, one hand clutching his ribs as he wore an expression of naked fear on his face. I almost laughed at how small he was. How weak. For weeks, I had been shitting myself over what he was planning, how he was going to get me, he was on his knees before me, limply pointing a sword at me as he looked about ready to soil himself. It'd be a lie to say that it didn't feel good. An enemy that I struggled against for weeks getting swept up like this.
  All of a sudden, the trope of villains monologuing when they thought they defeated the hero suddenly made so much sense. I wanted to gloat. I wanted to mock him. I wanted him to know that he was nothing compared to me. Only I was the hero and he was the villain. I took a step forward, unable to keep the small grin tugging at my cheeks away, as I approached, resting a bloodied blade on my shoulder. I couldn't help but wonder what was going through his head as he looked up at me in defeat.
  His sword shook in his hand, trembling in pain, fear, and exertion, jerking upwards when I took another step forward. Then another, and another and another until I was standing just outside of his range. Then, slowly, mockingly, I hefted my blade off my shoulder, before lowering it down until it pressed against his neck. Canoe flinched at the feeling of steel against his throat, swallowing thickly. He stared up at me, fear gleaming in his eyes before he did something I didn't expect.
  He dropped his sword. Impossibly, the sharp sound of metal clanging against hard stone was the first thing that I heard over the sound of my heartbeat thundering in my ears. The sound was enough to make me hesitate, buying Canoe enough time to throw his hands up in surrender, one hand higher than the other because of the ribs I broke. He...was giving up. He was surrendering. I...I didn't expect that.
  I expected a...fateful clash or something. I expected him to fight through the pain, to throw himself at me in revenge for his dead friends. For weeks, ever since I let him walk away in the Dungeon despite knowing that he knew I had killed someone, I dreaded this moment. I feared that he was going to make a move and I wouldn't be able to do anything about it. I feared that I was going to be stuck underneath someone's thumb, practically an indentured servant and this new paradise I found myself in would turn into a hellscape.
  "You..." I started, my voice was low and rough to my own ears as I gripped my weapon that much tighter. I wanted to murder him, I realized with some faint surprise. The others -- I killed them in defense of my home, or I finished a fight they had started. I knew I wanted Canoe dead, I regretted letting him walk away that day, but looking down at the pathetic sight before me, I wanted to take his head off. Or stomp on it until it cracked open like an egg. Like something deep and primal in me wouldn't be satisfied until all my enemies were rotting in the dirt.
  "Don't kill me," Canoe begged, looking up at me with wide eyes filled with fear. He was shaking like a leaf, fat drops of nervous sweat running down his face. "Please, just don't kill me! I'll do whatever you want!"
  ...this was the man that I was afraid of for weeks. This is the man who I was convinced that would rain hell on my second lease on life, and ruin it. My growing rage must have shown on my face because Canoe flinched so badly that you'd think I had hit him.
  "What," I heard myself say, my voice a low growl as I gripped my weapon with white knuckles, "happened to Lili?"
  Canoe didn't answer for a moment, likely knowing I wasn't going to like anything that he had to say. He quickly realized that staying silent was going to land him the same brutal fate though, so he began in a shaky voice. "She tried to go around Captain Zanis' back and leave the familia!"
  That much I had learned from Lili, and I wasn't going to learn why she tried to do so from Canoe. Even still, I had to take in a deep breath to calm myself from lashing out. "And why is she in my home bleeding out?"
  Canoe swallowed thickly, eyeing me nervously before he continued, obviously choosing his words with care. "Captain Zanis' wanted to make an example out of her. You know, make a big show of how you couldn't leave the familia without paying an exit fee, and going around his back was a bad idea." Canoe swallowed thickly and looked away from me ask clenched my jaw so hard I'm pretty sure my teeth were about to crack.
  "What. Happened." It wasn't a question.
  Canoe licked his lips nervously before he took in a shaky breath, "he had a bunch of our guys rough her up a little-! That's all! Just a couple of punches and kicks is all! Nothing like that!" He said and it must have been really obvious what my mind immediately went to. "It went on for a bit, but Captain Zanis' decided that wasn't enough. He's the one that stabbed her! Not any of us!" He added as if that was going to help his case.
  "Did you hit her?" I asked softly, my tone sharp.
  "I..." Canoe hesitated and that was answer enough for me. My foot lashed out before I could stop it, my blood-covered boot slammed into his face hard enough to send him skidding back a couple of feet. His nose was flattened and he spit up a few teeth, groaning in agony as he clutched at his ribs. He practically whimpered when I slowly approached, my mind a mess of emotions.
  I wasn't nearly too late now, but I was too late to save Lili. I wonder what was going through her head when she was being beaten within an inch of her life or when Zanis' stabbed her? Did she expect me to kick down the door and rescue her? Where was I when that was happening? Chatting with Welf? Getting a blowjob from Eina? Drinking with the Loki familia? Have a great fucking time when my friend was dying, wishing that someone would save her?
  There weren't words to describe what I felt at that moment. The only ones that came close were anguish, wrath, and malice.
  "What happened after he stabbed her? How did she get here?" I had to stay focused. If I didn"t, I was going to stomp on him until he was a red smear on the ground. I don"t recall being my last life. I guess being an adventurer affected me more than I thought it had.
  Canoe spat out another mouthful of blood and teeth, it poured from his nose like a broken faucet. It soaked his disgusting beard that clung to his jawline, dripping from his face and leaving a long streak mark on his forearm when he tried to wipe it away. It took him a couple of seconds to answer, and he only did when I nearly kicked him again.
  "She crawled away," he spat out, revealing that he was missing his front teeth. "We didn"t notice until she was out of the door, and we were sent to finish her off. We followed the blood trail here- we didn"t know this was the home of your familia-" I lashed out again, kicking him in the ribs before I could stop myself. Canoe let out a choked scream as I held myself back from kicking him again. My blood felt hot in my veins, burning me up from the inside out.
  "Is there anyone else after her?" I asked sharply, rage making it hard to think but I managed it. Somehow. If other groups showed up, then things were going to get very messy very fast.
  Canoe didn"t answer me, coughing up blood. I guess one of his ribs pierced a lung. He didn"t need to. He looked up at me with something beyond fear. He looked like a man that knew he was lost, that his life was forfeit and the last seconds of life he had left were of pain and despair. There was no one coming for him. That was good. That gave me time.
  "I...I answered- urk...your questions," Canoe gasped out between coughs as I looked coldly down at him. His words were desperate but hopeless. He knew that this was only going to end one way, and yet he still clung to that faint chance that he could walk away from this. Even if I wanted to, I couldn"t. They saw me use my inventory. Maybe it would lead to nothing, but I was done taking dumb risks like that. Especially when there was so much at stake.
  "Please..." He trailed off before falling silent, that faint hope dying a dog's death as I lowered my sword so that the tip was pointed at his throat.
  "I think we both know how it is," I stated flatly, staring into his eyes. I saw the fear, pain and despair melt away in them, leaving only a haggard exhaustion behind. I guess it was better than screaming, crying and begging for his life. I wouldn"t have lost my nerve, but Hestia didn"t need to hear that.
  "...Yeah," Canoe spoke his final word before my sword moved. A flick of the wrist was all it took, and his head parted from his shoulders. He was dead. His body slumping, blood rapidly pooling underneath his corpse. I stared at his corpse for a moment -- I don't know what I expected to feel when I killed him. Society said I was supposed to feel guilty because all life has inherent value, while I almost expected to feel overjoyed.
  Instead, I felt...satisfied. I won. He was dead. And that was the end of that.
  Now, it was time to move on to more important things.
  I ran down the stairs, rounding the corner and...Hestia was hovering over Lili protectively, a knife in her hands pointed at the door, the fierce image undercut by the naked fear in her eyes. When she saw it was me, relief flooded her expressive blue eyes as she dropped the knife, nearly sagging on top of Lili.
  "Are they...?" Hestia asked, almost afraid of the answer. I spared her a look as I crossed the threshold.
  "They"re dead," I answered shortly. There was no time to sugar coat it. I reached into my inventory to pull out another potion. I poured some of it onto her stomach, but it barely slowed the bleeding, and I was worried about internal injuries already. I pressed the vial to her bloodied lips, and she was aware enough to part them ever so slightly so I could pour what was left down her throat.
  "Jericho...what do we do?" Hestia asked, her gaze drifting to the first man she had seen me kill. I followed her gaze, the corpse propped up by the wall, but bright red blood coated the wall, dripping downward. I looked away, turning my attention to Lili as she looked like she was struggling to open her eyes.
  That, I had to admit, was a very good question. This...had escalated to a point that it couldn"t be swept underneath the rug. If they had attacked in the Dungeon, everyone would have shrugged their shoulders, but they had broken into my home after trying to kill my friend, and instead, I killed them. We needed advice on how to get ahead of this, and there was only one place that came to mind.
  "We need to go see Eina," I said, wishing I had more potions so I could pour some on Lili"s face so the swelling would go down. Or do something for her injured hand. She was so battered, I didn"t know where to touch her so that she would know I was there. "We need to get our story in first before the Soma familia realizes what happened. Then it"s their word versus ours, rather than our word against theirs." I guess acting out in highschool taught me something after all.
  "R-right," Hestia agreed with a shaky nod, swallowing thickly as she took in a calming breath. Despite it all, I thought she was holding it together rather well. "When-"
  "Mr...Jericho...?" Lili muttered weakly, turning her head to look up at me. Both of our attention snapped to her to see that she was weakly reaching out. Tentatively, I took her hand in mine, the rage and hate gone like smoke in the wind. Replaced by a sense of helplessness I haven"t felt since I watched my mom waste away in a hospital bed.
  "Lili? Are..." I was about to fucking ask if she was okay. "Is there anything I can do?" I asked, feeling lost and uncertain. No. Not uncertain. I needed more health potions.
  "Lili"s sorry...she...went to see Soma...but..." Lili trailed off, a stray tear dripping out of her swollen eyes. "He...looked at Lili but...didn"t say anything. He...he didn"t do anything..."
  I was going to fucking kill him. There was a certain clarity that thought brought as my heart squeezed in my chest. It didn"t matter if he was a god or not. At that moment, I don"t think I cared about the consequences at all. I just wanted him dead, and I wanted to be the one that killed him. That was it.
  "Lili...why?" I couldn"t stop myself from asking as Hestia sniffled. We had a plan, why would she try to leave the familia now?
  "Lili...Lili didn"t want to trouble Mr. Jericho. He...he was going to fight the entire Soma familia. I didn"t want Mr. Jericho to get hurt for Lili," Lili explained weakly. I closed my eyes, picturing what had happened. She was nervous about telling me the amount that Zanis had asked for. And after the minotaur had attacked...fuck. It was clear that something was bothering her, but I hadn"t picked up on the signs. I just assumed it was about the money.
  So she tried to do something about it on her own, where I wouldn"t have to challenge the Soma familia for her to be released from them. She went to Soma, begged to be released much like she had in the anime, only for her pleas to fall on deaf ears. Then she was caught, beaten within an inch of her life and stabbed. She crawled away, likely using her magic to make it to my home where she collapsed, hoping to be found by me. And I...
  I"m going to kill Soma. I"m going to kill Zanis. If I did nothing else in the world, I was going to murder both of them with my bare hands.
