Something that I was not expecting to happen has happened.
Snow, the girl who has been almost as antisocial as Elanah leading up until now, can’t stop laughing. Not just laughter, either. I mean those kind of full-hearted laughs where she’s hunching over one hand on her stomach and another over her mouth to try and stop herself.
But it’s not working. Nothing can contain the laughter coming from her.
And the man responsible for causing this laughing fit is Tristan. The moment he realized she liked his humor, he just kept on laying it on. I’ve had to listen to so many terrible puns that I feel like tearing my ears off, but Snow is in love with them.
“Alright, lass. I’ve got another one for ya. What did the bra say to the hat?” Tristan asks.
It was just a basic, stupid joke that I had heard plenty of times before. It wasn’t funny or unheard of in any way.
“Wh-what?” Snow asks, barely able to speak.
“You go on a head. I’ll give these two a lift!”
Once again, Snow is giggling like mad to the point where her pale skin is now bright red.
“You know, I think I want to quit the whole blacksmithin' thing. I’d rather clean mirrors for a living.”
Snow lifts her head, curious about what he’s talking about.
I’ve got to admit that I’m a little curious where this suddenly came from as we—
“It’s just somethin' that I can see myself doin'!”
The bastard sounded all serious about it, too!
And now Snow is wheezing and coughing… is she going to be alright?
“Alright, alright. I know that this might be a weird question, and I swear I ain’t one of those men into feet or anything, but do your socks have any holes in them?”
Snow looks down to her feet and shakes her head.
“Then how’d ya get your feet in them?”
Why am I falling for these stupid jokes?! And why does Snow think that they’re so damn funny?!
“Alright, alright. Last one. What’s the difference between roast chicken and pea soup?”
And a couple of seconds later…
“Anybody can roast chicken.”
Despite Snow being a foreigner to our language… she’s picking up on all of these jokes perfectly.
No, not jokes. I refuse to call them that.
She’s picking up on these stupid attempts at humor perfectly.
Seriously, this bastard needs punished for almost making me laugh at such stupid jokes.
“I’ve got to admit that I’m not clever enough to come up with any of those on my own,” Tristan explains. “I’m just repeatin' the ones I’ve heard over and over. Glad to hear that ya like them.”
“They – they were funny,” Snow says.
Meanwhile, Elanah has been sitting with me on her lap to pet me as we both suffer through the jokes.
Though, I think she’s less upset about the stupid attempts at humor and more… jealous? Jealous that Snow is getting along with somebody else so well? They were talking like a couple of sisters before, and now Snow has just got done laughing at some other guy’s jokes like mad.
“You – you remind me of one of my father’s… friends,” Snow tells Tristan. “He loved such jokes and would torture me with them daily as a child.”
Those jokes were definitely torture.
I turn my head to look back over to the heated pool.
Vysan and the annoying bastard are both sitting in there right now.
Given that the annoying bastard brought up how nice my fur would be for clothes, and Vysan didn’t stick up for me when that was proposed… I’m worried that those two bastards might be plotting something.
“Same here,” Tristan responds to Snow. “Except it was my grandma. The Strism. She was a short woman, but she swung around a hammer twice her size and told the best jokes you’d ever hear! But even now, I’m pretty sure she loved money and her work more than her entire family. Not that I judge her for that. She still gave us all good lives and made sure we’d have a business to keep us busy after she was gone.”
“A family business?” Snow asks.
“Aye. My mother is the head of it right now, and then it’ll pass on down to her daughter – my sister.”
“That is… strange to me. Are there no sons who can lead it?”
“Sure there are, but the late shortie won’t let us. She warned us that she’d come back from the grave if a man ever led the family.”
“She really didn’t like men.”
“How did she marry?”
“She didn’t. Found my mother on the streets and took her under her wing. Gave my mother her last name, too.”
“Does your mother also dislike men?”
“Not at all. She’s happily married to my father, but he had to take her name and let her be in charge.”
“Aye. I know that it’s pretty different from what most expect of families these days, but it’s worked for us so far. We might experiment with our crafting techniques, but we don’t experiment with changing up how the family is run. We know everything there is to know about metal. Families? We’ll trust the late shortie on that.”
His grandma sounds like she was a pain in the ass, but she was also one of the most famous blacksmiths of all time. While they say that her family aren’t anywhere near as good as her… they’re still far beyond what most can accomplish in their entire lives. The original Strism was just too damn good at what she did. If the old heroes of legends were known as the strongest fighters to have ever existed, the original Strism was the best blacksmith.
