The Explorers, basking in the rush of their victory over the Devourer Dragon, returned to the city to see the security and medical staff cleaning the aftermath of everything. Collapsed buildings and dead bodies were all over the place, and the injured were being either transported away or treated on the spot. It was only then that Tsutomu realized just how many casualties there were.
Most of the corpses laid under white cloth were beginner and intermediate Explorers who had declined to comply with the evacuation request. There were some high-level Explorers among them as well, unlucky to be hit by the flying debris and weapons on their heads and other vital parts on which Divine Blessing had a weaker effect. The bodies of those Explorers, less mutilated because of their VIT being higher than the average, were left lying with their faces exposed so that they could be easily identified.
Things were even uglier for the civilians who had not evacuated. Many of them smashed against walls with such force that they burst into pieces, while others had been crushed and mangled by the collapsing buildings. Most corpses were so disfigured that they had to be completely covered with white cloth — the ones that still had their heads intact could even be considered lucky.
Underneath those clothes were unorganized placements of mostly arms, legs, and torsos. One girl who had miraculously survived the disaster came over to search through the mess for at least a part of her mother. Tsutomu grimaced at the direct sight of so many parts of what used to be living, breathing people.
The unlucky high-level Explorers aside, these deaths could have been prevented if they had only evacuated. It was obvious that they would die; they had paid for their mistake — was what a spiteful person would think, which Tsutomu did for a fraction of a second, and he felt as if he was stabbing himself in the chest. The rest of the time, all he had in his mind was regret; he wished he could have done better to help.
During the battle, the medical unit had worked without fear of the Devourer Dragon’s roars to treat the severely injured, who surely would have died otherwise. Thanks to such quick decision-making, many lives have been saved. Still, that did not mean absolutely everyone had been saved, since among the body count, well over a hundred were ultimately barely injured but still dead. No one was sure if they should, or could even, be happy that they had managed to limit the total damage caused by the Devourer Dragon.
“Hurry, bring my mom back to life!” The girl shouted to the medical unit. She had found her mother’s head in the pile of bodies, and was holding it up with her hands.
“…We can’t do that.”
“Huh? Why not? Come on, bring her back! Aren’t you all magic doctors? I’ve seen the things you can do! You were always there to help mom before!”
“We’re sorry. It’s impossible… We’re sorry.”
“Liar! You’re all liars!”
All of the medical staff cast their eyes down, avoiding eye contact. Those who died in God’s Dungeon could be brought back to life with <<Raise>>, but that skill would have no effect elsewhere.
Once the fact sank in that resurrection was impossible, the girl broke down sobbing, still holding her mother’s head. The child’s cries echoed through the air. Indeed, this was not at all a situation in which one could let loose and rejoice.
The celebrating people returning from the front lines, including Tsutomu in front of them, found themselves immediately disheartened, but still proceeded to help clean up the battlefield. They moved collapsed buildings out of the way, cleared away the rubble, and checked to see if there were any people stuck inside. They did eventually find some survivors, but the majority of the bodies they found were lifeless.
Once the group was done searching for people under piles of rubble, they had the Shell Crab, restored to its full health with <<Heal>>, use its giant pincers like a piece of heavy-duty machinery to lift up and sort the debris. The Fire Dragon also carried some smaller pieces with its mouth.
While the work was going on, Tsutomu checked the faces of each of the deceased Explorers. In the end, he was somewhat relieved to not find anyone he knew. Unfortunately, Garm and Amy had to spend a few moments to mourn silently, since they did find that some of their acquaintances and friends had passed.
The battlefield clean-up proceeded under a solemn atmosphere, and before long, the reddish sky started to darken. Regardless, stopping work was not an option; if corpses were left unattended, flies would soon come to lay eggs in them, in turn causing a maggot outbreak. The decomposition would also cause indirect damage such as bad stench and infection.
Light balls were conjured to be set up around the area to ensure visibility. Tsutomu stayed to help while still holding on to the Black Staff, until…
“Give it back!!”
He was suddenly assaulted by a screech, prompting him to stop his rubble removal work out of surprise. Where the voice was coming from, Alma, while being held down by Weiss, was crying out in unbridled rage.