  "It"s okay Lili," I said, gently sliding my hands underneath her body. "It"s all going to be okay, and you know why?" I asked, sending a look at Hestia. Or, rather, her gloves. She seemed to realize what I was getting at because she tore off her clothes, any thought of modesty gone and quickly started getting changed. "It"s all going to be okay because I"m going to make it okay. We"re going to pump you full of potions and they"ll fix you right up."
  Lili didn"t say anything as I began walking up the steps, and the silence made my heart go still in my chest. "Lili, want to know something? I was saving it as a surprise, but I was going to get some armor made for you," I said, trying to give her focus on something as we reached the ruined church. I heard Hestia gasp at the sight of corpses and...I couldn"t blame her for that, I thought as my gaze landed on the girl who"s head I crushed.
  I performed that action so many times on monsters, but now, looking at my handiwork, using it on a person was...
  "Jericho," Hestia said, and I braced myself for...something. Shouting, horror, disgust. I hadn"t just killed some of them, but I straight-up butchered them. I- "I"m going to run by Miach"s to get potions, you go ahead to the Guild, okay?"
  I...I didn"t want to let Hestia out of my sight. Not when there was even the slightest possibility that there were other Soma familia members that could stumble upon her. The chance was slim that they would in the time it would take for them to realize that we had killed their hunting party, but that slim chance was too much for me. But, she wasn"t wrong to want to split up, especially when time was of the essence.
  Lili needed potions. Maybe...maybe bringing Lili battered and wounded into the Guild was a bad idea. First of all, she needed rest. Secondly, it was going to bring a lot of attention our way and, from what I could gather from Canoe, it sounded like we had some time before Zanis started to wonder if anything was wrong.
  The question was where could I bring Lili? Where would she be safe at?
  "I"m taking Lili to the Hostess of Fertility. Everyone that works there is at least a level 3, and I know they"ll protect her," I informed, desperately wishing that to be the truth. Hestia looked like she had a lot of questions about that, but nodded firmly. "They"ll have potions there. I...I don"t want to split up," I admitted when Hestia looked like she was about to argue.
  "Okay, but if they don't, I'm running to Miach"s," Hestia swore, her gaze drifting down to Lili. I nodded in acceptance, that way she wouldn"t be able to pick up the lie that I would let that happen. Even if I had to drop down to my hands and knees and beg, I would ask one of the ex-adventurers that worked at the Hostess to get the potions while keeping Hestia under watch. I picked her up with ease and felt her hands grip my shoulders for stability.
  "Hold on," I told her before I started running with both of them in my arms. I looked down at Lili-- it felt like I was carrying a child, and that thought just pissed me off more. At the Soma, his familia and every single one of them that had hurt her. However, I swallowed it down and threw a smile on my face even as I barreled through a group of hungover punks. "Did you hear that Lili?"
  "Hmmm...?" So she was awake. That was good. That was really good.
  "I"m getting some armor made for you. It"s made of adamantine from the minotaur horn I had. I actually had this really elaborate plan of how I was going to get your measurements, but..." I trailed off, not sure what else to say.
  "Hmmm..." Lili hummed to show that she was listening. Her chest rose and fell at a steady rate, but the silence from her was pure torture. I pushed myself that much faster, knocking over a couple holding hands as I sprinted towards the Hostess of Fertility. Having walked the main road so often, I knew the way there by heart and now that I wasn"t stopping for anything, it didn"t take me long to reach the Hostess, and, luckily, I saw Ryuu standing outside tidying up.
  She must have heard my steps as I ran towards her since she turned around. Her expression didn't change until her gaze landed on Lili, her dark red blood that drenched her cloak clear to all to see.
  "We need help," I told her bluntly, her gaze snapping up to me. "She tried to leave her familia, and they did this to her," I explained before she could ask. Ryuu's gaze narrowed while her lips pressed into a thin line as she nodded.
  "Come inside, we have a room that she can stay in," Ryuu decided, rushing inside as I followed after her -- from the look of it, the party had only ended a short while ago and everyone was busying themselves with cleaning up the aftermath. And there was a lot of aftermath to clean up, so all hands were on deck. Perfect. Lili and Hestia would be protected by several level 3s and 4s and one level 6. The Soma familia wouldn't be able to do a damn thing to them even if they knew they were here. "Mama Mia, we have an emergency."
  Mama Mia looked up, her gaze landing on Lili before they hardened. "Get here upstairs, and get her some potions," she barked at me, making the others glance in my direction. She didn't ask what had happened, or who did it. Mama Mia just decided to help. Bringing her here was the right choice.
  I rushed to obey her order, sprinting up the steps, slamming my feet down hard enough I spared a worry that they were going to snap underneath my weight. Ryuu lead me to the same room that we stayed in last time, tossing open the door and gesturing to the bed as she opened the drawer next to the bed, revealing potions of all kinds.
  I laid Lili down, Hestia dropping off me to cling to Lili"s bedside as Ryuu began to dump potion after potion onto Lili, and every third she made her drink. It was hardly the most efficient healthcare I had ever seen, but high potions were literally bullshit magic, so I don"t think it mattered too much.
  "What happened?" Mama Mia questioned, having followed us up the stairs. From my view, I saw that everyone else was peeking by the stairs, all curious. I told her what I knew, which wasn"t much, and slowly Mama Mia"s expression transformed into a grimace. Though, I couldn"t tell if it was over what happened to Lili, or for the problem that I had brought to their doorstep.
  "I"m sorry for bringing her here, but I had no idea where else-" I started, just in case but Mama Mia cut me off with a dismissive gesture.
  "Don"t bother apologizing," Mama Mia said with a frown, turning her attention to Lili, who already looked better after getting more than a few potions in her. Even still, I had to convince myself that she was simple sleeping when she laid on the bed motionless, likely because of just how much blood soaked into her coat. "Tell me what you"re going to do about it?"
  I nodded, feeling no small amount of relief. If she had turned us away, then I had absolutely no idea what I would do. My only other option would be the Loki familia, but I was less than certain that they would be able to help. Being one of the most powerful familias granted them a lot of freedom, but it restricted them in just as many ways.
  "I"m going to the Guild and see what can be done-"
  "I"m not talking about that," Mama Mia cut me off, glancing at me, or more pointedly, my shoes...ah. There was a bit of brain on my shoe. That was...really different than having monster brains on my shoes. "What are you going to do about this? Because I"ll tell you right now, the Guild won"t be able to protect you from any kind of retribution, and they"re not going to be able to make this go away if the Soma familia wants to push the issue."
  Her gaze was as sharp as a knife when she looked up at me, "So, what are you going to do about it? How far are you willing to take this?" She asked, and I didn"t even have to think about my answer. Lili...was my friend. Maybe at the start, it was all about me wanting to stick my dick inside her, but it wasn"t that anymore. She was my friend that got dealt a bad hand by life and kept getting bad cards from it.
  "As far as it takes," I answered, clenching my jaw. "If I have to challenge them to a War Games, then I will." At that, Mama Mia rose an eyebrow and I couldn"t blame her for that. I"ve been an adventurer for only a couple of weeks while the Soma familia had two level 2s and a lot of members. Maybe hundreds. But that didn"t matter.
  The rage I had felt faded somewhat, but I meant every single word that I had said. This wasn"t over until I killed Soma and Zanis.
  "I know," I continued, knowing exactly what she was going to say. "But I don"t care how stupid or impossible it is. I"m doing it anyway."
  Mama Mia chuckled at that, her severe frown tugged into a smile. "Hm. In that case, you can stay here," she stated, casting a look at Hestia and Lili. I did the same and saw Hestia sag with relief. She turned to Mama Mia before bowing her head to the level 6 adventurer until she was nearly folded in half.
  "Thank you," Hestia said, her voice thick with emotion as her hands curled into fists that shook at her side. I couldn"t even begin to guess what was going through her head but as much as I wanted to hold her and never let go, this simply wasn"t the time for it. We had to get ahead of the situation before we could take a moment to decompress. "I promise, I"m going to make it up to you."
  "This place," surprisingly, it was Ryuu who answered Hestia, "is for those that have nowhere else to go." Her voice was quiet, but her expression and voice were kind.
  "But...!" Hestia started, tears welling up in her eyes and I heard Mama Mia let out a soft sigh.
  "If you want to make it up to us, then I"ll put you to work. You did a good job last night despite how crazy it was," Mama Mia said, offering a way for Hestia to salvage her pride. I was grateful for it, even if I didn"t like the idea of Hestia being out in the open. But, I guess with so many high-level adventurers, she and Lili would be safe even if the Soma familia knew where they were.
  Hestia gave Mama Mia a watery smile as she bowed again, sniffling.
  I nodded, "thank you. I"ll be back as soon as I can," I said, wanting to leave as soon as I could now that things were settled here. With any luck, Lili would be awake and able to give me more details and testify to the Guild. Mama Mia was probably right when she said going to the Guild wasn"t going to solve anything, but if we could be in the right in this situation, then that would help our case in the long run.
  "Jericho?" Hestia said, looking at me as she wiped a tear from her eye. "Please be careful."
  I offered her a half-smile that I hoped conveyed a lot more confidence than I felt.
  "When am I not?"
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  A short chapter with a lot of set up.
  I don"t think I"ve ever been so nervous to walk into the Guildhall before. The trip here had been absolutely nervewracking, constantly looking over my shoulder, expecting for the entire Soma familia to show up as I rounded each corner to accuse me of murder. I kept my cool, though, having learned that the easiest way to get caught was to act like you were nervous. Even if people didn"t know what you did, they would know you did something.
  Even still, I made it to the Guildhall without any issue. I could only hope that the trend would continue throughout this. Taking in a deep breath, I walked up the steps, glad that I took the time to wipe off my boot so I wasn"t leaving bloody footprints behind me, and pulled the door open. Predictably, with what half of the city suffering from varying stages of drunk and hungover, the Guildhall was practically empty.
  A small skeleton crew manned the tellers and front desk, but none of them were expecting a busy day. None of them looked fresh-faced, so that ignited the hope that I caught Eina before she went home. I"m not sure how much she would be able to help me, but I knew she would be much more likely to go the extra mile.
  As if summoned by my thoughts, Eina stepped from the backroom. As if she were drawn to me, her gaze instantly landed on me. Our eyes met and she instantly flushed a deep crimson. Right. We had that whole blowjob situation hanging between us. I approached, feeling some faint embarrassment as well, but nowhere near enough to stop me. Too much was on the line for me to avoid having an awkward conversation.
  She fidgeted as I crossed the room, looking like she wanted to run away, but she didn"t. Thankfully. "Hey, Eina? I...had a couple of questions I wanted to ask you. About the Dungeon," I said, making up an excuse to have a private conversation as I came to a stop. Eina looked absolutely everywhere but at me, her face practically on fire, and it wasn"t missed by her coworkers. Any other time I might have found it amusing, but not now.
  I couldn"t. Lili was still in her bed -- Mama Mia and Ryuu assured me that she would be fine and she just needed rest, but I couldn"t get the image out of my head. Of her battered face, swollen eyes, split lips and a broken nose. The Soma familia did that to her. Zanis tried to kill her, and if Lili hadn"t gotten lucky or didn"t have her magic then he might have succeeded. She could have died.
