It had been twenty years since the beginning of Diniel’s journey. Having lived in her home forest for eighty years until her body was decently developed, she had been alive in this world for a total of one hundred years — exactly the age at which she would be considered a full-fledged adult among Elves.
The reason for Diniel’s departure from her Elf settlement at the age of eighty was simple: her parents had told her to go outside instead of lazing around all day at home. With both her parents telling her to go, she reluctantly prepared for her journey. Still, there was one person in particular that she had always been genuinely interested in — an Elf known as the Forest Sage, who had single handedly boosted the reputation of Elves among other races with the quality of their medicine. As such, once she was out on her way with the funds and tools from her parents, the very first thing she did was to pay a visit to a certain Potion shop, the Forest Apothecary.
She had initially intended to study the art of Potion-making at the Forest Apothecary, but feeling that something was not right, she ended up opting to wander around instead. Around the fourteen-year mark was when she first caught wind of the mysterious emergence of God’s Dungeon within Dungeon City. After which, she switched to casually exploring the Dungeon’s layers. It was during this time that she met an Aureum Lycanthrope, a rare species of wolf-humans that was said to have gone extinct, who asked if she would like to join his clan, an invitation that she accepted.
As such, Diniel was considered a veteran Explorer who had been exploring God’s Dungeon for six years. During her first encounter with the Fire Dragon on layer sixty, her hands had trembled out of pure reflex — a similar reaction to what she faced on her very first hunt. It was at least the second most powerful monster she had ever known at the time, the ones in the other Dungeons included.
But then, an even stronger monster appeared to attack Dungeon City: the Devourer Dragon, the mysterious creature that had eaten most of the Stampede. It busted through the nobility’s powerful magical barrier — a first in the city’s history — and caused tremendous damage. Diniel, having been on the front lines at the time, got the despair of that moment etched in her mind.
She had good eyesight from her years of hunting, and was able to see the Devourer Dragon still writhing its way forward after it was thought to already be dead, exhausted from destroying the barrier. The sight of it was something that even Diniel, who had lived for a hundred years, found terrifying.
Her legs had become so weak that she couldn’t even stand up, and she had stopped thinking completely. When Diniel perceived that she was about to die, a certain person came down from the sky to her.
“Come on, we shouldn’t stay out here in front, Diniel! Are you alright?”
While everyone was too shocked to move, a single person was still in control — Tsutomu, a person who could not be much older than twenty… and a human, whose race had a life expectancy of about sixty years.
That young man was the one to help her out of the situation, evacuating her and the others to the rear lines. And after that, Diniel watched on as Tsutomu took an active role in finally defeating the Devourer Dragon.
…Was what Diniel truly felt about Tsutomu. Having heard her close friend Amy brag so much about him so often, she had refrained from taking said stories at face value. Her impression of Tsutomu during the time he was instructing Golden Tune was also quite normal. She had expected to meet a man of many creative ideas, but the real him was not that big of a deal… or so she had thought up until the Devourer Dragon incident.
As things stood now, Tsutomu was the individual Diniel considered the ‘strangest’ so far. The definition of the longest-lived of the Elves, the Forest Sage who was known for passing on the methods of Potion-making to other Elves, was understandable when looked at from an Elf’s perspective. But in Tsutomu’s case, he could not be much older than twenty, yet he had played a key role in defeating the Devourer Dragon — that was what was shocking for Diniel. That was why, when Amy had suggested that she join Tsutomu’s clan, she immediately resigned from Golden Tune.
All in all, Diniel’s motivations boiled down to two things: Tsutomu was an interesting target of her observation, and he had saved her life once. Moreover, he had been living rent-free in her close friend’s head for some time… so Diniel had figured it would be best to act friendly for the clout factor, but his reactions so far were unfavorable no matter what she tried. Perhaps it had something to do with her voice; despite the different actions and words, she had not changed her tone at all, having figured it was too much of a hassle.
“All right, shall we get going?” Tsutomu asked both of the participants.
Amira stood up and glared at Diniel as if she was her archenemy. Diniel proceeded to briefly stare right back, then look away as if she did not care at all.
Her reaction caused Amira to turn red with rage, but Diniel did in fact not care much for her, seeing her as not much more than a troublemaker. To Diniel, Amira’s only point of interest was her unique skill <<Dragon Form>>, which the Guild Master also had access to, and as such, was not quite as unique and interesting.
After Tsutomu managed to calm Amira down, the group went to register for a four-member party at the reception, and then lined up to use the Magic Circles. Lunchtime was when a great number of spectators would gather in front of Monitors, so Explorers aiming to show off would go into the Dungeon during this period. Naturally, the Guild was crowded with people.
Currently, the main topic of discussion among spectators was about Scarlet Devil Squad and Ealdred Crow. The former was down to layer sixty-nine, while the latter was at sixty-seven — a difference of just two layers, considering that layers sixty-eight and sixty-nine had no extra-tough or special monsters to speak of.