“Give it back, you thief! You can’t do this to me!! It’s mine! Give it back! GIVE IT BACK!!”
Alma thrashed about in a futile attempt to break free. Tsutomu, spooked by how uncannily dramatic Alma’s expression was, looked at the Black Staff in his hands. While it may have originally been his, and its enhancements worked only for White Mages, he had indeed sold it off to the Scarlet Devil Squad in an official transaction.
“Give it back! GIVE IT BACK!!”
“…Sorry for subjecting your ears to this,” Weiss quickly apologized.
“It’s all right. Here.”
Tsutomu, taking no particular offense with this tantrum, handed the Back Staff over to Alma. Immediately upon being released by Weiss, Alma hugged the staff and crouched down on the ground.
“This is mine… all mine…” Alma muttered incoherently, budging not an inch from her spot. From the looks of it, she was so relieved to have the staff back in her hands that tears streamed down her face.
While Tsutomu was taken aback by Alma’s display of abnormal obsession, Weiss approached him and whispered,
“If Alma gives you any trouble later, let me know. I’m sure she’ll leave you alone if I threaten to take that Black Staff from her, though…”
“Ah… yes, I understand. Sounds like you’ve been having a hard time as well.”
“…Sometimes I think she shouldn’t have bought it at all.”
Weiss cast his eyes down, looking somewhat sad, before escorting Alma away. Tsutomu watched them go, while disappointed that not much talk had actually happened between him and Weiss.
And so, the clean-up work continued, a while after which the Explorers were allowed to return home.
“Now go get all the rest you need, boys and girls,” Bruno said.
“All right,” the Explorers answered before going their separate ways, silently returning home like defeated soldiers, devastated by all the losses. It was unheard of for a Stampede to cause this much damage under House Babenberg’s rule of Dungeon City.
“…And Tsutomu, you’ve done everything the best you could. Don’t be so harsh on yourself.”
“…Yes,” Tsutomu nodded to Bruno’s words of encouragement before heading back into Dungeon City, leaving the Security Team and the soldiers to finish up the work.
Amy, Garm, Camille, and the other Guild staff did not speak a word as they walked in a group with Tsutomu. The joy they had felt over their victory over the Devourer Dragon was already all gone. The evacuated people, seeing the Explorers returning in such low spirits, anxiously started talking to them.
From the civilians’ perspective, especially with no updates from the front lines, the barrier suddenly disappearing, and the ensuing explosions and roars, had been quite horrific. They had been so scared that they holed themselves up in their homes or buildings.
“Miss Camille! What in the world happened!?”
“Guild Master! Do you know anything about the barrier disappearing!?”
The people, desperate to know what had gone down, flocked to Camille, the person they knew well as the local Guild Master. Camille gestured for the others to go on ahead, and began to tell the civilians what had happened.
“All right, we’ll be going this way.”
“See you later.”
The Guild staff headed back to the Guild Dormitory, while Tsutomu dragged his feet back to the inn. With a downcast face, he greeted the reception, entered his room, threw himself onto his bed, and fell asleep.
The Stampede damage clean-up and reconstruction proceeded at a rapid pace. Most of the rubble had been cleared, blood had been washed away, and the Devourer Dragon’s mangled remains had been relocated elsewhere. The Labyrinth Conquerors had also returned from the north, their numbers reduced.
The bodies of the deceased were returned to their families or relatives, and a large-scale funeral service was held… And the blame game immediately followed, with House Babenberg being the first to take the brunt of it. They apologized for the barrier’s breach, and guaranteed financial aid and housing for the families and relatives of the deceased. Moreover, they had to answer to the Royal Capital once word of the incident inevitably got out.
Dungeon City’s populace turned against the news outlets and heavily criticized House Babenberg. A minor riot broke out among the bereaved families and a few surviving citizens. However, there were no casualties among the civilians and Explorers who had either followed the high alert order or complied with the last-minute evacuation request.
The only civilian deaths were from those who had refused to follow both warnings — and the disgruntled Explorers exposed the facts as such one they had had enough. As such, the rioters, whether it be those who suffered losses or the people who had joined to take advantage of the situation, were promptly shut down.