Anybody who can come close to her skill is going to end up a legend themselves.
I wonder what Zurie’s opinion on them is. The Strism family was the most privileged non-political family that there was before she came into power. While they weren’t involved in any of the shady corruption and other horrible shit that the city’s bastards loved, the Strism family didn’t exactly do anything to distance them from it, either.
I guess you could say that they were neutral. It didn’t matter whether it was a street rat or a corrupt noble going to them for business so long as they had the money to afford their work. They were probably the most neutral business in the city.
So, what’s Zurie think about a family that stayed neutral when everything was shit? They probably had the money back then to afford a large enough mercenary force to take the city over for themselves. If the Strism family wanted change, they could have forced it.
But just like me, they didn’t even try.
Well, I can’t exactly judge them for that.
I’m more interested in this bastard’s beard.
Seriously, how the fuck can somebody have a beard that bushy and long? How is his face not constantly itching? How does he sleep or eat with it?
He must have just been reading my mind since he’s taking a water bottle off of his side.
Tristan holds the bottle to his lips and… streaks of water run down through his beard.
I’m pretty sure I can see a crumb or two of bread lost in there, too.
The damn thing is like a forest. Doesn’t he ever groom his fur?
Wait, I mean… doesn’t he ever comb his beard? Or at least shake it clean?
Sure, I had some facial hair, but never anything as much as him. That just seems gross.
It’s hard for me to drink anything now without getting the hair around my mouth wet. Eating can also be pretty messy for me and sometimes results in the board annoyingly holding me still and wiping my face because of food I didn’t even realize was there.
I guess I can relate to this bastard more than I thought. Maybe he isn’t as gross as I thought.
How the fuck can I even think of him as being gross for having a dirty beard when I have no problem with all the shit that I’ve done? Damn, I’m more judgmental than I realized. Maybe I should work on that.
For now… I need to think about his proposal.
After the incident about using my fur in clothes, we found out that Tristan and his apprentice are going to the thirtieth floor with the intention of killing the boss there. Given his level that is higher than all of ours, and that giant hammer of his, he plans on taking on the boss by himself – or rather, he said he wants his apprentice to get some experience with fighting harder bosses, so he’s mainly going to be there to help his apprentice after he thinks he’s got enough experience.
Zurie never said that we had to kill the boss on the thirtieth floor. She simply told us to reach it.
But I want to kill it now.
After how easily we killed the twentieth floor’s boss, and knowing that killing another boss is going to boost that insane skill of mine even more… how could I not want to take out the boss on the thirtieth floor? Not only that, but even if I didn’t want to, there’s a chance that the skill will inspire me to once we get there.
But Tristan is a businessman. He’s here for a reason. While we each of our groups could get credit for killing the boss if we party up… we would either be getting in the way of his apprentice gaining experience, or he would potentially end up doing most of the work. And, as he also said earlier, he’s not going to do that for free.
Besides, I have no idea if the curse skill will still rank up if I don’t take part in the fighting enough. It doesn’t say anything about having to do a certain amount of work in a fight, but it’s hard to believe that I could let somebody else kill a powerful monster for me while still getting to rank the skill up.
We need to work something out or else he’s going to get to the thirtieth floor before us and kill the boss without us.
I’m not exactly a fan of teaming up with people who we only just met… but we already did that with Vysan and this Tristan bastard isn’t a bad guy. If he was, he wouldn’t have petted me.
I would offer him his apprentice fighting with us to get experience… but he wants his apprentice to get solo experience. Not only that, but he wants his apprentice to get all the rewards from the chest, too.
We have nothing to bargain with.
We – I, since the girls aren’t going to do anything, have to figure out a way to appeal to him.
I really don’t want to miss out on that boss.
Damn it. And here I thought we’d come into the tower, hurry our way to the thirtieth floor while probably skipping the bosses, and then get out.
That’s all we have to do.
But I want to kill the boss.
I don’t just want to stand around and let somebody else kill him, either. I want to kill him.
I don’t even care about the title or chest or anything. I just want to kill the boss and increase my curse skill.
So, this might sound desperate and suspicious, but…
“Ask him if we can kill the boss. We’ll party up together, let his apprentice over there get however much experience the big guy wants him to get, and then we’ll handle the boss the rest of the way. We’ll even let them have the rewards,” I barked at Snow.
Snow translates my proposal, causing Tristan to stroke his beard.