  "Please?" I asked softly, something in my voice drawing her attention to me. Her gaze lingered on mine for a second, her eyebrows drawing together before she gave a small nod.
  "Of course, Jericho. Follow me," Eina agreed, stepping from behind the counter and leading me into a private room. I stepped inside, idly realizing it was the same room as before. It was obvious because of the clear dent on the couch where I sat. I heard Eina take in a deep breath as she shut the door behind me.
  "About last night," Eina started hesitantly, fixing her glasses to give me a level look but it was undercut by her blush. "I know what we did crossed a line, and I do value as a friend-" any other time, I would have cringed at being friend-zoned, or whatever she was doing to me right now.
  "The Soma familia attacked my home about an hour ago," I interjected, making it clear that I wasn't here to talk about what happened last night. Eina blinked, recoiling from the sudden shift, the blood draining from her face as her expression became stormy. They looked absolutely furious on my behalf.
  "What happened? Start from the beginning, and leave nothing out," she said, her tone going from hesitant and shy to all business that barely covered the righteous fury burning underneath. She gestured for me to sit down, and I took her up on the offer. I dragged a hand over my face as the coach groaned underneath my weight. I gathered up my story, mulling over it for a moment before nodding to myself.
  Back during my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I was a troubled kid. Some of my reason we're valid, others less so, while the rest was just pubescent bullshit. However, those years taught me something incredibly valuable. A life skill that paved the road to success, whether anyone wanted to admit it or not. A skill so powerful that if you mastered it, then it was essentially playing life with cheat codes.
  I learned how to lie. I learned all of the little tells that gave a person away -- maintain eye contact, keep your hands still, maybe add in embarrassing details. After all, no one liked to feel embarrassed, so if you admitted that, then you had to be telling the truth. I learned how to keep details vague, to keep track of them so I never contradicted myself, and to keep the lie as close to the truth as possible because the devil was in the details.
  Because, in the end, no one cared for the truth outside of idealists. The entire reason I was here was because if I got my story in first, then the biggest part of winning this battle was over. Because I had a good impression and the Soma had a bad one, so the bias would be on my side. Because appearances mattered more than the truth -- my familia was small and weak, while the Soma familia was powerful and numerous, yet they were disregarding the law to attack me in my own home.
  I needed to get my story in first before the Soma familia had a chance to react, but more importantly, I needed to paint myself in the best light possible. They had broken into my home, but I also killed them all. That, I think, would make things appear a little gray to an outside observer. I needed to gods, or whoever dispensed justice, to be on my side so the Soma familia couldn't immediately seek retribution. I'm sure they would eventually, but even a week would be enough to make a difference.
  A week could be enough to determine if I was strong enough to challenge the Soma familia to a war game or not.
  "It started when I was an adventurer for about a week, or so," I started, clasping my hands together. Despite myself, I couldn"t help but find it a little ironic what I was about to say next. "It"s actually when I met Lili. I ran into an adventurer that she was supporting. Me and the guy practically ran into each other, and...he tried to rob me. Demanded that I hand over my magic stones and supplies since he guessed that I was a rookie."
  Eina"s expression told me she knew exactly where this story was going. She closed her eyes briefly before nodding for me to continue, so I did. "I refused, then he attacked me. Tried to stab me in the throat. I...I panicked and did what I...did what I would do if a monster had attacked me."
  "You killed him?" Eina questioned for clarity, getting a slow nod from me, watching her take notes. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be the one admitting that story. Hell, keeping that a secret is what started this whole mess, now that I think about it. Now things had simply escalated until that story was inevitably going to see the light of day. My only choice was to give my version of it first before Zanis tried to undercut me with it.
  "I didn"t mean to," I admitted. "I blocked the stab with my arm, and I didn"t think. I just lashed out, and he died." I offered a weak defense, carefully watching Eina"s expression. She didn"t display the horror that I expected to see. She simply nodded, looking at me with a gaze filled with...empathy.
  "I"m sorry you had to go through that, Jericho. The Dungeon...the Guild would like to enforce laws in the Dungeon, but it"s simply too big on lower floors. There used to be familia"s that upheld justice in the Dungeon, but...they were all killed some time ago. Unfortunately, as you"ve learned, what happens in the Dungeon simply stays in the Dungeon."
  Fuck. I really did mess up on that day, didn"t I? I wonder, if that was the reaction if there were no consequences...did Canoe...really have anything over me? That, I didn"t want to think about. Not until this entire mess was done.
  "Yeah...well, after that, Lili became my supporter. She fed me a sob story about needing rent, and I caved." Again, Eina nodded, having met Lili, but here was where things started to get complicated.
  I took that as a cue to continue, "sometime later, after a couple of days, we"re in the Dungeon when we run into a man named Canoe, who"s a member of the Soma familia. I"m not sure how, but he knew the guy that tried to kill me. I think they were friends, or something. Nothing happened then. He just kinda looked at me, made a few comments and that was that. I was worried, but nothing happened for a bit."
  I frowned, "Then members of the Soma familia started trying to rob me. First, they tried to steal my earnings when I was taking a shower, but they couldn"t find them. I had my suspicions then, but things really came to a head later." Understanding flooded Eina"s gaze as she gave a firm nod.
  "They were the ones that attacked you in the Dungeon?" She asked and I confirmed it with a nod. She made a note of that and I waited for her to finish before I continued.
  "I was forced to defend myself, but yeah, they attacked me. They said they were doing it on their own, but I don"t believe them. The timing was too perfect -- my run-in with Canoe, then the Soma familia starts harassing me a day later?" I stated, forming a connection between the two. "But, I"m not sure if you know this, but Lili is a member of the Soma familia."
  Eina"s eyes widened and before she could ask, I explained, "I thought she was setting me up for a bit," I admitted, "but she was adamant that she had nothing to do with it. I took her to my goddess to confirm that she was telling the truth, and she was. Lili had nothing to do with the Soma familia attacking me. But, after that, my goddess and I got her to open up a little about her familia."
  At that, Eina"s lips thinned, "were you trying to get secrets from her?" She asked sharply, and I"m guessing that was a great big no-no.
  I shook my head, "no, nothing like that. I asked her if she wanted to be part of the Soma familia because I knew she had it rough. She didn"t live in the familia home, she was constantly worried about money...she, ah, well, I knew she was stealing from me a bit, but she seemed so desperate that I let it slide. She told me that she was absolutely miserable in the Soma familia and that she wanted to join the Hestia familia."
  Eina nodded slowly, her expression troubled, and that was a bad sign for me. "Please, continue," she gently ordered, her tone making my insides clench. I didn"t like that look or tone at all.
  "Well, after she said she wanted to leave the Soma familia, we decided to help her," I said, deciding to not mention that she told us just how bad of a cesspit that familia was in case it could be considered a familia secret. "She"s my friend, you know? But, uh, she went to Zanis to find out how much it would cost to leave the familia." I paused for a moment before my lips thinned.
  "He asked for ten million valis," I said, making Eina sputter, her composure lapsing for a moment at such a stupidly high sum. "Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction."
  "Ten million?!" Eina exclaimed, her expression twitching for each zero that sum had. "That"s completely ridiculous! I could understand if she was a level 3, or higher, but a level 1 supporter? And Soma allowed this?"
  I nodded seriously, anger rising in my chest at the thought of the god. "He"s apathetic at best," I half spat out, only slightly regretting that I knew that information. "So, no. He didn"t do anything about it." Before I could spill more information that I probably wasn"t supposed to know, I moved on. "So, since that was well outside of our budget, I told Lili I would challenge the Soma familia to a War Game to help her escape that familia."
  That took Eina back, " meant to do that?" She questioned, likely all too aware how insane that sounded to someone who didn"t know how bullshit I was. "Jericho, the Soma familia has hundreds of members and several level 2s-"
  "Doesn"t matter," I dismissed firmly, "I made her a promise and I intend to keep it."
  Eina took in a slow breath, closing her eyes for the briefest of seconds. For the briefest of seconds, she wore the expression of someone that heard something profoundly stupid, but then her lips tugged upwards into the slightest of smiles. When she opened her eyes, the smile was gone but her gaze was warm even as she tried to disguise it by adopting a professional demeanor.
  That was good. I"m not sure how much it would help me in the grand scheme of things, but at least she seemed to be on my side.
  "Then, at some point last night, Lili tried to leave the Soma familia by speaking directly to Soma," I started, more rage bubbling in my chest, "I don"t know the details yet, but Soma didn"t say anything and their captain decided to make an example of Lili. They beat her within an inch of her life, then their captain stabbed her."
  Eina seemed taken back, her mouth opening to say something, but the words poured out of my mouth. "Lili managed to crawl away, she has magic that lets her change her appearance and I think she used it. She managed to make it to my house where Hestia found her bleeding out on our doorstep. I came back from helping Ais Wallenstein deliver some food to her familia home-"
  "You"re associated with the Loki familia," Eina questioned sharply, getting a nod from me. She made a quick note then gestured for me to continue.
  "After I came back, we dumped a lot of potions into Lili. She was in really bad shape...then I heard people break into our home. The Soma familia followed her to my home. I don"t know their names, but Canoe was there."
  "How many were there?"
  I thought for a moment, "five of them." I said, Eina nodding encouragingly. Now came the important part. "They seemed surprised by me being there, so I caught a couple of them off guard. They had an archer in the back, so I was aggressive when I fought. The archer got me once in the shoulder..."
  "You killed them as well?" Eina asked, getting a slow nod from me. The goal was to paint me in a sympathetic light because, when it came right down to it, I had killed quite a few members of the Soma familia. I had my justifications for it, but if someone looked at it from the wrong angle, they could see me as the aggressor.
  "I did," I answered shortly, Eina taking a final note before she set down her pen. She took in a slow breath before she nodded at me.
  "The first thing I want you to do is to bring Lili and Hestia here so they can give their testimonies, as soon as they"re able." She saw my expression before she grew concerned, "are they okay?"
  "Lili is recovering at the Hostess of Fertility, and Hestia is there as well. I was afraid of reprisals, so leaving them at our home seemed too dangerous. I don"t know when Lili will wake up, but I"ve been assured she"ll be fine after a couple of dozen health potions and a few high potions." Eina frowned deeply, her gaze angry. I think I might have skimped out on too much detail because she seemed surprised that it would take that many potions to heal a pallum.
  "Bring them as soon as you can," Eina amended. "Secondly, I want you to reach out to the Loki familia. Get them to vouch for your character. If you can do that, then I can"t see the Guild trying to hit you with any kind of consequences." She said, her tone so serious it caught me off guard. I knew the Loki familia had a lot of pull, but just them saying a word would be enough to make this whole situation with the laws I might have broken go away?
  "I think I can manage that..." I trailed off, thinking that I would either have to ask Ais or Tiona.
  "Jericho..." Eina started, easily seeing that I didn"t understand how important that was. "The laws in Orario don"t work like other places in the world. In this place, it"s all about power. You"re familia is small, practically brand new, and it"s you against the Soma familia, an established familia. The Guild..." She trailed off, her hands curling into fists as she took a steadying breath.
  "The Guild does whatever it can to give the impression that it"s in control of the city, but...that means exercising whatever power that it has where it can. From what I"m hearing, one of two things will happen when this moves forward -- either the Guild will decide to come down on your familia," she started, delivering a blow that knocked the wind out of me.
