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When Tsutomu and the Silver Beast team reappeared in the Guild building, they found that things were quite chaotic all around them. There was a myriad of unpleasant smells in the air, and officers wearing uniforms with the House Babenberg crest were carrying people away. Maids were also gathered around here, cleaning the floor.
“What the hell? What happened here?”
Tsutomu covered his nose with his sleeve and looked around, then he happened to see a familiar face — Guild Master Camille, today with her long red hair tied into a ponytail.
“Camille, did something happen?”
“…Oh, Tsutomu. It’s nothing big, really — just an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
Camille turned to Tsutomu with a slightly tired expression. She proceeded to point at the Monitor inside the Guild building.
“You know how Sir Melchor’s been fighting on layer eighty by himself?”
“Yes. And now that you mention it, I don’t see him on the Pedestal anymore. Did he win?”
“He… did not, actually. He ran out of time,” Camille said, holding up two fingers like a pair of scissors cutting a thread.
“…Ah. I see.”
Tsutomu nodded, understanding what she meant. He had heard that one could stay in God’s Dungeon for only up to 24 hours at a time; any longer than that, and a rain of black mass would start falling and crush them to death. Melchor had fought against the Winter General for 24 hours straight, but since he had gone in without adequate preparation, he ran out of magic stones and thus could not defeat the enemy in time.
“Well, Sir Melchor didn’t seem to know that that’s a thing. When he came back here, he was angry at that perceived unfairness and started releasing a powerful aura — on top of the fighting spirit that’s still going strong after fighting for a whole day. Even the gatekeeper was scared. Fortunately, no one was injured since he did not get physical… but, yeah, it still was a disaster.”
“Well, that’s… interesting.”
“Everyone was too scared to explain that black rain thing to him, so in the end, I had to do it. I must say… that was a valuable experience.”
Camille’s hands were shaking, perhaps still affected by Melchor’s raging aura. Melchor, who had learned that he had been sent back to the Guild due to a set rule of God’s Dungeon, had apologized to everyone and returned home immediately. A group of nobility-employed officers and maids had then been sent in to help out the people who had fainted, wet themselves, or vomited, and also cleaned up the mess in the area — which made for quite a rare sight.
“First the Fire Dragon, then the Devourer Dragon, and now Sir Melchor… You seem to have a knack for dealing with scary things.”
Tsutomu narrowed his eyes a little nostalgically, seemingly reminded of the Fire Dragon that he had fought against alongside Camille.
“And it looks like you don’t have to worry about being terrified like when we fought the Fire Dragon, either.”
“…Thanks to SOMEONE AROUND HERE, I had to correct a bunch of journalists that I in fact DID NOT wet my pants back then. That’s gotta make it difficult for me to find another dad for my kid, y’know? Maybe SOMEONE AROUND HERE should take responsibility for that…”
Tsutomu scratched his head awkwardly as Camille quite non-subtly threw shade at him.
“What? No way. You’ll be fine.”
“Maybe, but SOMEONE AROUND HERE could make things easier for me, y’know?”
With Camille looking somewhat serious as she said that, Tsutomu had to avert his gaze to dodge the question.
For Tsutomu personally, Japan was still the place he belonged, not here. If there was a way for him to return, then he would definitely go, so he did not want to get too close to anyone in this world.
However, if he were to not find a way back after conquering the hundredth layer and perhaps the Secret Dungeon after it, he would not have much of a problem choosing this world as his new reality, either. As such, he could not bring himself to outright brush off Camille’s goodwill.
Camille was surprised to see how ambiguous Tsutomu’s reaction was, but she quickly walked closer to him and lowered her voice,
“…Tsutomu, do you have anything you’re keeping to yourself? Something you can’t talk to anyone about — not even me, Amy, and Garm?”
Tsutomu, startled by Camille’s sudden approach and question, took a few steps back. Then he proceeded to say with a bitter expression on his face,
“…I guess I do.”
“…Is that so? Well, I won’t pry,” Camille said, looking genuinely worried, then she took a few steps back herself to give Tsutomu some space and placed her hands on his shoulders. “But I’d appreciate it if you could open up someday. I do want to know more about you, Tsutomu — and I’m sure your friends like Amy and Garm do as well.”
“Even when you think there’s no one to help you, remember that you can always count on me.”
Perhaps it would be easier for him to go ahead and talk about it — that he had suddenly been transported here from another world, that he had been playing a game that closely resembled God’s Dungeon… and that he was trying to conquer the Dungeon so that he could find a way to send himself home. He felt that the three of them would understand.
But Tsutomu was scared of the possibility of them not cooperating with him. He did not have the power to fight through God’s Dungeon alone, so if he were to lose his allies, he might also forever lose all his chances of finding a way home.
“Well, there are still some things to take care of, so I have to go now. Mind if I drop by your Clan House when I have the time?”
“…No, you’re welcome anytime.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you later.”
Camille smiled before walking away towards the people who were cleaning up. Tsutomu was, if he were to be honest, relieved and quite grateful that Camille did not decide to delve any further into the topic.
“Woo-hoo! Way to go, man!”
“Wait, Tsutomu… What were you talking with the Guild Master about!?”
“Shut up. It was nothing.”
After taking a little bit of teasing from the Silver Beast team that had been waiting nearby, Tsutomu checked the time on a nearby Monitor and hurried back to the Clan House.
When Tsutomu got back to the Clan House, he was Weiss, dressed in his trademark black, standing there and just about to ring the doorbell. After exchanging a brief greeting, Tsutomu agreed to walk with Weiss.
