18-29. A Boy in Labyrinth City (3)
"So dark here..."
The other side of the labyrinth gate was dimly lit.
There's a few light sources from the walls here and there but it's completely unlike before with sunlight peeking in.
We cooled down our excitement and waited until our eyes acclimated to the darkness before pressing on.
"Those are soldiers in charge of labyrinth district. Forgive us for making a racket."
Zaki explained to the spooked Shina before apologizing to the soldiers.
There are several military encampment on the winding paths, each with a giant crossbow manned by multiple soldiers.
According to Zaki, these are measures taken to prevent monsters escaping the labyrinth.
Down the stairway we came across a giant bulky iron gate, then beyond that was a fort-like building occupying the entirety of the vast room with many soldiers stationed inside.
"Hey now, don't stop now. You rookie adventurers might want to check out the left passage."
A foxkin soldier urged us.
A fist came down that foxkin's head top.
"Quit giving them ideas. Explorers should decide on their own which paths they tread."
"Sheesh, that was uncalled for, commander. I can hear you just fine."
The barbarian-like heavy handed man is apparently the commander.
"Yeah right, like words could get through your thick skull. And besides, YOU'RE the commander now."
"Ah, old habits die hard I guess. But wait, why's a General Aide here again?"
"Gotta breathe in the air in the battlefield once in a while to untie myself."
"You're running away from deskwork again, aren't you. Gonna tell on your secretary and--"
Another fist down got sharply dodged by the foxkin this time.
"I'm against violence!"
The general aide chased after the clowning foxkin commander.
"Let's go, save the comedy skit for later."
Rasa is right so we kept going and took the left path as suggested.
"What are you doing?"
Rasa and his sharp intuition noticed me putting on a cloth over my mouth.
"My lil' sis told me to. Put on a cloth on my mouth until I got used to the labyrinth."
Think she called it a mask or something?
"Your little sister again? She sure sounds like my mother."
"Maybe more like a big bro?"
"It doesn't really look good on you."
I felt embarrassed from Gon and Keros mocking me and Shina's not so kind appraisal, but anything my little sister strongly insists always has meanings, so I kept the cloth on regardless.
"There it is, a monster!"
Right as Gon yelled that, we ran full speed toward the monster.
Another party showed up ahead and charged at the monster.
We were late by one step, they threw a rock at the Giant Rat and started the battle before we could get there.
"Dammit! We found that first!"
Gon stamped on the ground.
I felt the same, but I was feeling out of breath from running with a mouth cloth on, I couldn't speak.
This makes breathing harder than expected. Gotta loosen it up a bit.
"I see another one there!"
Keros ran out.
A giant moth-like monster is flying near the ceiling.
"It's coming down here!"
Gon readied his spear as he yelled.
We lined up next to Gon to wait for it.
Gon thrust his spear above followed by us.
We were too early. The moth flapped its wings right before our spears could hit and stopped mid air.
Moth scales-like things fell down the wings with a weird pattern.
I took one hand away from my spear and used it to hold down my mouth cloth.
Gon and the others seemed to have inhaled the scales, they kept coughing while laying on the ground.
I kept track of the moth while squinting to prevent scales getting in.
Despite of that, my tears wouldn't stop coming out.
"Here it comes again!"
Even with a cloth the scales passing through the gaps burned my lungs.
I swung my spear as the moth swooped down, driving it away. My spear only managed a light hit.
I looked around curious since nobody else was doing anything, they were all convulsing on the ground. That's paralysis. I saw a goat eating a paralyzing licorice turning out like them before.
By the way, it was my little sister who fed that to the goat. She said to [Get me familiar with abnormal status.]
As I was thinking that, the moth made another dive bomb after reaching the ceiling.
Looks like it's aiming for the small Rasa.
--This time for sure.
I made sure my aim was right and stabbed the moth with all my strength.
My spear pierced through the moth, but it's not dead yet.
I put my weight to stab the tip of my spear in between bedrocks, pushed down the moth back with my body and cut at its neck with the dagger on my waist.
Slash. My dagger sliced off the moth with that sensation transmitted to my hand.
I've had experiences helping out with cutting up livestock, and it was never this easy.
The dagger my little sister gave me turned out to be quite an amazing object.
<TLN: Catch the latest updates and edits at Sousetsuka .com >
Then after a bit, the others came out of their paralysis.
I sighed out in relief, it was like a weigh off my shoulder since I needed to keep watch on my own.
"Phew, that was a close one."
"Paralysis is cheating, unfair."
Keros and Gon complained.
"Thankfully Sharon was here."
"Sorry. That cloth has a point."
Zaki praised me, Shina apologized.
"Sharon, you know how to cut up that thing?"
"If it's livestock sure, not insects though."
We'd need to take out the magic core now, but none of us was moving as we all waited for someone to take up the task.
"Does nobody here know?"
They all shook their heads at my question.
"Can't we just like ya know, slice and dice it up?"
"No we can't. Those scales will take us down again."