“Not quite used to a little pup being in charge of a party yet. So, you’re offerin’ to do all the work without getting anything in return? I guess ya would get the title and proof that comes with it, but that ain’t much of a reward if you’re not getting’ the chest to go with them.”
“Tell him that all we care about is the experience and proofs. They can have everything else – wait. I want a bite and bone from the boss’s body. Other than that, they can have everything.”
Snow translates again.
“A bite and a bone, huh? I guess you are a monster. Only makes sense for ya to have an interest in eating the monsters stronger than you. And what dog doesn’t love a bone?”
I nod and wait for an answer to the proposal.
At least he’s not shouting anymore. His damn voice was so loud earlier, plus all of his pissed-off swearing was getting damn annoying.
As long as we don’t piss him off, he’s pretty relaxed.
“There’s only one problem,” Tristan says. “If it was just me and him, the tower wouldn’t make the floor any harder for us. If all five of us party up and head into the boss’s chamber together, the tower might decide to compensate for me. It’d be fine if I stayed outside and let you five go in on your own, but I’m not letting that boy out of my sight.”
Shit. I didn’t even consider that.
Me, Elanah, Snow, and Vysan are already a decently-sized and prepared party for the boss. The big guy’s apprentice brings us up to five party members and then we would be perfectly matched for the boss. But with Tristan coming in with us… he told us that he’s over level fifty. The tower might not care if people go against a boss while underprepared, but it does care if people go in overprepared.
A stronger boss than normal might replace the current boss waiting there. Or a duplicate of the boss could be created for double the challenge while only getting the same amount of rewards.
“I already have it myself, but my apprentice gettin’ the title for defeating a compensated boss would be a nice bonus,” Tristan adds on.
Wait, that’s a thing?
I never fought a compensated boss before, so I have no idea what happens other than what I’ve heard: they’re harder and the rewards are no better.
Wouldn’t getting a new title out of it count as a better reward? Maybe I’m just not remembering correctly since it never interested me. Either way, if we might get a title and more proofs out of it…
That really would be a nice bonus for all of us.
“The problem with that is how much harder it’s goin’ to be for all of us,” Tristan says. “Compensated bosses are nothin’ to fuck around with. It shouldn’t get too much of a boost since I’d be the only one there boostin’ it, but we’d all need to fight our hardest to be safe. While I don’t think any of ya are bad, I don’t exactly trust ya to have my back in a fight.”
That’s understandable and I feel the same way about him and his apprentice.
“How about we fight together on the way there to see how we work together?” I bark at Snow for her to translate.
“No harm in that so long as you four can keep up. We don’t plan on spendin’ more than another day down here, so we’ll be moving fast after we rest. As long as ya can keep up, I’ll get a good chance to see how each of ya fight.”
Right. He’ll get to see us in action, and maybe we’ll get to help out that apprentice of his here and there. If we can save him then that should hopefully build some trust with the… big guy.
I just realized something.
He wants to see how we all fight, but one of us doesn’t fight.
And the one who doesn’t fight must be thinking the same thing that I’m thinking, because she – Snow, is looking down at the floor now.
This bastard isn’t going to trust us to help them out if Snow isn’t willing to fight at all. Purely defending is nice and all, but I doubt that he’s going to be as understanding as we are.
I don’t even like that Snow won’t help us fight. This bastard almost definitely isn’t going to like that.
And there’s the fact that if she goes berserk… a berserk Snow is a woman that not even Fane wants to deal with, and he’s a damn vampire. Tristan and his apprentice are only humans and I’m sure that they’re both far weaker than Fane is.
And then there’s the other fact that she supposedly goes berserk by fighting. If she harms anybody, that’s what sets her off if I’m remembering correctly from when she told me about it.
So, how are we supposed to deal with this?
She either doesn’t fight, doesn’t show off what she can do, and we don’t gain his trust. Then we don’t get to fight with them and we miss out on the boss… or she fights, goes berserk, potentially kills all of us, and then we lose any faith that the bastard might have in us.
If he survives her rampage.
I mean, I don’t exactly know what happens when she’s berserk, but Fane made it sound like it’s a really damn dangerous thing.
I’m not smart enough with this sort of shit to figure out what to do so that we all come out winning.
The bastard in me says that they can’t kill the boss if we make sure that they can’t reach the boss… but I’m not going to be like that anymore. That was what I might have done as a human, but not anymore.
It would completely ruin my attempt at changing. Zurie doesn’t want that and I don’t want that.
We have to… play nice.