House Babenberg, despite taking a hit to their reputation in Dungeon City, did not suffer nearly as much in the Royal Capital. This went to show how trusted House Babenberg’s barrier magic was, and moreover, the other powerful barrier magic-specializing household had nothing to gain from undermining House Babenberg.
In fact, the other notable noble household, which was proud to be in charge of protecting the Royal Capital, did not want to be transferred over to run Dungeon City in House Babenberg’s stead. There also existed other noble households that could handle barrier magic, but House Babenberg was far better at their craft than every single one of them, being an almost even match with the protectors of the Royal Capital.
The difference that set them apart, however, was that House Babenberg had the ability to alter the nature of their barrier magic, making them highly versatile. Furthermore, in the thirty years since the current head of the house took over, their barrier had never been breached. Their well-known track record was not affected all too much by this one incident.
As such, House Babenberg did not receive much flak from the higher ruling power, and in fact, many sympathized with them, if only because of the perceived number of monsters they had had to defend against. In the end, the Royal Capital provided them with assistance with the rebuilding efforts in the form of Gold and manpower, all free of charge.
After house Babenberg, the organizations that came under the most fire were the Labyrinth Conquerors and the nobility’s military force. Detractors argued that this Stampede had intensified so much because these two organizations had neglected to cull out the Dungeons’ monster populations beforehand.
Though, it was a fact that those two organizations alone had never had enough manpower to do the job in the first place. In the past, it was not just them regularly sweeping the Dungeons; the regular Explorers had done so as well. That was why the Stampedes before now had been of a much smaller scale.
However, after the emergence of God’s Dungeon, most Explorers had stopped going to the other Dungeons, in turn greatly slowing the process of thinning out the monsters within them. Up until that point, the Labyrinth Conquerors and the military force had had to deal with just the less popular Dungeons, but after the change, they had found themselves responsible for the rest of the Dungeons as well.
The issue of their lack of manpower became more and more apparent as a result, and the Stampedes started to intensify with each passing year since. The problem had been brought to attention a few years in, but the people’s indifference and the nobility’s negligence meant nothing much had been done to help matters. The organizations had been left looking out for themselves, and months and years of things worsening culminated in the Devourer Dragon incident.
As such, the responsibility ultimately was on those who had been complacent about the threat of Stampedes. The same could be said for the general populace, who had been wholly lured by the entertainment value of the monitor footage showing the Explorers go through God’s Dungeon, thus keeping those Explorers building their careers around that specific economy. A more specific explanation for this was they had once protested, and successfully prevented, the nobility’s attempt to introduce a certain law — a law that would have made it mandatory for Explorers to periodically assist in clearing out all the other Dungeons.
Once all the past information was considered, the criticisms toward the Labyrinth Conquerors and the military quickly died down. House Babenberg proceeded to publicly hold an official statement of apology, and also introduced the previously rejected legislation.
From now on, all Explorers were tasked with the thinning out of monsters in all Dungeons. With that said, all available information would be provided by the Labyrinth Conquerors and cross-checked with the regular Explorers’ layer progress records, so as to make the process as easy as possible going forward. Alternatively, one could pay a certain amount of G to contribute to the efforts, and in doing so, be exempt from combat duties. The amount for that exemption was quite high, however, and Major Clans with greater financial power would not have access to that option, since they had to be in combat for the sake of putting on a show for the people.
With the storm of controversies out of the way, the criticisms largely ceased, and Dungeon City’s reconstruction proceeded steadily. It took a while, but the scars from the Stampede were beginning to heal.
About a month after the Stampede, the nobility decided to hold a small victory banquet for all the organizations that had participated.
During this time, most were not in the mood for exploring God’s Dungeon if they could help it, so all organizations gladly accepted the invitation.
Tsutomu was invited as well, as one of the Guild’s representatives. He wore his usual white robe, freshly cleaned, and headed to the nobility’s residence.
Seeing Camille in her black dress and Garm and Amy in their Guild uniforms made Tsutomu feel a little self-conscious, but then he was relieved to learn that most other Explorers were in their usual gear. Upon entering the designated mansion, he was led to the hall.
Representatives of the major Clans and the Security Teams were already there, talking and eating as if the party had already started. The overall atmosphere here was slack and somewhat noisy, feeling as if it was not hosted by the nobility at all.