  She saw my reaction, and the growing anger at the thought that the Guild would side with that...familia of drug addicts over me, and quickly continued. "Or, more likely given some of the details of this case, it"s going to catch the attention of some of the more powerful familia"s. Then it"s a matter of how much they like you."
  I...that was completely unfair. How could the law be decided by how much you liked someone or not, or if an organization wanted to flex its power? What the actual fuck was this? My hands curled into fists, feeling...helpless despite my best efforts. There were things I could still do, ideas that I could try, but it was infuriating that the end decision was decided by stupid arbitaray reasons.
  Eina reached out, placing a hand on mine, her gaze firm. "I understand," Eina said, and from her tone, I could tell that she did. I wasn"t sure how, but there seemed to be a lot more to the straight-laced Guild employee than the anime hinted at. "But that"s why it"s so important that you get the Loki familia"s support. If the Soma familia chooses to push this, then it"s certainly going to end in a War Game...and if it doesn"t, then...they"ll ambush you in the Dungeon with numbers you won"t win against. That"s the kind of familia they are."
  I grit my teeth, remaining silent while Eina continued, "but you do have some things in your favor. If you get the Loki familia"s favor, then the rest of the city will fall in line. They"re just that powerful. The Soma familia wouldn"t dare to attack you, not when it would mean angering them. Also, the Soma familia"s reputation is awful. After you told me they attacked you the first time, I began investigating them on my own, and what I"ve found...they will have few allies." She explained, offering some hope.
  But, even as she spoke, I couldn"t help but think about what Mama Mia had said before I left. Even if I got the Guild involved, they couldn"t make the problem go away. I didn"t know how true those words were until right now.
  "But going to the Loki familia is your best bet. Do you understand?" She asked, getting a slow nod from me. I took in a slow breath, trying to calm myself down. The situation wasn"t hopeless, I wasn"t likely to go to jail or anything, but the idea that the law might not be on my side just because I was defending myself was scary in more ways than I thought possible.
  Eina smiled lightly, "everything is going to be okay, Jericho. I"ll take this to my boss and we"ll start the process. You do have good chances, Jericho -- the gods love stories like these and most of them don"t like the Soma familia. Just bring in Hestia and Lili so they can testify, then our case will be secure." She reassured me, but I couldn"t help but notice just how empty the words were.
  She probably meant them from the bottom of her heart. I knew she did...but this wasn"t the total sweep that I had wanted. I wanted promises that my familia would be fine from any kind of interference from the Guild and instead, I got reassurances that things would probably be fine. Probably.
  I never knew I could hate a word so much when it wasn"t just my life on the line, but Hestia and Lili"s.
  Eina gave my hand a small squeeze breaking my thoughts free of the downward spiral they were descending into. She honestly believed that I had a good case, so I forced myself to push my worries to the side and gave her hand a gentle squeeze back.
  "I"ll go talk with Loki," I confirmed, letting myself feel hope. She owed me a fair bit, so there was no way that she was going to say no.
  "No," Loki said, her tone flat before she punctuated her refusal with a loud slurp of her tea. Her red eyes never left mine as she took a long sip, the sound of her slurping echoing in the silent room despite it being rather packed. Finn sat behind a desk, his fingers interlocked in front of him, Riveria sat next to Loki while Ais and Tiona stood behind me. I was lucky that I was already sitting because I"m pretty sure that my legs would have given out at the flat refusal.
  My mouth was devoid of any trace of moisture, both because I just retold my story for the third time in a few hours, but mostly because a deep sense for dread slowly wrapped its ice cold fingers around my heart and gave it a savage squeeze.
  "...What?" I heard myself ask. I...I should argue with her that she owed me, but I couldn"t find the words. I didn"t come here expecting my plea for help to be rejected out of hand.
  Loki stopped slurping her tea to let out a sigh that screamed exasperation while Riveria simply closed her eyes as she took a silent sip of her own tea. "I"m telling you that we can"t help "ya," she explained, giving a dismissive shrug of her shoulders while her red eyes were as sharp as a knife. "The mess you landed yourself in is too messy. And I like Soma"s booze." She tacked on as if that was supposed to make this bitter pill easier to swallow.
  "But-" I started, something ugly bubbling in my chest. Was...was this because I refused to join her familia? I knew from the anime that Loki was petty as all hell, but this just was plain cruel.
  "No buts," Loki interrupted sharply, killing any protest that I had. In this small room, surrounded by first-class adventurers, sitting across from an actual god, I was all too aware that my protests meant nothing here. "That Guild advisor of yours didn"t think about what kind of trouble helping you out would bring to us."
  "If we get involved with your mess, then it could blow up in our faces. And messin" with smaller familia"s problems is a good way to piss a lot of people off cuz" no one likes being flexed on," Loki continued when I couldn"t argue. The words just wouldn"t come. The rug was swept from underneath me and now I was free falling.
  The plan I had to buy myself time to grow strong enough to take on the Soma familia was gone if she wouldn"t help me. The Guild being on my side wouldn"t be enough to protect my familia from any reprisals. The Loki familia vouching for me was supposed to do that.
  "Since I"m smelling a War Game in the air, I"m afraid we can"t be seen training you either," Loki said, her tone ambivalent as she stuck a knife in my heart and gave it a twist. So, I wouldn"t even have training? How else was I going to increase my stats enough to pose overcome a level 2? I couldn"t get a eight hundred thousand exp in a few days...
  "I...see," I forced myself to say, trying to keep my voice level even as I gripped my knees with white knuckles. I swallowed thickly -- I wanted to scream. I wanted to shout. I wanted to curse and rage and punch her in her smug face, but I couldn"t. It would only make things worse for my familia. Not to mention it would be pointless since the others would stop me long before I could give Loki a well-deserved punch.
  "Sorry about this, big guy," Loki said with a small shrug of her shoulders, not sounding very sorry at all. "But I"m not going to involve myself in this mess. Good luck dealing with the Soma familia." As if I were some pest uninvited into her home, Loki made a dismissive gesture. I swallowed a lump in my throat feeling so many things at that moment that I couldn"t begin to tell if I was furious or terrified.
  Ais and Tiona watched me get up, Ais unable to meet my gaze while Tiona was looking between me and Loki with an uncomprehending expression. I didn"t trust myself to say anything to them. As calmly as I could, I walked past them and left the room without saying a single word.
  What else could be said at this point?
  "Loki..." Ais started, her tone frustrated and disappointed. At her. Oh, her heart! It felt like she was stabbed! Even still, Loki remained strong and didn"t immediately cave, summoning upon an endless fountain of pure willpower that mortal minds couldn"t even begin to comprehend.
  Tiona, fortunately, was far more direct with what she was feeling. She didn"t respond with a word but simply grabbed Ais" hand and left the room, slamming the door behind them hard enough that wood splintered and the entire manor shook. Loki didn"t breathe until she heard another door slam, this one much further away. The front door.
  "Honestly, that brute has muscles for brains," Loki muttered darkly to herself as she slumped on her couch. Did he honestly not know the meaning of subtlety? Probably not. The entire freakin world shook whenever that mammoth of a man took a step. And he was probably too stupid to understand what it was even though it was thrown in his face like that.
  Ais and Tione, she could understand. Ais struggled with social interactions, which was so cute and her confused face was absolutely adorable it made Loki want to pinch her cheeks and coo every time she saw it. She didn"t have the experience to be able to read in between the lines. Tiona...well, she treated conversations a lot like monsters -- she barreled through them without a hint of tact, so the finer arts of the unspoken word were lost on her.
  That brute didn"t have that excuse, Loki decided darkly, crossing her arms. Was she being unreasonable, expecting the child to be able to read her mind, to foresee what she was planning, to understand the great sacrifice she was making to protect his itty-bitty familia? Absolutely. Did she particularly care? No, no she did not. Because she was she was making a grave sacrifice of the likes that no one in the history of forever had ever made before, and the idiot wasn't immediately grateful.
  Turning her children against her...Loki was going to see Ais and Tiona"s disappointed stares in her nightmares for the rest of her life!
  "Don"t be too harsh on him," Finn defended the brute with an easy smile on his face. "He thinks he has to face an entire familia on his own without any help."
  "He shouldn"t have come here expecting to get a handout!" Loki shot back, grumbling as she sunk further into her couch. If only they didn"t owe that giant buffoon a debt -- first for almost getting him killed, then she was wrong about him lying about his level. "You saw how Ais and Tiona looked at me!" Honestly, it was like no one understood her sacrifice.
  Riveria frowned slightly as she sipped her tea, "though I"m not sure how much good it will do. The Soma familia is sizable, and Jericho is only one man. Even if Ais and Tiona train him, the odds are stacked against him." She commented lightly, earning a soft sigh from Loki.
  They couldn"t be seen helping Jericho, not when that idiot landed himself in the mess that he did. Well, they could, but that would cause a lot more problems in the grand scheme of things. The Loki familia"s many enemies would be all too happy to crush the Hestia familia if they thought it would hurt her familia. It would be safer too since the Hestia familia was so small. Blatantly helping them when so many eyes were on the Hestia familia would simply paint a target on their backs.
  It would scare off the bottom feeders, absolutely, but the Loki familia wasn"t so powerful that they were unchallenged. Instead of being picked apart by bottom feeders, powerful familias would fall upon the Hestia familia"s heads like a ton of bricks.
  Because in a city like Orario, you didn't fall from the top position to number two. When you fell from grace, you fell all the way to the bottom, ripped to pieces from dozens of other gods on the way down as they claimed their pound of flesh. Loki knew that better than anyone, because she and Freya were the ones that tore down Zeus and Hera when they were weakened from failing the last great quest. The gods, once so powerful that they were completely unchallenged with level 8s and a 9, were banished from the city for eternity.
  Now, no one had heard from them in years. And Loki knew all too well that she was one disaster away from the same fate.
  Which is why Loki was forced to arrange that little scene. Ais and Tiona would go train the colossal idiot "against" her wishes, and if any uppity god tried to question them on it, they wouldn"t be lying when they said they acted independently, Jericho would be able to say that she refused to help him. It would be a balancing act -- for the majority of the simple-minded gods in this city, they would take the lie at face value. Those that didn"t would know that there was a lie there, but wouldn"t know what it was about.
  Was the Hestia familia under the protection of the Loki familia? Were they trying to poach a promising rookie? Or where two of her favorites looking to change familias and the Hestia familia would go from a I-rank familia to a A-rank? The gods would prod and poke, but they wouldn"t act. Not when they knew she was lurking in the shadows with an anvil to drop on their heads. The fact that she ended up with some egg on her face would only seal the deal because no one liked getting egg on their face.
  "He"s a freak of nature," Loki commented, her frown deepening. He seemed like a decent sort -- and, admittedly, Loki did kinda like his guts. It took a special kind of stupid to be willing to fight an entire familia alone for a friend. "His progress in the Dungeon is absurd. If he maintains that growth, he should have a chance..."
  A chance that she gave the oblivious ungrateful idiot. He had better change his tune when she revealed that it was all apart of her brilliant plan along, or she was going to start smacking some cheeks.