But I have no damn idea how to do that outside of what’s already been proposed.
If only Snow could fucking fight.
She’s seriously starting to hold us back now.
And I know that she knows that.
Wait, where’s Elanah touching me?
I turn my head to look up at her.
She’s looking away from me now, and her hand is no longer suspiciously approaching any areas that are definitely not allowed while around new people.
I don’t mind sitting on her lap, but she needs to go back to petting my head if she wants me to stay here.
Now then, back to the problem.
The problem that I have no damn idea how to resolve.
Maybe… we could say that Snow will stay outside of the boss room during the fight? The boss might not even get compensated in that case. That way, she doesn’t have to prove herself as a fighter, and he won’t have to worry about how useful she is.
But at the same time, she’s supposed to be growing stronger with us.
I’d kind of feel bad if we made it there and beat the boss without her involvement at all. Even though she barely participated in our battle against the twentieth floor’s boss, she still helped us.
This “playing nice” thing is so much more annoying than how I used to live. Sure, it’s nice, and I don’t feel like a worthless piece of shit all the time while having to rely on substances to feel anything other than shit, but I always knew what to do back then!
Now I never know what to do.
“Woofen,” Snow says, sounding much more natural than before.
She must be talking in her native language, so nobody else will be able to understand whatever it is that she has to say.
What does she want?
“Yeah?” I ask.
“I… don’t want to stay like this. I was happy that I did not have to do much thanks to Vysan, but I know that I cannot stay this way. It is not what Zurie wants for me, it is not what I want for me, and… it is not what my father would have wanted for me. Even if he had no intention of me ever fighting, I know that he would not want me to be this… pathetic.”
Not many people would appreciate somebody talking so much in a language that they can’t understand, but Tristan seems to be taking it pretty well. He’s even given us some space by going and pacing away from us.
“And what do ya propose doing about it? You lose control if you hurt others, don’t ya?” I ask.
“I would, but… there is a way to control it – not to control it, but… to balance it.”
“My father – he, I mentioned that he loved animals and that animals loved him. He loved nature, and no wildlife feared him. He also… had the ability to bond with a single animal. His horse.”
She must be talking about the legendary red steed. I heard stories about it being the strongest and fastest horse to ever exist – the perfect horse for the strongest fighter.
The stories around his horse were as grand as the stories about himself.
“The bond allowed he and his horse to share in his powers. His horse rampaged across the battlefield as much as he did. Instead of uncontrollable fury that only affected him… it became a controllable force shared between he and his horse. But—”
“There’s always a damn but.”
“But… it was not without great cost. He and his bonded horse shared in more than their fury. Their very lives became linked to one another. It was a bond of inseparable trust, because if one of them were to die, the other would lose control. They would become forever lost to the rage. His horse most likely… lost himself to the rage before the invaders killed him.”
“Doesn’t sound too bad. Just can’t die.”
“I think the same could be said for most things in life.”
“You’re not wrong. Get ambushed by a bunch of giant spiders spitting venom? Doesn’t sound too bad. Just can’t die.”
Take that, you bearded bastard. You’re not the only one who can make her laugh.
“Feelings are shared. Power is shared. Life is shared. Because my father was so strong, his horse shared in his power and became the strongest horse. My father’s fury was uncontrollable before the bonding… so I have heard. That is why… I think that if I use my skill to bond with an animal… then I might be able to fight again.”
“Well, why haven’t ya bonded with an animal yet? Couldn’t Zurie have given you any animal ya like to bond with?”
She parts her lips to say something, stops, looks down, and… looks at me.
Hang on now.
Hang on one damn second.
This was Zurie’s plan, wasn’t it?
She intended for me and Snow to become partners since the very beginning. That’s what she meant about Elanah taking the role of Snow.
Just how much of this did that vampire have planned out?
I’m not down here so that I can help Snow get over her trauma involving fire or anything like that. That’s probably just a bonus since there was never a guarantee that I would evolve into a hellfire pup in the first place.
The only thing that Zurie really cares about… is me and Snow bonding.
She wants us to both grow stronger.
If we bond, Snow gets to control her berserk state, and I grow stronger just from sharing the bond with her.
That’s probably why she didn’t order us to kill the bosses, either. There was no guarantee that we would make it to the bosses before anybody else did, and she didn’t send that creepy butler to save them for us.
All she cares about is us bonding, and she must have figured that would happen by the time we reach the thirtieth floor.
That damn vampire.