Along the way, Weiss glanced at Tsutomu a few times, seemingly wanting to say something but in the end keeping his mouth shut. Those who were familiar enough with Weiss would also know that this was simply a quirk of his personality, but Tsutomu had barely interacted with him before, and as such only knew him as one of the Explorers who possessed a unique skill.
“What is it?”
With Tsutomu looking him in the eye, Weiss briefly averted his gaze, coming off as suspicious to the former — but once again, it was just the way he was. And then, after about ten seconds, he finally replied,
“…I’d like to ask for your forgiveness on Alma’s behalf.”
“I’d prefer that she does it herself — just an apology is enough, nothing else.”
Tsutomu had been angry at Alma for one particular reason: the way she had ignored him after popularizing his former nickname of ‘Lucky Boy,’ which resulted in him being ostracized by good-for-nothing Explorers. However, after seeing Alma being scolded by her comrades in the Volcano layers, Tsutomu’s anger had subsided, and by now, he no longer held a grudge against her.
[…How long are they going to be hung up on this fiasco, anyway?]
Still, that did not actually fix the actual issue between them, so even now, he still wanted to avoid interacting with her if possible. As such, if only Alma were to come and apologize, he would accept it and let the relationship between them move on in a positive direction.
A part of him hated himself for staying so salty about what had long passed, but still, he wanted to believe that his attitude towards such things had improved at least a little. Back when Live Dungeon was still active, whenever members of his Clan were killed as a result of being unfairly dragged into PvP situations, he would remember all the assailants’ usernames and repeatedly ambush them whenever they logged in, driving them to eventually quit. Indeed, he was a less spiteful person now compared to back then.
Eventually, Tsutomu arrived at the Scarlet Devil Squad’s Clan House and was led to a guest room inside. When prompted by Weiss to take a seat, he proceeded to sit in a chair across from the former, and a moment later, a young woman walked into the room.
It was Alma, her long black hair let loose. Her expression was perfectly normal, with not a trace of the deranged look that she had during the incident on the Monitor. Recently, she had gone back to wielding the Black Staff as she explored the Dungeon with her comrades, and had begun to smile again.
Tsutomu, upon seeing what she was holding in her hands, almost let out a sigh of exasperation.
“You’re still keeping it with you all the time?”
“…No. This thing doesn’t control me anymore.”
“Really…? I find that hard to believe. Didn’t you even mention to one of the news outlets that you’d hold it even when you sleep? Might’ve sounded cute out of context, but still…”
Alma was indeed holding the Black Staff quite firmly. In response to Tsutomu’s statement, her hands trembled slightly as she sat down next to Weiss. Tsutomu straightened up his posture and composed himself.
“So, since you went out of your way to invite me here today, what is the apology for this time?” Tsutomu asked, making no effort to sugarcoat his words.
“…Everything,” Alma replied and placed the Black Staff on the table, then she slowly lowered her head. “I’m sorry for everyone that has happened. After an agreement among the whole Clan, it was decided that this staff should be returned to you. Here’s the legal document, signed by all Scarlet Devil Squad members.”
After apologizing, Alma offered the Black Staff to Tsutomu. Weiss, the Clan leader, finalized the document by pricking his finger with a needle and stamping his blood onto the paper. He then turned to Tsutomu and nodded.
Tsutomu knit his brows, looking displeased as he took the document. Then, after confirming that the document indeed concerned the transferring of the Black Staff’s ownership from Scarlet Devil Squad to Absolute Helix, he picked up the Black Staff that had been placed on the table.
Now that it was in his hand, the Black Staff glowed and sparkled due to the effect of the embedded Treasure Tools that took effect only on White Mages. This Black Staff was one of the strongest of the things crafted from the materials of the first hundred layers — and the thing Tsutomu had spent many hours of his high school years working towards.
But then Tsutomu groaned and placed the Black Staff back on the table.
“I don’t want it.”
Alma blinked in disbelief at Tsutomu’s indifferent response.
“I don’t need it, so I won’t take it. Just the apology was enough. If you want to get rid of it, you should auction it off at the Guild instead. Ealdred Crow or someone else will probably pay more for it than what you paid me last time.”
Now Alma forgot to even blink as she stared at Tsutomu in disbelief, and eventually, she was able to bring herself to ask,
“…You HAVE used it once already, right?”
“The staff. During the Stampede — Weiss told me.”
“…Ah, that did happen, yes.”
“Then you should understand! It’s ridiculous how strong it is! If you use it, Absolute Helix would definitely win on layer eighty! So why won’t you take it!?”
Anyone who got a taste of its absurd power was sure to understand, and as such, Alma thought Tsutomu had also felt the same sense of invincibility she had whenever wielded it — which was why she expected him to accept the Black Staff without question.
But now, it was apparent that Tsutomu saw it as nothing but another tool. And his smoldering grudge against Alma had long ended after he saw what its power had done to her.
“The point is that we don’t really NEED it — we’ll be able to manage with the equipment and training we have by the time we try. Don’t worry about your Clan continuing to use it; there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“…What’s wrong with you!? You actually want it, right!? We’re giving it to you with no strings attached, you know!”
As Alma started going on a rant, Tsutomu heaved a deep sigh and then turned to Weiss.
“Sorry, Weiss, I should get going. I already got the official apology I came here for, so I wouldn’t want to overstay my welcome.”
“…Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Excuse me.”
After Tsutomu stepped out of the room, he took a moment to look back, and saw that Alma was staring at the Black Staff.
[This is depressing…]
Although she was much more bearable now, it was apparent that a part of her was still dependent on the Black Staff — a fact that Tsutomu saw as quite unfortunate.