~~Eighteenth Day of the Fourth Month, Six O’clock in the Morning~~
We had entered the Labyrinth of No Return… And one hour had already passed.
A chilly ambience that couldn’t be considered cold, man-made flooring and wall material, strange cries in the distance and darkness that rendered one unable to see their companions’ faces without a torch or Light Source magic.
Locations called labyrinths were, basically speaking, linear paths. But the paths were extremely long, often requiring a few days or even a full week to be conquered.
It went without saying that we had to be careful with our food supply and watch for ways to replenish water. But maintaining our mental conditions was the most important thing on this linear path.
There was no chance of getting lost, for all one needed to do was go straight ahead, but the lack of perception of time was an issue.
For those who were not used to such conditions, they could only endure for three days at most before going mad.
Therefore, I would say that throwing around unnecessary banter was more or less necessary now.
“By the way, what was the party composition of the previous exploration party?”
“From what I’d heard, three B-ranked warriors and two mages.”
“Still, there’s a chance that they never made it here. Like they got wiped out by those thieves on the way?”
“Hmm… That’s worth considering. We’ve fought a few monsters so far, and they’re not on the level that would throw off a B-ranked party. Even if they didn’t make it all the way, they should have defeated the earlier monsters if they were here, so it’s definitely possible that they never made it to the labyrinth.”
Exactly… So far, there hadn’t been any traces of people been through this place.
If they had fought the monsters, there should have been some damage done to the environment.
If those adventurers had died, we should have come across some bodies and perhaps lost articles.
Without detecting any bloodstains, signs of combat or even bones, it was highly possible that they had been attacked by those Laughing Foxes thieves and died.
“Hmph, multiple Ghoul Lords up ahead — prepare for combat!”
Moreover, the monsters we encountered so far had been estimated to be C-ranked.
Normally, they weren’t something a B-ranked party would have issues with.
Monsters after this one weren’t any stronger, and after two days of relatively easy and safe exploration, we reached a spot that seemed to be the end.
“Now this is a first for us…”
We entered a dark, circular room; it wasn’t too spacious nor too small, and fit the five of us just fine.
At the deep end of it was a small flight of stairs, and at the end of that was a grid-patterned wall, like a jail cage… And inside that was quite the gaudy store of shiny treasures.
“There’s something like a keyhole here… did we pick up anything that might fit on the way?”
“These seem pretty solid… Maybe you’d need to be as strong as the Six Braves to cut them?”
“Let’s give it a try, then… Asley, support.”
“Yes… Hype Up!”
Blazer unsheathed his sword and gave it a big swing at the cage, producing quite the satisfying impact.
The cage rang with a corresponding vibration, a slow and high-pitched ringing, as the blade bounced right back.
“…That chipped a bit off my sword.”
“Then it’s harder than iron, right? Special alloys, maybe?”
“Would be an alloy I don’t know, then… But if we get this off, wouldn’t that be enough to complete our mission?”
“Master, isn’t this…”
Pochi turned around and called me.
The cage was a metallic silver… with a pattern of reddish-tinged speckles. Sure enough, I’d seen such a description written in some of my books. From how Pochi acted, she probably knew what was up as well.
“One of the ancient alloys… Drynium Steel. Said to be one of the materials used for the Holy Warriors’ armor.”
The trio turned to me all at once.
“Oh man, is this for real, Asley?”
“It’s priceless… Like, wouldn’t it be more precious than the treasures inside?”
“That may be the case… But if we can’t get it open…”
“Is there anything we can do, Master?”
“We may not be able to open it, but taking the treasures should be simple enough.”
“Wha — how’re you gonna do that?”
Bruce raised his voice with a hint of excitement.
“We can dig around the cage, for one. It’ll take a bit of work, though.”
“……Ahh, I see.”
That didn’t surprise Bruce much.
It may seem funny in principle, but the solution made perfect sense.
“I’ve made it so that the stone is easier to dig, so please take care of the rest.”
“Wait, you mean me!?”
“Putting the right man for the right job, brother.”
Bruce hung down his head, and Betty encouraged him by patting his back.
“Bah, you better give me extra meat for the next meal, yeah, Asley?”
“One piece each from my portion and Pochi’s, then.”
“Hold on, Master — Why mine, too!?”
Pochi exclaimed as if it was the end of the world.
“Isn’t a Master and his Familiar supposed to be synchronized in both body and soul, Pochi?”
“As if that’s actually possible!”
“Right in the metaphor.”
Bruce and Betty burst out in laughter, and even Blazer was visibly holding down the edges of his lips.
Was it really that funny?
“Ha ha ha… Really, you guys make a great tag team.”
“Hu hu hu, you’re so young, but it’s like you’re an old married couple, you know.”
