The Dark Wolf Cave had a very threatening name, but it was a labyrinth for beginners.
It was a cave with five floors, and it was populated by monsters with good night-vision called dark wolves. Their attack power and stamina were not that great, and they were not as strong as fighting dogs used by tamers.
However, inexperienced adventurers could be caught off guard by their ability to conceal their presence in the shadows and their agility. It was the most difficult labyrinth where G ranked adventurers could enter.
Nick knocked down a dark wolf with a counter blow, who whined like a pitiful dog.
Two more attacked Nick. One jumped from above, and the other attacked from below, as if it was crawling.
“That was a bad move. When you carelessly jump like that you seal your own moves.”
Nick attacked the dark wolf coming from above with speed matching the wolf itself.
Swinging his leg almost like a scythe, Nick stroke down the wolf with his heel.
The dark wolf was sent flying downwards, and hit another dark wolf.
And then, Nick hit the remaining one with his fist. The three wolves were dispatched in no time.
“…Not bad. It was like a magic trick.”
“Don’t be silly. Anyone that practices hand-to-hand combat can step behind a dark wolf and attack it from the rear without using magic or anything.”
“Sorry, I don’t know anything about the world of fighting.”
Nick and Tianna were there all by themselves. Nick wanted to polish his fighting intuition before the duel, but he couldn’t enter the labyrinth by himself, so he brought Tianna along, even though he was fighting the wolves by himself.
“Normally, you wouldn’t take them down like that… You’d defend against the first attack, and take them down one at a time.”
“Don’t talk to me about what’s normal.”
“With 《Enemy Search》 you can find where the wolves are hiding, so it’s possible to attack preemptively. Taking down small fry like that is boring when you’re here.”
“Fufun. It’s nice, isn’t it.”
Tianna smiled proudly.
“Well, it is nice to be safe, but thanks to that, I feel like I’ve gotten a little rusty.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to do this absurd training. Taking down monsters with nothing more than a knuckle guard…”
“What? I kicked too.”
“So… Is Leon really so strong that you need to prepare so intensely?”
“I wouldn’t say strong… It’s a little strange.”
Nick gave a vague answer.
“Let’s put it like this, I’m pretty confident in my fighting skills. Well, not to the point where I can take down bosses with just hand-to-hand combat.”
“But Leon lured me into a two on one situation.”
“Well, two on one is pretty bad right?”
“That’s not it, I was sure there was no one around. It’s not like it was an ambush, it was more like his helper came running because he knew Leon was in trouble.”
“Ah, so that’s what’s on your mind.”
“…Now that I think about it, the first time I met Leon was strange too. When I was talking to Claudine, he had no way of knowing that I had been expelled by my party, but the moment we started talking about that, they appeared.
It was like it was transmitted to him instantaneously.”
“…I don’t know what it is, but you’re saying there’s something you need to watch out for, right?”
“Is that a problem that can be solved by practicing hand-to-hand combat?”
“I have no idea. There so much I don’t understand, so I’m moving my body and my head.”
“Do you have to move your head?”
“That’s up to Karan and Sem, not me. I asked Sem to investigate something for me, and I may have something to ask of you too.”
“Well, if you have an idea then I don’t mind, but what do you want me to do right now?”
“My body is finally warmed up, so I’m going down to the other floor. Stay here and hold down the fort.”
“You’re more of a muscle head than I thought… Be careful!”
Nick waved his hand, and Tianna looked on with an exasperated expression.
“…Ahh, I think it’s time to go back.”
Nick returned after being deep inside the labyrinth.
“You’re dripping with sweat. Here.”
“Why are you dressed like that?”
“It was hot so I took it off.”
Tianna threw a towel to Nick, who returned naked from the waist up.
“I took down about thirty of them. That’ll be some nice pocket change.”
“You have some nerve, you did that without using magic too… Wait, your arm is bleeding.”
“Ah, it’s not like I was bitten, I just scratched it on a rock.”
“Sit down, we need to stop that bleeding. And we need to ask Sem to take a look at it when we get back.”
“Yes alright. I’ll take a break and catch my breath.”
Nick sat down on a rock, and Tianna started wrapping bandages with styptic herbs around Nick’s arm. And while she was at it, she handed Nick a canteen.
“I wonder if they’re hard at work studying right now.”
“Karan and Sem? I’m sure they’re fine, Karan is an honest girl.”
“You’re right, but honest is…”
“I’m a little worried because she’s too naive.”
“You’re the leader, so that’s on you.”
“Hey hey. Don’t put that responsibility on me.”
Nick shrugged as he used the towel to wipe the sweat.
He didn’t have a thick body like muscular warriors, but his body was lean, with not a lot of fat. He had a lot of scars, as a result of his diligent training and adventuring.
Tianna felt bad about looking, and turned away. Nick wiped the sweat and put on his jacket, as his body was starting to get cold.
That was when Tianna grumbled a question.
“Do you still like that Claudine?”
“Of course not! I’m still pissed!!!”
“Ah, so you’re still mad?”
“She ripped me off and looked down on me, how could I not be mad. I want to erase my past with her altogether… Is it not the same for you, Tianna?”