  "Hm. You really did make a sacrifice this time Loki," Riveria commented, her tone teasing. Loki turned her gaze to the green-haired elf, throwing on the most pathetic pout that she could.
  "I really did! Their scorn...! Riveria! Comfort me," Loki cried out, throwing herself forward, her face landing in the bountiful bosom of the elven royal. Whoever said that elves were supposed to have small tits clearly didn"t know a damn thing about elves. Even better, instead of getting smacked away, Riveria simply let out a small sigh as a hand patted her head.
  "There there," Riveria said with exasperation while Finn simply chuckled. Loki ignored him as she clung to one of her eldest children.
  So, maybe helping out that lumbering oaf wasn"t all bad.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  I returned to the Hostess of Fertility in a daze, my feet carrying me there as my mind replayed that conversation, wondering what I could have done differently. Should I have argued? Was there a point? From how she sounded, it seemed that Loki never had any intention of helping me and I doubt I could have said anything to change her mind. I guess I seriously misjudged her.
  What really struck me was going back on the promise of training me. Getting my butt whipped by Ais and Tiona was going to push me past the limit, breaking my stats into the hundreds. If I pushed myself far enough, I wouldn't even need to level up to take on Zanis. Now, without any kind of warning, that security net was ripped from underneath me, and I was left free falling into an abyss.
  I needed another plan. Eina was doing what she could to keep the Guild off my back. I hesitated to say that was a done deal, especially having my faith shaken as badly as Loki managed to do, but Eina wasn't Loki. I still had to get Lili and Hestia's testimonies, which would help, but by far my greatest concern was what the Soma familia would do when they found out what happened.
  In total, I killed ten of their men. Even in a dumpster fire of a familia as the Soma familia was, they couldn't just overlook something like that.
  "Hestia and Lili will be safe at the Hostess," I reassured myself. At their very best, the Soma familia wouldn't be able to do a damn thing to those that worked at the hostess. If a single level difference was incredibly challenging to overcome, then a four-level difference was utterly impossible. Actually, thinking of Hestia brought my attention to a certain fact.
  Hestia was friends with Hephaestus, who might not be the most powerful in terms of hard strength, but as the biggest supplier of weapons in a city of adventurers, she had a lot of soft power. Even better, she wasn't a two-faced bitch, so she would certainly help us out. With her backing us, then the Guild would certainly back off and maybe the Soma familia as well. It was just less likely simply because while the Hephaestus familia wasn't a combat-oriented familia, they were blacksmiths, and even the high-level members weren't frontline fighters.
  The crushing weight that had seemed to have settled on my shoulders lightened a fraction. We still had other options. The situation wasn't completely unsalvageable.
  "Jericho!" I nearly flinched when I heard my name shouted out, my gaze snapped to the source and to my infinite relief it was only Syr. She looked concerned, and it was only then that I noticed my face was twisted into a deep scowl. I tried to throw on a smile, but it felt brittle and fake. "Did the meeting with the Guild not go well?" She asked, knowing there was no easy way to ask if I was getting vanished or blacklisted from the Guild.
  "The meeting with the Guild went fine. Eina is doing what she can, and she just needs testimonies." I couldn't bring myself to admit that the case might not go our way because of dick-waving bureaucrats and arbitrary gods. I didn't even want to think about it. "I went to the Loki familia to see if they would be willing to pull some strings since they almost got me killed, but they kicked me to the curb instead," I stated bitterly, Syr's lips twisting into a frown. Glad to see I wasn't the only one who thought that was a bit fucked.
  "Has anything happened on this end?" I asked, trying to change the subject simply because I didn"t want to think about that anymore. A bad habit of mine. Rather than think a problem to death, I distracted myself with something else. Usually, the problem went away, but I doubt that would be the case now. But, I wouldn"t be able to do anything else about it for now.
  "Mama Mia has us all on the lookout, but we haven"t seen anyone yet," Syr reported to my relief. So, they either didn't know yet, or they didn't know where my familia was staying. That couldn't last forever, but until it did, I would savor every moment of safety.
  "Thank you," I said, thanking her for a lot more than telling me the one nugget of good news I had gotten today.
  "What are friends for?" Syr said, hip checking me as we walked back to the Hostess.
  "Is Lili awake," I asked once we neared the door. Apparently the Hostess was closed today, using the previous night as an excuse to not let anyone in. I had some hope that she would be awake given the number of potions she drank, but Syr crushed that hope with a shake of her head.
  "She hasn't. Ryuu says that's normal, though, considering how badly she was beaten. Health potions accelerate the healing process, and that takes up a lot of stamina. She says we should only start to worry if she doesn't wake up by tomorrow," Syr answered, her voice soft. "But...did her familia really do that to her? For trying to leave?"
  I gave a shallow nod, trying to keep my expression from twisting into a scowl. "Yeah. Their captain is a real piece of work on a power trip. Lili tried to leave once before, but the Soma familia found her and assaulted the flower shop that she worked at. They won't let her leave unless someone forces them to let go."
  Syr sent me a sly smile, "And you"re going to make them let go, aren"t you?" She asked, her tone telling me that she knew the answer.
  Even still, I nodded, "no matter what." I repeated, not for the first time today. I wouldn"t let Lili suffer at the hands of those degenerates any longer.
  Syr"s smile grew by a fraction before she beckoned me down with a finger. Curious, I leaned down to feel her lips press against my cheek in a chaste kiss. As soon as I felt them, she pulled away, humming contently to herself.
  Then, without a word, she turned on her heel and disappeared into the kitchen. After everything, the simple action actually picked me up a bit. Absentmindedly scratching at my cheek, I walked up the stairs, each one groaning underneath my weight, announcing my presence to Ryuu, who swept upstairs.
  Our eyes met, and she inclined her head to me. "Your goddess is in the room on the far left. You may want to speak to her," she commented. I gave her a tired nod in response, not liking that I was going to have to dump more bad news on her. I knocked on the door, hearing a dull "come in" before I pushed the door open.
  Hestia was on the bed, the covers pulled over her and a book in her hands. I don"t think she was actually reading it since it was upside down. Her eyes lit up when she saw me even as her expression became deadly serious. "What happened?" She asked and I really needed to get better at hiding what I was thinking.
  I told her, starting from the beginning. I could see each piece of bad news weighing her down like I was throwing a physical weight on her to the point that she couldn"t even muster up any outrage at Loki"s betrayal. We fell into a heavy silence once I was done delivering the bad news, her hands curled up into fists. My other plan to talk to Hephaestus seemed to help if only a bit.
  "Your status," she said, breaking the silence. "We haven"t updated your status in a while, have we?" She asked and I realized that I hadn"t gotten it updated since before the minotaur attack. Was it only a day? It felt like so much longer, though. The past hours felt like weeks. Before I could say anything, Hestia got out of bed and started tugging at my shirt.
  Within a few moments, I found myself laying on my stomach with her hands on my back-
  You have reached 75 in Endurance! Please select the perk you wish to be awarded:
  Toughness: 5% damage resistance.
  Quick Healer: You can now regenerate health. Effects determined by Endurance stat.
  Iron Bones: Your bones are as breakable as iron.
  Super immune: Great resistance to Disease and Toxins.
  You have reached 75 in Dexterity! Please select the perk you wish to be awarded:
  Dexterous: Bonus 5% exp awarded for all Dexterity related actions.
  Boneless: Your ligaments have too much in common with rubber bands and contortions look at you with envy.
  Hand-Eye Coordination: Your reaction times are increased. Effects determined by Dexterity and Sense stats.
  You have reached 25 in Intelligence! Please select the perk you wish to be awarded:
  Great memory: You can recall most things with a passing glance
  Comprehension: When you learn new skills, you gain an innate understanding of them.
  You have reached 50 in Sense! Please select the perk you wish to be awarded:
  Bloodhound: Your nose is sharp enough to be used for tracking.
  Sonar: Your hearing is sharp enough that you can tell where things are by sound alone.
  Due to reaching milestones in your stats, you have been awarded the following perks:
  Light Footed: Your footsteps make as much noise as a feather hitting the ground
  Devil in the Details: Small details jump out at you. Effectiveness is determined by Intelligence and Sense stats.
  Mimicry is the highest form of Flattery: You will have greater ease copying something that you have seen.
  Perfect Practice makes Perfect: Highly repeated actions now cost less stamina to perform.​
  Ugh, so many windows, I thought with a grimacing, unused to getting bombarded with them since I rarely, if ever, got popup windows. Now I was getting hit with so many of them at once, I realized just how intrusive the things were. It was only after I was done grimacing that I bothered to read the contents and my annoyance was replaced with excitement. I could choose more perks, and now that they were the second batch, some of them looked pretty good.
  I moved the other windows to the side, deciding I would look at them when I was done picking my perks. It was even better than I thought, recognizing the ones that I didn"t pick the last go around. So I could pick them up later if I wanted to.
  "Did you get more perks?" Hestia asked softly, practically whispering in my ear with her hands cupped around her lips. It seemed that she understood just how sharp high-level adventurers were. Probably didn"t help when we knew at least one was peeping at this very moment.
  I nodded wordlessly, whispering back what choices I had. Hestia lit up when she heard some of them, and I was in agreement with some of her choices. Some of them were instant benefits, much like Life-Giver was, while others would have some long term gain, similar to how Balerina changed my fighting style from angry bull to graceful angry bull.
  I went ahead and picked Fast Healer simply because there were times that I couldn"t afford to take a potion break. If I hadn"t blinded that minotaur, then I would have died before I could start downing potions like my life depended on it. Super Immune was kinda useless since I had Abnormal Resistance, but Iron Bones was going to be picked eventually.
  Then I went with Hand-Eye Coordination simply because it would mesh well with my other perks and the fact that I was a front line fighter. The last two choices were less easy to pick. Would it be better to have a sharp nose or better hearing? Was having a better memory more important or understanding what I learned better?
  "Comprehension," Hestia answered as if she could read my thoughts. "You can learn how to better leverage your skills if you understand why you"re doing the things that you are." She explained and I saw the logic in her choice. It would also synergize well with Mimicry and Perfect Practice.
  Then the last one...was Sonar. The vast majority of the fighting I did was in the Dungeon, so knowing if I was going to be hit with a horde, or an ambush sounded invaluable.
  Once that was done, only then did I turn my attention to the other screens.
  You have achieved a feat worthy of a Title! Congratulations!
  Due to valiantly facing foes that are undoubtedly stronger than you yet emerging victorious through wits, grit, and luck, you have earned the Title:
  Under Leveled: Greatly increased parameters when pitted against foes that are stronger than you by at least 1 level. Greatly increased rewards. Greatly increased chances of a rare drop item when against monsters in the Dungeon.​
  Huh. I...guess I did get something for killing those minotaurs. Well, that was nice. No, actually, this was perfect! I really wish that my system would give me hard numbers instead of saying "increased parameters" but between this and Swordsman, would my inflated stats be enough to bridge the gap between a level 1 and 2?
  It was a possibility at least. I could work with this. Did they have to be stronger than me or only a level stronger? I"m guessing the latter since it's the only thing mentioned in the description. A coil of tension that was strangling my heart let go, letting me breathe a little easier. It was hardly the game changer that I needed, but this balanced things out a little more.
