If Ryu was familiar with Stealers Wheel, she might have heard a version of one of their songs in her head this week: Spartoi to the left of me, peluda to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you. It’s not a classy reference, but it still accurately sums up the situation Ryu and Bell face as they slowly make their way through the dungeon, and it’s also a statement of what it’s like in the Deep Levels. Up above isn’t without its risks, and there are always irregularities and pass parades to fear, but the sheer number of monsters down below is utterly vicious. There’s no rest for any weary traveler because there aren’t so much stretches of safety as there are lulls in the action. It’s exhausting even to watch because we can plainly see how outnumbered anything other than a full complement of adventurers would be – and Bell and Ryu are only two people. It’s no longer surprising that the other party died; it’s more of a shock that their bodies weren’t eaten.
This half of the season has been about balancing hope and despair. The arrival of the Xenos tempers the horrors of what Bell and Ryu are going through to help save the rest of the Hestia Familia party, and few things are more heartwarming than seeing Wiene and Haruhime reunite. That the vouivre stays with her erstwhile Familia when the majority of the Xenos charge off into the Deep Levels is a beautiful touch – she’s there to provide extra support alongside Tsubaki’s group, but also to be moral support for her friends. Marie has filled in Rido and the others about what happened to Bell and Ryu, and they undoubtedly need more assistance than the newly bolstered group headed by Lilly. But Wiene staying behind (possibly along with the red cap who translates for Lilly) lets them know that she cares about all of them, not just Bell, which is probably something everyone could use a reminder of now and then. Yes, Bell’s the hero of the story, but he’s not the only important or likable character, and Wiene remaining with her friends is proof of that.
She may also provide a way for Cassandra, Daphne, Ouka, Chigusa, and Tsubaki’s contingent to understand the Xenos. They’re all noticeably confused by the Xenos (although Anya is also happy for the help, as her protests when they take off indicate). There’s some murmuring that they recognize a few Xenos from Daedalus Street. Aisha’s facial expression says that she’s figured all of this out already or that she’s at least not stupid enough to look a gift horse in the mouth, but Ouka and Chigusa specifically are struggling to put the pieces together. Wiene could make those discussions much easier, although I have to worry about Fels’ potential reaction to such a revelation. After all, we learn from Ryu that they were just this side of threatening her after her ordeal with the Juggernaut, and Fels and Ouranos already made the call that it was too soon for the adventurers to learn about the Xenos.
Everyone seems to be back on track for the moment, though. Rido is clearing the way for Hestia Familia and friends to get to a place where they can help Bell and Ryu, Welf is more than proving his worth with both his latest sword and the unicorn horn dagger that saves Bell’s life (Tsubaki is definitely impressed), and Lilly and Haruhime have just been given a second wind. Everyone lives up to Alise’s ideal: the hope that everyone will return safely from their journey into the dungeon. It didn’t work out for Astrea Familia, and Ryu isn’t ready to talk about it yet. But that doesn’t mean that her words to Ryu were any less meaningful or that she was wrong to strive toward their fulfillment.
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