Tianna had a similar dark past.
The person she saw as her boyfriend got together with another girl, and framed Tianna.
“Hmm… I guess I’m still mad. I don’t know what I would do if he appeared in front of me.”
But Tianna’s eyes showed clear anger, not a never ending obsession.
“But I don’t think I want to erase the past, or follow him to the ends of the earth just to beat him to death or anything.”
Nick thought ‘well that’s normal’, but didn’t say it.
Tianna was speaking seriously.
“I won’t forgive him for setting me up. It wasn’t just me, he caused a lot of trouble for the teachers, and I think one day I’ll absolutely make him regret it.
But I don’t really regret falling in love with someone… Rather…”
“I have to be engrossed in something. Love, playing, adventures, etc. If I graduated and married Alex… My former ex fiancee, I’d probably get tired of it and run away from home anyway.”
“I can see that. I can’t see you as a young wife at all.”
“Hey, why do you have to say something like that?”
“Eh? You’re the one that said it!”
“You’re supposed to disagree. Seriously though…”
“I don’t like your ex-girlfriend, and I hate the tiger person that’s always grinning next to her.
That’s why I got so angry, it wasn’t for you, I did it because that’s what I felt like doing.”
“Saying that in such a refreshing way actually makes me feel better.”
“If I ever saw your ex-boyfriend I’d probably want to hit him too.”
“You look like you want to do it. So…”
“Do what you want to do as well.”
“What I want to do…?”
“Of course, things like hitting nasty people, gambling, and watching an idol’s live show fit into that category, but I’m talking more about a goal in life. Do you have anything like that?”
Nick remembered his former party.
“…A goal in life…”
“Do you have something, Tianna?”
“Me? Well… I want to be a sage.”
“When you attain recognition from the sorcerer association as both a sorcerer and a scholar, they bestow upon you the title of sage.”
“Eh… So is that like an S rank adventurer?”
“Yes. Well, it’s not like the country starts paying a salary of anything, so it’s more like an honorary certification, but it would allow me to get a job in any research facility. You also get to talk face-to-face with royalty and nobility, so a lot of people are after this tile.”
“Are you after it?”
“For now, I’ve been thinking about writing essays in between adventuring and gambling. I only have a tiny little chance of being recognized by the sorcerer association so…”
“Wow… That’s out of this world.”
Nick let out a sigh of admiration.
“What? You have a chance to become an S rank adventurer too don’t you?
Don’t you know? If you get to A rank or beyond, you’re awarded a court rank, so you can become nobility.”
“Yes, I know. There’s no pay attached, but you become kind of like a celebrity here in the Labyrinth City. “
“Oh, so you knew.”
“Yes, but you’d have to be a hero to get to A or S rank.”
“Usually it just means you’re really strong, like an extension of being D or C rank. But when there’s a big outbreak of miasma, and monsters start overflowing, A or S rank adventurers lead the charge to take them down. Or maybe they capture a dangerous villain with a bounty on their head. Those kinds of adventurers that are respected by everyone in the Labyrinth City truly are heroes.”
“You know a lot about that… Are you actually aiming for A rank?”
Nick dejectedly shook his head.
“…No, not really, but…”
“I wanted to raise the rank of my former party. It wouldn’t be an impossible task either, because everyone there was an experienced warrior. They even conquered labyrinths that were said to be impossible for parties without a sorcerer, with raw power alone.”
“So if they worked diligently they could’ve gone up to A rank, or maybe even S rank. I wanted our leader to get more recognition from the rest of the world.”
Before Nick knew it, his usual vulgar way of speaking was gone.
“My parents were merchants, and traveled from town to town. Ever since I can remember, I walked through all sorts of places with them, but one day, they were killed by thieves. It was Argus who helped take those murderers down, the leader of All Martial Arts.
Afterwards, he took a useless little kid like me and taught me how to fight and how to be an adventurer.”
“Is that so…”
“I wanted to repay my debt to him, and I thought I could compensate compensate for what All Martial Arts was lacking.
No, I really think I was succeeding in doing that, but…”
Nick didn’t finish the sentence.
“…So, do you regret that?”
“Working so hard for that Argus. Do you think it would’ve been better to not do anything?”
“No… I don’t know about that.”
Nick frowned, and after a while, he shook his head.
“Maybe it was all for my own self-satisfaction, but I don’t know if I didn’t accomplish anything.
We had our disagreements, and in the end, I was expelled, but I think I needed to do something for someone else.”
“Well, now I want to be better than them! I look forward to the day when I make that idiot regret what he did!”
Said Nick with a smile, to which Tianna smiled back.
“That’s nice, I think it’s good to get back at them like that. Become an A or S rank adventurer and show them you were right. It’s really interesting to think about you as a hero of this city.”
“…That sounds good.”
“That’s the spirit.”
“I’m going to need you to work hard without holding anything back too.”
“Yes yes, but this time, it’s all about you. Do your best.”
Nick turned away and scratched his head. It seemed like it had hit a nerve, and Tianna looked on, thinking it was amusing.