  Depending on how the War Game was done, I could still end up facing down hundreds of Soma familia members, but there was hope. It could end up being a one on one duel, and with this, I could win. I just needed to get my stats up. That topic, naturally, led my train of thought to how I was supposed to be getting trained by the Loki familia, making a wave of bitterness swell up in my chest.
  "All done?" Hestia asked, freeing me from my thoughts before they could spiral down. I nodded, getting up and taking the slip of paper that Hestia handed to me. There was a broad smile on her face and, hopefully, the good news didn"t stop there.
  Level: 1
  Progress to level 2: 244,698/1,000,000
  Strength: 64
  Endurance: 78
  Dexterity: 77
  Intelligence: 30
  Sense: 53
  Development Abilities:
  Physical Resistance: The user receives 7% less damage. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Abnormal Resistance: Poisons, Toxins, and Drugs are 7% less effective. Effectiveness is determined by the Endurance stat.
  Swordsman: Increased parameters when wielding swords. Effectiveness is determined by Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and Sense.
  Berserker: Increased parameters proportional to users rage.
  Gamer Body: The user"s body is that of a video game.
  Massage: Skilled hands make targets tension and exhaustion melt away. Effectiveness is determined by Dexterity and Strength stat.
  Kissing: An intimate act between lovers that, if done well, can bring pleasure to the target. Effectiveness is determined by the Dexterity and Sense stat.
  Sex: Greatly enhances parameters when engaging in sexual intercourse. Effectiveness is determined by Endurance, Strength, Dexterity, and Sense stats.
  Dishwashing: Stains and dried on food are easier to remove. Effectiveness is determined by Strength stat. ​
  The first new addition to my status that I noticed was Dishwasher, it drew my eyes like a magnet because of the sheer ridiculousness. "Of all the..." I trailed off, a grin threatening to tug at my lips despite the situation. I got a dishwashing skill. Of course, I did.
  "I guess we know who"s cleaning up after dinner," Hestia teased, clinging to my side. I was glad for it. Her presence helped distract me from...everything. Loki, Lili still being asleep, the Soma familia. It felt like I was being pulled in a dozen different directions and something was close to giving out. I wrapped an arm around her and savored her warmth.
  "Berserker is going to be useful against the Soma familia," I said, recalling how I felt when I butchered the Soma members that broke into my home. The rage so intense that I looped back around to being perfectly calm, everything that I did made so much sense, no matter how brutal. Between Under Leveled and Berserker, my stats would be getting quite a boost when it came time to deal with Soma-
  "It"s going to be okay, Jericho," Hestia told me, her tone certain, trying to reassure me to calm my growing stress. "I"ll go talk with Hephaestus-- I"ll take Ryuu or Anya with me, I promise. She"ll get the stupid Guild off our backs and she"ll chase off the Soma familia too."
  A sigh escaped me, "but this won"t end with that." I said, feeling more exhausted than I had after a week of no sleep. "I"m not letting Lili anywhere near those pieces of...and so long as we have her, the Soma familia is going to have a justification to harass us. Hestia, I"ve killed ten of their members. They"re not going to let that go." Hestia"s expression became troubled, my words taking the edge off her optimism.
  "This has to come to an end, sooner or later," I said, holding her tight. I needed time but time worked against me. The longer it took me to get ready, the bigger the chance that the Soma familia would do something. Could I even go into the Dungeon alone anymore or would I just be ambushed? And the longer this dragged out for, the less fresh it'll be in the Guild"s memories so fewer eyes would be on them. Once enough time had passed, then they would try something big and, while that time could help me, if I stagnated because I couldn't go into the Dungeon...
  Hestia looked afraid. Not for herself, if I had to guess, but for me and Lili. I gave her hand a small squeeze, prompting Heatia to hold me that much tighter. "It's still going to be okay," Hestia repeated, clinging to her optimism. "You'll figure something out. Lili will wake up, and then we'll beat up the Soma familia," she said in the tone of someone trying to put their hopes into reality.
  Well...then I had better make sure that they do.
  I let go of Hestia, placing a kiss on top of her head as I rose to my feet. "I should go to the Dungeon while I still can," I said, shrugging on my shirt. Hestia gave me a serious nod, raising to her feet as well.
  "Then I'm going to see Hephaestus now," she decided, wrapping her arms around me in a tight hug. I...guess I was showing how badly the situation was getting to me. I thought I was keeping a firm cap on it. Never before have I felt like...I was hanging off a cliff and waiting for the moment that the frayed rope keeping me up snapped. I could feel that moment approaching deep in my bones but I didn't know when. "Have a little faith, Jericho. Everything is going to be okay. I promise," she said, her voice slightly muffled from burying her face in my stomach.
  I certainly hope so.
  "Hestia...why didn"t you come to me sooner with this?" Hephaestus asked, massaging the bridge of her nose after Hestia had finished telling what her familia had landed themselves in. Hestia didn"t know that she was massaging the bridge of her nose since she couldn"t see her long time friend, but she knew her well enough to know what her response would be.
  "Because I didn"t want to rely on you," Hestia answered honestly, speaking loudly so the floor wouldn"t muffle her words. Her forehead was pressed to the cool stone, though it was rough on her knees. The dogeza, a legendary technique taught to her by Takemikazuchi, who claimed that none could resist doing the users will when used. The ultimate begging technique.
  She hated it. Hate wasn"t something that Hestia had a lot of experience with, not in the thousands of years she had lived. There were plenty of things, and people, that she disliked, but Hestia would hesitate to say that she hated any of them. But, without a shadow of a doubt in her mind, she hated...that she had to use this technique.
  Hestia knew her familia was small, only one member at the moment, but she found a great pride in it. In Jericho. He was proving exactly the kind of man that she always imagined her familia being filled with -- heroes that ignored incredible odds to do what they believed was right. Jericho was determined to help Lili even if it meant taking on the entirety of the Soma familia. Of course, he was scared, but that fear was for her and Lili if he didn"t win. He didn"t fear for himself.
  That pride, Hestia had come to love. She basked in it like a warm sunny day because her familia, as small as it might be, was exactly what she wanted.
  And here she was, throwing that pride away to beg for help because, as much as she wished otherwise, Hestia knew that this was the most she could do. She had no great skill at arms, or a web of secrets to be used. What she did have was a powerful friend that could protect her familia since she couldn"t.
  "Hestia..." Hephaestus muttered, a sigh escaping her. "Stop bowing, please. Just...sit down," her friend said, sounding exhausted. However, Hestia didn"t move. She couldn"t. The only thing that she had to offer was her pride and she knew it wasn"t worth the lives of Jericho or Lili.
  "I can"t," Hestia refused. "Not until you agree to help us. Please-"
  "Oh, for- of course I"ll help you!" Hephaestus half-shouted, sounding annoyed. "I can"t believe that you thought I wouldn"t for a second, Hestia." She exclaimed with a huff. Hestia"s head snapped up, her eyes blurry with unshed tears but she fought them back with an iron will.
  She had cried enough, Hestia decided. First when she found Lili battered and broken in a puddle of her own blood. When she realized that there was nothing that she could do to make her wake up to the point that Ryuu and the others put her in a separate room so Lili could get her rest. From now on, the time that she could have spent crying, she was going to spend doing something. Anything other than wallow in self-pity over her own inability.
  So, she swallowed a lump in her throat and wiped the unshed tears away before she rose to her feet. Her knees hurt a bit from bowing for awhile, but sitting down in the chair was a welcomed relief. It took her a few seconds to bring herself to look up at Hephaestus to see her lone red eye was filled with worry.
  "I think I have a grasp on the situation, and I promise I will throw my weight around to make the Guild go away," Hephaestus swore her voice firm. There weren"t words to describe the relief that flooded through Hestia at that reassurance. "And I"ll put pressure on the Soma familia, but, I"ll be honest, I"m not sure how much good that will do."
  That, Hestia thought, was less reassuring. "Because of Soma," she could guess the reason between Lili"s story and her own memories of Soma back in Heaven. He was always one to get lost in his own world, indulging in his few hobbies with a single-minded devotion that it was honestly impressive even by the standards of gods. However, never in a million years would she have ever thought he would be so devoted to his hobby that he could completely ignore the suffering he was causing.
  "Because of Soma," Hephaestus agreed with a nod. "I could throw the book at him, and I doubt that guy would even notice. Their captain has full reign of the familia, but the gods won"t recognize his authority when it comes to godly matters. So, throwing the book at them could make the situation worse -- Zanis will lash out, perhaps not at you, but as someone that"s drunk on freedom, having stipulations thrown on him when he won"t be able to argue to get them removed..."
  Members in his familia would suffer. Other weak familias would suffer. People just trying to live their lives would suffer. Because the Hestia familia didn"t want to suffer when they had a friend in high places. Worse, a lot of the other gods wouldn"t care about that at all. If anything, they would find it funny to watch someone like Zanis get the rug pulled out from underneath him, to watch his reactions, no matter who they hurt.
  The gods came down from Heaven in search of entertainment. And a lot of gods had a very cruel sense of humor.
  "We just need some time," Hestia said, echoing her child"s words. He was in the Dungeon right now, undoubtedly pushing himself to his absolute limits to progress enough that he could take on the Soma familia single-handedly if he needed to. He wasn"t even close to leveling up, but, maybe, with enough time he could. If they had a few weeks, then maybe...
  "I don"t think a few weeks is going to make much of...a...difference," Hephaestus started to say, only to trail off when Hestia wouldn"t meet her gaze. "Hestia..."
  "I didn"t do anything wrong," Hestia was quick to defend herself, wincing internally. " something special." She answered, keeping it simple but still telling the truth. It was absurd to think, but Hestia was certain that he would be able to level up in a few weeks. Maybe one. His title would help close the gap between him and a level 2, but the Soma familia had hundreds of members. He wouldn"t be able to take on such a force unless he was level 2 at least.
  Hephaestus stared at her for a moment, before giving a slow inclination of her head. She was letting the topic drop for now, just not forever. "If what I"m hearing about him is true, then I would imagine so. But, people are already starting to talk about your child. I"m sure a lot of it is just rumors, but some of them believe them. Apollo especially -- I heard him screeching this morning about you."
  Why would...oh. It was a rare thing to see the god of smiths blush as brightly as her hair, so Hestia knew what the rumor mill was spinning. She guessed she should have seen it coming -- the topic of her virginity, and who would take it, was a topic that the gods seemed to love to entertain themselves with. Now that she had announced that she lost it to rub it into Loki"s stupid face, of course the gods would be talking about it and collecting on their bets.
  "W-well, I"ll deal with Apollo after we"re done with the Soma familia," Hestia decided, not wanting to deal with the creep at all. He was obsessed with her, taking whatever opportunity he could think of to be around her. And no matter how blatant his creepiness was, he just insisted that he was being nice and she was rude for not appreciating him. Only replace appreciating with sleeping with him.
  Hephaestus gave a shallow nod, and Hestia went on a limb to guess that she wasn"t sure if she believed the rumors or not. It didn"t matter. What mattered was her familia and their safety.
  "Thank you," Hestia said, bowing her head again, a knot of tension released. Jericho wouldn"t be blacklisted from the Guild for defending himself and their home. "I know you"ve already helped me out so much Hephaestus, and I promise you I"ll return everything that you"ve done for me a hundredfold one day." She would do it too. She owed the red-headed goddess more than words could ever say.