And this damn woman, Snow, probably knew that the whole time but never thought about sharing it until now!
Zurie told me and Elanah to come into the tower to grow stronger, and she told us that Snow would be coming with us.
I think she intended for us to grow stronger in different ways.
Elanah needs to become stronger by training and gaining more experience. That’s all she can really do.
But me and Snow… she wants us to grow stronger by forming that bond. Not only will Snow be more useful, thus stronger, by being able to control her berserking state… but I’ll grow stronger just by being bonded to her if I understood what Snow was saying correctly.
More importantly, she expects me to make some extremely damn important bond like that! She wants me and Snow to stay together for the rest of our lives? What if Snow does something stupid and gets killed? What’s going to happen to me?
Just as I was starting to think that Zurie came up with a good plan, I’m back to thinking that she barely thought this through!
Maybe she’s dumber than I think. Or desperate. Definitely impatient.
Probably just stupid.
Maybe all of her growth went into her figure instead of her brain.
And I’m not going to complain about that.
Well, I’m going to complain a little, but only because she’s expecting something crazy out of me!
First, she reincarnated me as a puppy. Now, she wants me to bond with some foreign girl for the rest of my life.
That damn vampire.
“I’m guessing that you’ve already got somebody in mind for a bond,” I tell Snow.
She nods and looks down again before saying, “I’m… sorry. I – you don’t have to. I just… have never found any others that I felt I could connect to. Even without her planning on us bonding… I think that I would have bonded with you anyways. I know that we have not spent much time together, but—”
“Like time matters. The board here started acting like I’m her husband after a couple of hours.”
“Woofen?” Elanah asks. “What are you talking so much about? It’s no fair that I don’t get to understand. I’m your fated…”
“See? The board has been calling me her fated since the first day we met. It doesn’t bother me if another girl starts calling me her bonded after a few weeks. At least we had dinner first.”
Snow giggles some more while Elanah pouts and pokes my ears.
I mean, why the fuck not?
Sure, this could go horribly fucking wrong in multiple ways, but this is why we’re down here in the first place.
I’ll grow stronger. Snow will gain control of her rage.
We’ll be bonded together.
I’m already doing everything else that Zurie wants.
I might as fucking well do this so that I can do what I want to do.
And what I want to do is prove to this bearded bastard that we’re competent enough to fight the thirtieth floor’s boss while compensated.
I can’t see any better route here.
Doing what the vampire wanted will have been pointless if I don’t do this.
There’s also the fact that, in addition to doing what the vampire planned and growing stronger… I’ll be helping somebody.
I’ll be helping Snow gain control – the ability to live without fear of hurting others and losing herself to berserk rage.
That sounds like a “good person” thing to do, and didn’t I decide that I want to be a better person now or some stupid shit like that?
Well, I guess I’m a better puppy now instead of a better person.
I guess I’m living up to the stereotype of dogs being pure and good.
Hah. Yeah, right.
“Come on then,” I bark. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Are – are you sure?” Snow asks.
“Yeah. It’s what the vampire wants anyways and I’m tired of ya not helping out more.”
“You… understand that there is no changing your mind? It cannot be undone.”
“Figured as much.”
“If anything were to happen to me, you would—”
“I figure it’s no worse than getting rabies.”
“Woofen, are you… sure? I already know that I want this, but… am I… good enough for you?”
“You’ve got a nice face, a good body, and you’re less annoying than the board is. You’re good enough for my so-damn-high standards.”
“You really should be nicer to her. She cares about you.”
“I know. That’s why I only talk about her like this when I know she can’t understand it.”
“Do you say such mean things about me when I can’t understand you?”
“I talk shit about everybody in my thoughts, you included.”
“Zurie is right. You need to work on your manners, but… I like how honest you are, and I know how kind you are. I will ask you one more time, Woofen. Are you sure about bonding with me?”
“Yeah, so let’s get it over with. You’re going to make me start doubting this if ya keep asking me about it.”
Not really. My mind is already made up.
The only downside to this is that I’m fucked if Snow dies, and I don’t plan on letting her do that. The same goes for the board.
I won’t let either of them die.
But Vysan? He didn’t stick up for me about the fur thing, so he can die for all I care. The bastard who proposed the idea, too.
“Then, Woofen. Will you become my bonded? Will you live and fight by my side for the rest of our lives? Will you share in the fury of the Chaos Demon with me?” Snow holds out her hand to me.
“You and this board are so damn dramatic,” I bark, placing my paw on her hand.