Amy leaped straight to the fish dishes, and Garm, upon seeing the whole roasted Shell Crab, immediately ran over to it. Camille was going to converse with the nobility crowd first, so Tsutomu was left alone; he decided to walk over to the Shell Crab as well, and looked up at it.
The Shell Crab smelled delicious, and was quite popular with all the hungry people around it. A butler served Tsutomu a slice of the Crab’s meat on a plate, which the latter stared hard at.
[So this is what the biggest contributor gets in the end, huh…]
The Shell Crab had played a decently active role during the battle against the elemental Dragons, and its acting as a decoy against the Devourer Dragon was pivotal to the defending force’s final victory. Additionally, its giant pincers and inexhaustible supply of stamina had contributed greatly to the reconstruction efforts. Despite the daily cost of Colorless Magic Stones required to keep it active, this Shell Crab had been kept in use the longest of all the summoned monsters.
Once most of the construction work was done, however, the supply of Magic Stones was cut off, and the Shell Crab finally went silent and still like an unplugged machine. The Summoner who had summoned it was still crying… while eating its meat. Tsutomu tried taking a bite, and it turned out to be so delicious that his cheeks naturally puffed up. He proceeded to eat the rest of it with heartfelt gratitude, thankful for its splendid contributions in every step of the way.
At one point during the meal, Tsutomu was approached by Stephanie and Eunice, the former in a yellow dress, and the latter in red.
“Hello there, Mister Tsutomu.”
Stephanie’s dress was her usual one, so Tsutomu did not question it, but this was his first time seeing Eunice in this getup.
[I wonder how her dress works…]
Tsutomu looked at Eunice, wondering particularly about how her fox tail fit in there. The latter spun around once and made quite a self-satisfied look on her face.
“Hmph, so now you wanna stare at me, huh?”
“Say, Stephanie, you were friends with… her?”
“W-well, yes. I actually was asking her some things about you — and as I’ve been told, she was your first student, wasn’t she?”
“Wait, you think I don’t have friends or what!? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Eunice, I’d prefer that you stopped spreading misinformation — my first student is Lorena over at Silver Beast. You’re the second person I’ve taught… but in terms of skill, you’re dead last out of all three. How about you be more polite to Lorena and Stephanie here, hmm?”
“W-what’s up with your attitude today!? That smug is all over your face!”
As Eunice started throwing a tantrum, Stephanie put a hand over her own mouth and chuckled. After that, Tsutomu made some small talk with Stephanie while continuing to taunt Eunice.
“I’ve seen all the amazing things you’ve done during the Stampede, Mister Tsutomu. I am ashamed to admit, I had underestimated your competency before then.”
“Huh? Uh, okay?”
“After all, your abilities truly shone through during those large-scale battles, out in the open… But one day, I will surpass you, even if only during smaller-scale conflicts in God’s Dungeon. Just you wait and see — I won’t disappoint you, Mister Tsutomu.”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
Tsutomu, not quite understanding Stephanie’s intention behind her declaration, felt that they were on completely different wavelengths, but still considered it a good thing since she sounded motivated enough. Contrary to the latter’s assessment, however, Tsutomu felt that he was not that great at large-scale raids, and was more comfortable managing parties within God’s Dungeon’s five-member limit. He was not about to let Stephanie surpass him so easily, but refrained from stating it to her since it would ruin the celebratory mood.
“Okay, I’ll admit it too — you were awesome,” Eunice added.
“…What is wrong with you!? I call discrimination! You’re discriminating against the Beastkin!”
“My FIRST student is a Conykin, though… And besides, some of my best friends are Beastkins!”
“…Then you’re discriminating against us Vulpeer! I’ll have you answer to the court of law for this!”
With Eunice getting particularly salty with Tsutomu’s attitude toward her, Stephanie stepped in to console her with a pat on the head.
Tsutomu decided to go elsewhere, leaving Eunice in Stephanie’s care. First, he went around to greet Leon, Rook, and Weiss. All of their Clans seemed to be getting back into gear, and as Tsutomu was told by the leaders themselves, they would start exploring God’s Dungeon again soon. The major Clans had been culling the other Dungeons’ monster populations over the past month, and the job was expected to take another month or so.