  Not just for helping her, but for kicking her out. It had been dreadful living alone and having to work, but because of it, she met Jericho. Now, she couldn"t picture her life without him. Even if he one day died from old age, when his soul was reborn, she would find him. No matter how many lifetimes would pass, she would always be by his side.
  "I"d say not to worry about it, but I know it won"t do any good," Hephaestus said, her lips tugging into a frown that she only wore when she was trying to not smile. "But, I"m glad you"re taking this seriously. I"ll admit that I was pretty worried about you when I kicked you out." She admitted, letting the smile win as she grinned at Hestia.
  Hestia found herself smiling back. "I think it all worked out perfectly."
  I wasn"t alone in the Dungeon, despite expecting myself to be. Off in the distance, just out of sight like a shadow in the mist, there was another adventurer watching me. There were times that I thought that she was gone, but every once and a while, I would hear the sound of an orc hitting the ground to alert me that she was still lurking nearby. With Sonar, I could tell where she was too.
  I could hear so much, and I had more or less the exact position of the source of the sound, except instead of being monsters spawning ahead or behind me, my brain told me that they were Soma familia members. They weren"t, I hadn"t seen anyone else in the Dungeon so far, but each time I heard a footstep behind me, I turned around to expect a dozen Soma members lead by their level 2s.
  My hands were shaking from the nerves, I realized, noticing a small tremor in my blade. I took in a calming breath, delving deeper into the tenth floor. My torso felt bare without any armor on it, but there was nothing that could be done about it. My armor was still a week away from being completed, and even reforging a chest piece would take way too long.
  It was fine. As if to prove that point, I heard some rustling grass behind me, alerting me to an imp trying to sneak up on me. I pivoted, leaning out of the wild swipe it made at my kidneys, the gray-skinned bone-thin creature letting out a squawk of surprise before I drove my pommel into its face hard enough that it's skull cracked open. I underestimated how much Hand-Eye Coordination would help me when dealing with small but fast monsters. Between it and Ballerina, I could dodge most attacks with ease now.
  I ducked underneath a wild swing from an orc, feeling air brush against my sweat-soaked face as I countered at the same time. I slashed at its stomach, gutting the monster before I took off its leg. Controlling my breathing, I thrust my blade forward, stabbing it in the neck before yanking my blade forward to take its head off. The body collapsed to the ground, and I wasted no time kicking it over to yank out its magic stone. The body collapsed to ash, leaving behind an orc hide.
  I stuffed it into my bag, before continuing forward.
  I needed a few more orc hides to complete a quest, and that would land me a nice pile of exp. Then there were other quests I could look into getting and try to cash in before it became too dangerous for me to enter the Dungeon. With that in mind, I jogged forward, exploring the wide-open room in search of more orcs.
  Instead, I found something else entirely. I wasn"t even looking for it, but my eyes fell upon the staircase that would take me to the eleventh floor.
  "You shouldn"t go down there, yet," the adventurer that was shadowing me announced her presence. My heart lurched in my chest, but it was quick to settle. I glanced over my shoulder to see Ryuu dressed in what was quite possibly the most anime outfit ever. A deep green cloak with the hood shaped like the petals of a flower, a green mask that covered the bottom half of her face, with a white tunic underneath leading to a pair of green panty-like booty shorts. Two cloth belts made an X around her hips, while her legs were covered from the mid-thigh down with brown leather boots. In her hand was a wooden sword, but even if it was a practice weapon, she could easily kill me with it.
  "I have to," I said, turning my attention back to the entrance to the eleventh floor. "I"m not pushing myself enough on this floor anymore." I could kill orcs easily and even the monsters that had troubled me before were simple to dispatch thanks to my new perks. I needed something to push me to a new limit and this floor wasn"t doing that for me.
  "There will be other opportunities. You don"t have to go now," Ryuu argued gently, her deep blue eyes narrowed into a sharp look that I felt even though half of her face was hidden.
  I gave her a cheeky grin, "when else will I have a high leveled adventurer to protect me if I bite off more than I can chew?" I retorted, meeting her gaze. To my surprise, she looked away, letting out a quiet sigh before she nodded, apparently seeing the logic in my words. Perfect.
  Turning my attention back to the entrance, I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath. I took the first step and I could only hope that Ryuu was following behind me because she was soundless. I nearly was as well, almost shockingly so as I made my way down the stone steps. I"m not sure how the exact mechanics worked, but it seemed I really was feather footed. Neat.
  It didn"t take long to reach the bottom of the stairs to the eleventh floor, the last floor that level 1 adventurers were able to go on. Everything below this was level 2 and up. I was greeted by a wall of heavy fog that nearly made it impossible to make anything out. The little that I did see was that the ground was less grassy and rockier. There seemed to be objects in the distance, boulders, and outcroppings.
  There wasn"t much detail to be had, I mused stepping into the heavy mist, glancing over my shoulder to see that Ryuu had followed me down. She was watching me as I searched the dense mist for enemies only to have no such luck. In a way, I think I understood why it was recommended for B+ stats on this floor. If the mist was always this dense then it would be easy to find yourself surrounded.
  Except for one thing.
  Closing my eyes, I tried to focus on my hearing. It wasn"t as easy as anime made it sound, pardon the pun. I didn"t get exact pinpoint coordinates on a 3D map inside my head, or anything. I just got a vague "over there" or "directly ahead of me" instead. And, despite the heavy fog blocking them from view, there was activity in the distance. Heavy footsteps, the sound of stone breaking...
  Let"s get to it then.
  Opening my eyes, I strode forward, zeroing in on a source of the noise. Cautiously, I approached, Ryuu vanishing in the mist but I didn"t doubt that she was nearby. The sound of footsteps grew closer and closer until I could make a shape out in the fog. Swallowing thickly, I braced myself for another fight and strode forward.
  It was a silverback, I saw shortly before I made eye contact with a large gorilla-like ape. Unlike the anime, it wasn"t two stories tall like a baby King Kong. It wasn"t that much bigger than a normal-sized gorilla, actually. I"m sure compared to Bell and Hestia the thing had seemed absolutely massive, but compared to me, it was still smaller than me. I don"t think it broke five feet hunched over on all fours.
  It snarled at me, letting out a screech as it slapped the ground in a challenge. Thankfully, Eina had prepared me for this. Exactly as she said, it stood up, beating its chest as it let out another screeched before it launched itself at me. It launched a wild haymaker at my head as it practically flew at me, crossing the small distance between us with surprising speed.
  I moved at the same time, going to meet it halfway, my sword shifting. I thrusted my sword forward, catching the monkey in the chest and used its momentum against it. It sank deep into my blade as I continued forward, ducking underneath the wild haymaker as I yanked my blade to the side. As the silverback monster continued forward, my sword yanked free of its chest, exiting by carving a path through its ribs, spinning around from the sudden exit, before it crashed onto the ground into a pile of ashes.
  The magic stone was destroyed, which is why the tactic wasn"t a common one against the silverback monster. Eina said that they were highly aggressive, typically launching themselves at adventurers where they would then use their incredible weight to knock through defenses. Which, now that I think about it, reminded me a little too much of my own tactics.
  I would have to aim a bit lower, skewer them through the stomach rather than the chest. I summoned up my status screen to do some mental math at how much they were worth. I killed about a dozen orcs, some imps...-
  I was interrupted by the sound of a deep rumbling roar that echoed throughout the eleventh floor. It was nearly deafening and I didn"t need Sonar to tell me that whatever it was, it was too close. I scrambled up the rock that the silverback had been sitting on, the mist lightening enough that I could see a glimpse of what made the sound.
  A dragon. There was no mistaking it. I read enough fantasy books to recognize it on sight. The large head, the gaping maw filled with sharp teeth, the deep blue scales that covered its lizard-like face that flowed down a long neck. I couldn"t see its body because of the fog, but I could imagine it with ease. Four legs to support it, a long lizard tail, it wouldn"t have wings...and it was so huge. After the past few weeks, I got used to looking down at everything.
  The dragon was still taller than me with an extra five feet. I couldn"t imagine facing that thing down on the ground.
  "An infant dragon," Ryuu commented, a frown in her voice. "Bad luck. Its presence will scare off any monsters nearby." She said but I was glued to my spot. An infant dragon was like a floor boss. A floor boss was characterized by having an unusually high level that marked a stage in the Dungeon. In a way, the infant dragon marked the separation between the upper floors and the middle floors.
  A level 2 monster.
  "Jericho-" Ryuu started, knowing exactly what was going through my mind. I guess it must have been obvious as the infant dragon turned to face in my direction, bright orange flames licking at its lips.
  A random thought struck me as I looked at the infant dragon that stood at least twenty feet tall and twice that long.
  It was a quote from my English teacher back when we read Beowulf in class. "The dragon is never a dragon." The dragon was a representation of something -- fear, an insurmountable obstacle, a personal decision or anything at all. Triumphing over the dragon was triumphing over the issue, marking a change in the character from then on. The dragon was simply a literary device rather than a creature that inspired fear and awe to those that witness it.
  I hadn"t thought about that class in years. I wonder if Mrs. Wellis would say the same now that a dragon existed outside of a storybook.
  "I need to kill the dragon," I heard myself say, my voice oddly calm despite essentially saying that I wanted to commit suicide by fire. Yet, I wasn"t turning tail and running away. I wasn"t armored, not that it would matter. All I had was a sword...and a title. I didn"t have magic or an OP ability that was a literal asspull whenever I needed one. Bell one-shotted the infant dragon in the anime, but I don"t think I would manage that same feat.
  None of that changed that simple truth. I needed to kill the dragon. For the exp. For the monster drop. For the stat gains.
  Because the dragon wasn"t a dragon.
  The next chapter is currently available on my Patreon, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!
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  This was such a bad idea, I thought, jumping off the rock when I reached the end of it. I could hear the dragon slowly moving to meet me halfway, each step it took sent vibrations running through me. I didn't even want to think about how much that thing would weigh. I didn't even want to think about how big it was either. The only thing going through my mind was how I was going to kill the dragon.
  "Jericho, stop-" Ryuu started, darting out in front of me but whatever she saw when she looked at me made the words die in her throat. A hand that she meant to stop me with fell limply to her side, her deer blue eyes staring up at me but I only saw her in my peripheral vision. With each second that passed, the dragon drew closer. It wouldn't be long before we clashed. My hand tightened on my sword -- out of anticipation or fear. Not even I knew at this point.
  At this moment, the only thing that I did know was that I had to kill the dragon.
  "..." There was a tense silence as I kept walking forward, willing to go through Ryu if I had to. Then, without warning, her shoulders slumped ever so slightly in defeat. She stepped out of my way, letting me continue forward without having to say a single word to her. "I have high potions," she informed as I walked by her. "But I won't interfere unless my promise to your goddess is at risk."
  I hadn't known that Hestia made Ryu promise anything, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Hestia was a worrywart. Considering that I was about to fight a dragon that was a whole level stronger than me, I couldn't say she was one without reason. But that was okay. Just an added layer of safety that I wasn't going to need because I wasn't going to die here.
  The dragon was. I wasn't sure how yet but looking at my track record, my guess is that eyes were going to be stabbed. And seeing as it hadn't failed me yet, stabbing the dragon in the eyes just became plan A.