Pochi was even more horrified than when she had thought she would lose a piece of meat.
Now it was like she had just been bitten by Ghouls or Zombies.
“Uh, me and my Master… a married couple?”
Now that’s a priceless reaction.
An expression of utter disgust… uh, why’s she crying?
“Being a good adventurer means to be recognized as such by other adventurers, my man. I look forward to seeing good results.”
As Blazer sheathed his sword, he grinned, an unusual expression from him.
“Hah… hah… hah… It’s… it’s done…”
“Now that’s amazing. You dug all this in just two hours…”
Bruce had all his limbs down on the ground, and was drenched in sweat.
Although he was not totally out of breath, his face sure was devoid of energy.
“Here, brother! Great work!”
“Betty… Carry me…”
Bruce, seeming on the verge of death, crawled up to Betty in seek of assistance, but Betty flat out rejected him with a smile of the blooming of the purest flower.
“Why dost thou forsaketh me…”
Bruce muttered as his extended hand fell down, and his face went down once more into the ground.
“Ahahaha, they seem to get along quite well, sir.”
“Heh, can’t let you two overshadow them now, can they?”
“Uh, I can’t say I understand…”
“It’s usually not something you yourself will notice. In many cases, one will form their opinions based on what the concerned parties are displaying. Aspects are picked out, shaved off or embellished to arrive at a conclusion.”
“Ohh, now that’s easy to understand, yes.”
Those were some wise words. Gotta note that down.
“It’s a shame that we can’t take the cage with us as well, but that’s half of our request done.”
“Hmm, all we need to do now is go back alive, then.”
“Bruce, you still in this?”
“I’ll manage if I get to sleep for ten hours.”
“Can’t right now. Let’s go!”
Blazer, taking Bruce’s half-joke seriously and shooting it down, gathered all the treasures in a leather bag and carried it on his back, then took the lead of the formation.
Once we exit the labyrinth, we could have Pochi gigantify and carry the stuff easily, but until then we had to leave it to the most physically fit, that would be Blazer.
We hurried on our way, which tired us out quite a bit, but enabled us to return to the entrance at around the same speed as when we first came in.
“…Hey, aren’t we totally surrounded?”
Bruce, feeling half-familiar presences outside of the Labyrinth, reached for his sword.
“I see, so this is how they do things…”
“Oh c’mon, wouldn’t this mean we’re practically stuck?”
“What should we do, Master?”
“……We’ll use Pochi as a decoy and run for or lives!”
“Not that again! I won’t agree to it!”
“C’mon, just play along once in a while, yeah?”
“I can’t die ‘once in a while’ if I only live once, sir!”
“…Ooh, nice one.”
“T-that wasn’t intentional, I swear.”
You’re one to talk when you just played right into my dad joke, doggo.
As Pochi reddened up, Blazer dropped his luggage and prepared to fight, flexing his shoulders to relax his muscles.
“All right, let’s see how fun this deathmatch thing is!”
“Mm-hm, we can’t avoid this fight, so we’ll have to whittle them down as much as possible — increase their burden while coming after us.”
“So what’s our plan?”
“…Use Pochi as a decoy.”
“…You sounded like you meant that, Master. Do you actually have something in mind?”
Pochi tensed up for a moment, a sign that she was prepared for whatever my proposal will be.
“I’ll be using a layered casting of Title Up and Hype Up for Pochi. Thankfully, that can be easily done with Swift Magic, so there’s no need to worry. Pochi will immediately gigantify and launch a surprise attack on the enemy, picking off the weaker enemies as she goes.”
“And what should we do?”
“This may sound selfish, so I apologize in advance, but… I’d like you to guard me.”
“Pochi is the only one fighting, then? So that’s what you meant by ‘decoy’. So, why would you need all three of us on guard?”
“Yeah, wouldn’t Bruce and me be enough? Or just Blazer, even?”
The siblings saw through me and proposed the suitable number of defenders I would need.
“That may be the case, but I’ll be completely defenseless in the process, so I need as much help as I can get.”
“…So what you’re saying is that you’ll be pulling off a pretty big move?”
“It’s not quite that elaborate, so to speak.”
“All right, let’s go with that.”
“Eh — are you all really fine with it?”
“What, you’re not confident in your own plans?”
Blazer stared right at my face. He was smiling, but it felt as if he was testing me.
“Th-that’s not what I meant…”
“Don’t worry. You’ve already earned our trust, Asley. Be confident and do what you need to.”
“Heh heh, yeah, whatever he said.”
“Hu hu hu, keep us alive, all right?”
“Your plans better live up to the hype, sir!”
Bah, the doggo always finds a way to kill the mood…
“All right, let’s get down to business!”