Meanwhile, Amy seemed to be having a blast of a time chowing down fish while talking with the Golden Tune girls. Garm conversed within his circle of Tank acquaintances. And at one point, Weiss went over to invite him again, only to receive the usual rejection. Tsutomu watched on as those interactions played out, while he himself sat away from the big groups to take a breather… but then the three most prominent members of House Babenberg approached him.
“Mister Tsutomu,” the head of the house greeted.
“…Yes, sir,” Tsutomu replied and nodded firmly, seeing that the other person clearly wished to have a serious conversation.
“We thank you again for protecting the people when we were unable to,” the head of the house said and bowed, and his two children did so as well.
House Babenberg had already issued public apologies to the people and all organizations involved. Tsutomu, endorsed by many as the biggest contributor during the Stampede, had also previously received an official apology and some compensation. Despite that, the head of the house still was going around to talk with all organizations personally.
The old man was perfectly professional and kept his fatigue from showing, but his eldest son and daughter were still young and inexperienced, and had been quite worn out during this past month. Tsutomu, sympathizing with what they had been obligated to go through, accepted the personal apology without issue.
The eldest son proceeded to stare at Tsutomu. The latter looked him back in the eyes, a gesture that reminded him of another important detail, and prompted him to widen his eyes in realization.
“…If I remember right, you were with Rook at the time, weren’t you?”
“Huh… oh, you meant when we were trying to momentarily leave the city? I was with him, yes.”
With Tsutomu’s reply confirming it, the eldest son grit his teeth, stepped forward, and lowered his head. The frustration he showed was not toward Tsutomu, but at his own immaturity.
“I must apologize for my behavior. If I hadn’t intervened then, perhaps you could have managed to limit the damage to the city. And thank you for saving the people — if things had panned out differently, my pathetic failure would have caused so many more losses.”
“…It’s all right. You have all our thanks for defending against the Devourer Dragon.”
The eldest son’s fists trembled, showing how much he regretted his course of action. Still, Tsutomu considered how he himself had not been prepared for the Devourer Dragon’s energy blast either, and arrived at the obvious conclusion that things would have been far worse if not for the nobility’s barrier.
In the past month, Tsutomu had learned of the limitations of House Babenberg’s barrier, namely how the caster’s senses were linked to it. It was said that training and experience could help numb the pain, but surely there was a limit to how much one could take — and besides, Tsutomu had in fact personally seen the bloody mess that the eldest son had ended up as.
Additionally, the eldest son was sincerely apologetic for his shortcomings, and grateful for the help he had gotten. The Devourer Dragon had been as powerful as Tsutomu had expected — or even more so than its Live Dungeon counterpart, with there not being any limitation on how many monsters it could end up eating. The Devourer Dragon, having eaten most of the monsters in its Dungeon and in the Stampede, had stored a ridiculous amount of Magic Stones in its body, and utilized them to launch an impossibly powerful attack, one that no one could have completely prevented. Despite all that, the eldest son of House Babenberg still acknowledged his insufficiency of ability, and spared no second thought to apologize to everyone involved.
With his distrust toward the eldest son all but gone now, Tsutomu thanked him, and his sister and father as well, as they walked away.
From now on, House Babenberg would have to spend many years working to regain the trust of the people — and they obviously would have to work quite hard for it.
[…Now I kinda want to give them a helping hand…]
Although this did not mean he was willing to go out to deal with the Dungeons’ monsters directly, Tsutomu now wished to help as much as he could. And in fact, the G he had received as compensation was too much for him to manage, so he considered returning it, but while he was pondering that over…
“Tsutomu! What’re you up to!?”
He was interrupted by Amy’s jumping onto his back, perhaps in an attempt to cheer him up, having seen him standing around looking quite serious. Garm, exasperated to see the two apparently messing around, approached them.
“What are you doing?”
“I… don’t know, either.”
Tsutomu, semi-forced to give Amy a piggyback ride, gave Garm a troubled look. All of them then proceeded to return to the banquet, which went on for another two hours.
Silavin: Mr. Krabs! Noooo!
D: Poor Mr. Krabs. Stripped of his Magic Stone and cooked to death. I lonely sponge would be crying.