  But...there was no point wearing my armor, was there? It wasn't tough enough to survive a blow from a level 2 dragon. It was only going to slow me down. With well-practiced ease, I unclasped the armor that covered my legs and tossed the metal plates to the side while the thumps of the dragon moving grew louder. I tested my legs with a few hops, feeling a bit freer but I don't think it was going to make that much of a difference. Still, I felt better for it.
  Another thump seemed to shake the floor and for the first time I saw a vague shadow lurking in the mist. Now that I was at ground level...damn, that thing was huge. With its serpentine neck stretched back, it was probably closer to thirty feet tall on all fours. It was hard to think of this monster as an infant anything. I wonder how big the one on the deep floors were?
  Ehh, I would find out one day. Because I wasn't going to die here, I decided as the dragon came to a stop some distance away, it's long neck rearing back. I knew what was coming next as I settled in a stance. My heartbeat was oddly calm, all things considered. My breathing was even, my hands were steady...I was calm. Perhaps a little too calm for what came next, but, for now, I savored it.
  The dragon threw its head forward as it unleashed a deep, powerful roar that shook me down to my bones, my ears ringing as the force of the roar washed over my skin. The mist swirled, pushed away from the mighty roar, revealing a silverish blue dragon with dark golden eyes. Its mouth was filled with teeth the size of kitchen knives, and there were a lot of teeth. Its claws that supported that massive body were about the size of me, leading to "short" bulky leads that lead to a barreled chest.
  I wish I had time to admire the creature, but time spent admiring was time that could be spent killing. As it let out a roar that I"m sure could be heard in the Guildhall, I rushed forward, my gaze finding its golden eyes as I poised my sword for a thrust. My sword shot out like a bullet, aiming to end this fight in a single strike if I could, only for the dragon to flinch back at the last moment. My sword scraped against silverish scales, and I don"t think I managed to so much as scratch them.
  With my surprise attack failed, I immediately fell on the defensive. This wasn"t an enemy that I could overpower by throwing my weight around. The only thing I could do was whittle it down, or wait for my next opportunity. Regardless, the issue now became making sure that I didn"t die before I could do either of those things. As if to confirm my thoughts, the dragon lashed out with an arm, its massive claws racing towards me. They missed by an inch, displaced wind battering me, blowing my hair all up in my face.
  If I had moved a second later, then I would have died, I realized, my heartrate starting to pick up, hot blood surging through my veins. I threw myself back again, putting some more distance between us, and as soon as my feet touched the ground, I was forced to throw myself to the side as the dragon made a wild lunge at me with its other arm. Since I"ve come here, reach has always been in my favor, and now that it wasn"t I could honestly say that I didn"t care for it very much.
  I felt broken pebbles rain down on my back and shoulders as I rolled to my feet, a sizable boulder reduced to small rocks as the dragon"s hands smashed through it. I really didn"t want to find out what they would do to my bones. Maybe I should have picked Iron Bones after all? Though, I doubt that would have helped much either.
  The dragon"s head turned on a swivel, orange flames licking at the edges of its mouth, telling me what was going to happen next. I rushed to a boulder that would be big enough to cover me, and no sooner than I had curled up into a ball, a torrent of flames washed over the rock. Worse, they didn"t seem to act according to action movie logic.
  Tongues of flames licked at my sides, the heat was nearly unbearable -- in a moment, my undershirt was drenched with sweat, which is probably the only thing that kept it from catching on fire. I couldn"t breathe and the one gasp I dared to take sent superheated air into my lungs, making them burn just as badly as my skin did. The only thing I could think to compare the heat to was cranking a stove up to high, waiting until the elements glowed a bright red and holding my hand above it. The feeling rapidly moved on from a slight annoyance to a sharp pain that grew worse and worse and worse with every second.
  I swallowed thickly, my lungs burning for air as I shifted my feet, ready to move. I wasn"t out of the fight yet. As if to agree with me, the torrent of flames stopped, revealing charred patches of dirt and stone glowing a faint orange from the heat. I pivoted, jumping up onto the rock and throwing myself forward and up. I was greeted with the sight of the dragon lunging at the rock that I hid behind, its double eyelids blinking in surprise as I leaped to meet it.
  It jerked its head out of the way as I made another wild slash at its eyes as I sailed past it. But that was fine. I was on a crash course with its back. Gripping my sword with all of my strength, when I neared, I thrust down with every ounce of my strength -- my blade punched through its thick scales and hide, steam erupting where my sword sank in deep enough to serve as leverage to keep myself from being thrown off when the infant dragon bucked, roaring its pain for the world to hear.
  Good. I can hurt it. I was worried about that.
  Bracing myself, the dragon tried to throw me off, only to manage for a bone to slip out of the way so I could sink my sword even deeper. Every muscle I had was tensed, ready for sudden action. I was anything but safe on the back of the beast. My gaze was trained on its neck and the back of its head, waiting for its next move. Because, in the end, with a monster like this I was forced on the defensive.
  It"s head shifted, the oversized head turning towards me and that was what I was waiting for. I yanked my blade out as the dragon craned its head back, more fire licking at the edges of its mouth. I ran forward a few steps before it launched another torrent of fire at me since it was apparently immune to its own heat. I didn"t falter, lunging forward to thrust my blade into the back of the dragon"s neck, feeling the smaller scales give way-
  Then there was pain. The burning sensation before was nothing compared to the blast of fire that slammed into me with the same force as the truck that killed me a few weeks ago, washing over me and leaving behind a hellish pain. It wasn"t from the dragon"s mouth, but from its neck, my sword punching through its throat, offering two new exits for the torrents of flame to escape from.
  My momentum carried me away from the fire, but that brief moment was pure hell. I barely felt it when I hit the ground heavily, I couldn"t feel anything other than the pain in my hands and arms. I forced myself to look at them, only to regret the action a moment later. My skin was black in some places, a greasy fluid seeping from the cracks of my flash heated skin...and I"m pretty sure my fingers were fused to the grip of my sword.
  But that was okay. That just meant I wouldn"t drop my weapon.
  Gritting my teeth, I pushed myself up, watching as the dragon roared in agony that I could only hope rivaled mine. Spurts of flame erupted from the new exits, blood pouring from the wound ir rivers so I might have nicked an artery as well. For all the good it would do me since I had the feeling this fight wasn"t going to be determined by who could outlast the other. Its claws dug into the stone, carving deep lines into it.
  Then the dragon lunged at me, not so hurt that it couldn"t move. I threw myself out of the way, narrowly dodging a- my vision was filled with the sight of a large claw racing towards me -- I dove into the path of the second attack. My eyes went wide, my heart lurching. This wasn"t Dark Souls and that one mistake was going to end me.
  It might have too. I felt something slam into me, but it couldn"t be the claw because I was flying upwards. We landed an impossible distance away before I was lowered to the ground, though it was more of I just leaned back to touch my feet to the ground.
  Ryu didn"t say anything as she looked at me, her gaze landing on my heavily burnt hands. One of her hands going to her pouch to grab a healing potion...
  "Don"t," I said, my voice sounding raspy to my own ears as the dragon roared in rage at my sudden disappearance. The mist swirled around it, jets of flame surging from the wounds in its neck, offering some light that made its body look like a long shadow in the mist. "I have to do this on my own," I insisted, looking at Ryu, who"s hands stilled at her waist.
  A mask covered her face, so it was hard to tell exactly what she was thinking, not that I normally could in normal situations. However, if I had to guess, the look she gave me was of resigned acceptance. It was hard to put into words what passed between us in that moment as I turned my attention back to the dragon that I had to kill. I don"t think I could put it into words if I had a thousand years to try.
  The only word that came close was understanding.
  Sucking in a low breath, relishing in the fact that I could still breath, I strode forward for round two. My hands were pure hell, my lungs still hurt, and my shirt was mostly gone from the flames. The dragon was crouched low, likely unaware that the jets of flames were giving away its position -- and the shadow that it cast made it appear that much more daunting.
  There was no war cry of desperation or hope or to intimidate my foe as I rushed forward, my feet barely making a sound as I closed the distance between us. This wasn"t an honorable duel where sneak attacks and low blows were forbidden or frowned upon. This was a fight for survival.
  The dragon didn"t notice me until I broke through the mist, my sword raised high, the usual polished steel color dyed black from the heat, and slammed the edge of it into the back of its front leg. Tendons, I learned, made a sound when they were severed. A loud pop rang out as the dragon roared, its other claw going up to take a swipe at me, but it didn"t account on its other leg from giving out on it. I threw myself forward to make sure I didn"t get crushed as the dragon fell heavily on its side.
  I moved, my feet carrying me despite the pain in my hands, my sword sinking into the dragon"s underbelly. The dragon took a swipe at me, squirming, but I didn"t let it stop me from running the length of the dragon"s stomach, gutting the creature. Heat hit me like a wall, the internals of the dragon was stupidly hot, but I accepted the pain if it meant victory.
  The dragon abandoned attacking me in favor of rolling over so suddenly that it nearly took my weapon with it. Its guts slipped out, damaged and pouring scalding hot blood over the rough stone by the gallons. Even still, the dragon appeared to be made of sterner stuff than that because as soon as it was free of my weapon, its head twisted to look at me before darting towards me to swallow me whole.
  Despite its head being vertical, our eyes seemed to meet as the dragon made a desperate final attack. Then, another moment passed, and all I could see was the dragon"s throat as it rapidly approached me. This time, I reacted on instinct rather than any kind of plan. Naturally, I took a wild swing at the dragon"s mouth, throwing all my weight behind the swing. My sword slammed into its bottom jaw hard enough that it slammed shut, diverting its path just enough that it slammed into the side of my body rather than hitting me dead center.
  I spun from the blow, wondering just how many bones I had broken with that stunt. But I was alive, that was the important part. I slammed into the ground with a groan, tasting blood in my mouth as I face planted. No sooner that I went down, I was already struggling to my feet just in case the dragon tried one final attack. It hadn"t.
  Blood pooled underneath the dragon, it"s breathing weak as its head rested on the ground. It was bearing its throat to me, waiting for me to deliver the finishing blow. I didn"t want to disappoint it or give it time to change its mind. There would be no final acknowledgment between man and beast, no sense of empathy or anything like that. None of it. That crap can be saved for the movies.
  With no hesitation, I took a few short steps forward and thrust my blade through the bottom of its jaw, and I didn"t stop pushing until the hilt of my weapon touched the scaly skin. Nor did I take it out until the dragon"s breathing had stilled.
  It was dead. I killed the dragon.
  "Why..." Ryu said, appearing behind me as I collapsed onto my ass, dragging my weapon out of the dragon"s skull. "Did you do that?" She asked quietly, kneeling behind me as she retrieved a high potion from her bag.
  I didn"t answer for a long moment, though I knew exactly why I did it. This wouldn"t be enough to make me level up. I might get a Title out of this, but that was a secondary concern.
  I did it because the dragon wasn"t a dragon.
  "To see if I could," I decided on my answer as pain melted away in my hands as burns were washed away. Burnt and melted skin was washed away like dirt, revealing smooth skin underneath. That stuff was really something, wasn"t it?
  "That seems a rather arbitrary reason to risk your life