A point worth noting was that it had taken Ealdred Crow only a few days to get past the Bolseyer, while Scarlet Devil Squad had struggled with it before then.
The leader of Scarlet Devil Squad was Weiss, known for possessing a unique skill and sometimes recognized by his nickname ‘Red Spellblader’. Another one of their popular members was Alma, known for the off-the-charts firepower of her <<Meteor>>-type magic skills.
Lately, however, members of Ealdred Crow have been gaining popularity as well. The obvious one was Rook, with his unusual Job as Summoner, who had played a prominent role during the Stampede. Then there was Bittman, competing for the position of strongest Tank in the people’s minds; Sova, a multi-weapon wielder inspired in style by Weiss; and Stephanie, a skilled Healer sporting an iconic yellow dress.
Until now, these types of individuals from Ealdred Crow had had difficulties getting popular, but the introduction of the three-role party composition had helped them become more recognized, little by little. One of the reasons was the Dungeon Maniacs’ propagation of the three-role composition idea, but the actual big reason was that those particular people were easily recognized on the screens by the spectators.
From a watcher’s point of view, Attackers were easy to understand: the more monsters they killed, the more awesome they looked on the screens. People with flashy unique skills tended to be more popular as a result — because they had more exciting things to show off. The old approach to the Healer role, however, was not exactly something the audience would understand. In the spectators’ eyes, all a Healer would do was hide from battle until someone died, after which they would pop up to revive their ally… then get killed off by the subsequent attacks from the monsters.
Nowadays in Ealdred Crow’s case, however, Tanks and Healers often got to play active roles. A Tank could stay standing no matter how many attacks they blocked. A Healer could pull a party back together even if two or three members died, turning a hopeless situation right back around. Those showcases by Ealdred Crow were easily digested by the audience, and as a result, the people involved gained more popularity for themselves.
The more popular someone got with the spectators, the higher the earnings they could potentially get from sponsors. The tangible results of their achievements would serve to motivate newcomers, and also give hope to those who had given up in the past due to the Attacker being the only viable role before. All of that added up and contributed to the attraction of new Explorers — in fact, the number of non-Attacker Explorers has been increasing as of late.
Another recently popular group was somewhat of a dark horse in the scene: the Silver Beast, which had implemented the three-role composition into their strategies, and made it through layer sixty after a fierce battle against the Fire Dragon. The three-role composition was starting to take over the Explorer scene like a wave, and it was up to the individual Explorers to choose to ride it or be swept along. Either way, the Guild’s business was sure to thrive as a result.
Diniel prepared for the match by reaching into the cylindrical Magic Bag on her shoulder, to make sure that she could properly retrieve the arrows she wanted from it. Being the most experienced Explorer among the members of Absolute Helix, she had naturally fought many Rotten Swordsmen before — much more than Hannah had, in fact.
Tsutomu, Amira, Diniel, and Daryl walked up to the Magic Circles once one was available. Hannah was the one to stay behind this time. Tsutomu had told her she could just go back to the Clan House first, but she insisted on waiting at the Guild.
[I wanna switch places with her…]
Diniel, while getting ready for battle, thought to herself how she would have gladly agreed to go back home if the choice was up to her. As she nocked a red arrow, Tsutomu issued the teleportation command and specified the destination layer. The next moment, Diniel’s vision blacked out and switched on again…
And then she immediately let loose the arrow at the Rotten Swordsman. The arrow, dyed in deep red, struck the monster’s helmet. As the Rotten Swordsman staggered, Diniel ran ahead and accurately hit it with more red arrows.
The elemental red arrows Diniel used were special in that they were embedded with Inferno Magic Stones, a type newly discovered on the Volcano layers, which packed more power than the Fire Magic Stones.
One after another, blindingly fast red arrows buffeted the Rotten Swordsman like a barrage of laser beams. Its helmet was starting to dent all over, and already had three holes in it as the metal melted away.
Diniel dashed in even closer and prepared a heavier arrow, then shot it into one of the holes in the helmet. Then she did it again. The two arrows struck the monster’s eye sockets and pierced through its head.
Once the Rotten Swordsman was down on the ground, Diniel stepped on its neck and aimed a shot at its head where the brain would be. Then she let loose a red arrow at almost point-blank range, destroying the monster’s head with scorching heat and rendering it immobile. Once Tsutomu saw its body starting to turn into light, he noted down the time.
Daryl was utterly dumbfounded at just how fast that was, and Amira was barely able to refrain from showing a reaction. It was not even a full minute, and without using a single skill, no less. All Diniel had needed to do was use the right arrows to match her enemy’s elemental weakness. It was likely impossible for Amira to get a better time than this, even if she were to use <<Dragon Form>>.
After a few seconds, two more Rotten Swordsmen spawned, with Amira and Diniel taking on one each. Diniel used various types of elemental arrows to get a feel for them, while Amira fought as hard as she could to see if she could kill her target quickly. In the end, it took Amira five minutes, causing her to grit her teeth in frustration.