Rasa stopped Gon who was approaching with a knife.
"You guys! What's going on?"
A woman's voice called out to us from a bit away.
Turning around, a very beautiful woman was standing from where we came from. Behind her are boys and girls around our ages.
"Are you perhaps having trouble carving a Maze Moth?"
"Yes, we don't know how."
"Oh then let me teach you. First you cut its neck off, then cut a line right in the center. Make sure to be gentle okay? Being too rough will move its wings, scattering the scales."
Zaki replied then the beauty-san dexterously taught us how to carve the moth.
"I can see that you defeated this one with a spear, but you should reconsider engaging them in the labyrinth if you don't have throwing weapons on hands. If you're left with no choice but to fight one, just throw stones at it from a distance. Careful not to hit your friends or other explorers, okay?"
Beauty-san left after giving that advice with a smile.
"One core at last..."
"But still, I don't see monsters anywhere."
"Well I mean, with so many explorers like us prowling around, it only makes sense the monsters got hunted down."
We kept walking down the passages while not encountering any monster.
Small children walked ahead of us.
"Wonder if we're eating meat today?"
"Of course nanodesu! We hunted lots and lots beans and potatoes, we can even buy meat skewers nodesuyo!"
About ten children are walking while carrying huge baskets on their backs. Most of them are beastkin children including the leading dogkin.
Some of them have weapons but every single one is only around ten year old.
"Even children so young..."
"I think those children just hunted 『Hopping Potatoes』 and 『Walking Beans』? I believe a basketful of them is worth several copper coins."
As Shina muttered, Zaki answered.
"So you're tellin' me there's so few monsters here it's safe for those kids to hang around?"
Gon pointed out rightfully.
"Time for a route change?"
We left the wide main passage and went in some narrow branch passages.
We picked a passage explorers ahead of us picked, so this should be right, too late to change route now though.
"I hear battle sounds ahead."
We arrived at a three-pronged fork passage where explorers around our ages are fighting several goblins.
It's the beauty-san who taught us how to carve earlier.
She's watching the boys and girls fighting the goblins slightly away.
"Someone's coming from there."
A cool woman around the same age as beauty-san showed up along with dauntless-looking boys and girls.
Beauty-san noticed the cool woman and called out to her.
"Yo, Jena. Good work rearing the newbies."
"Oh it's nothing. Are you going back already? Isn't it a bit early?"
"Yea, we pulled out cause the labyrinth's looking unusual. Saw lots of Maze Ants coming out their nests, even came across some Guardian Ants."
"Could someone poke around their nests perhaps?"
"Probably yeah. Saw 'em in the other area, they prolly won't come here, but keep on your toes now."
"--A <<Soldier Mantis>> might even crop up like that time."
"Ah, that takes me back."
The beauty and cool women seemed to be reminiscing something.
As we were hesitating to pass by them, the cool woman took the boys and girls and passed by us.
She candidly told us, 'You guys too, take care yea.'
Bothered by the conversation we eavesdropped, I asked the others--mainly Zaki, for opinions.
"Maze Ants are sturdy they say. Our weapons are not gonna cut it."
"How about we take the other path?"
Zaki answered, and Rasa pointed at the other path the cool woman didn't take.
"Let's do that."
We all agreed and went for it.
"There it is! A Maze Rat!"
We finally encountered a Giant Rat that promptly tried to flee, but Rasa went around to block its path and we stabbed at it together with our spears as it stopped.
An excessive force too much for a single Giant Rat as it immediately died.
The way Keros swung his sword around was more of a threat even.
Its leather is full of stabs, stripping it off would do no good.
"I'm cutting it up. Someone help."
"Leave it to me."
The Giant Rat is the size of a medium dog, so I had Gon help me lifted it up.
Unlike the Maze Moth earlier, the process is similar to livestock so we were done in no time.
"What do about the meat?"
"What, you're planning to eat rat meat or something?"
Gon's question was met with Keros' condemning eyes.
"What, cityfolk don't eat 'em?"
"Y-you're telling me you eat that stuff in the boondocks?"
"We sure do."
I had those forest meat become my nourishment as their repentance for gobbling down our grain.
Oh right, lil' sis warned me not to eat hard rat and insects.
"--Found it. Pretty small this magic core."
"It's a waste but let's just drop the meat and move on."
"Can't be helped, it'd smear our bags with blood and all."
Oh yeah, we came straight here from our trip today.
"Let's keep a move on!"
"Geh, another party."
"Two groups huh, there must be lotsa Giant Rats here."
We kept delving deeper while competing for rats with other parties.
"Found some more! Two of them now!"
"Go after them!"
Our prey got taken earlier, must not miss this time.
"Please wait. We should get back soon."
Zaki stopped us as we frantically ran for the giant rats.
"But we just hunted four."
"Yeah, you hear him. We got all the way to a good hunting ground and all, y'know?"
Gon and Keros protested.
"We've delved in quite deep now. At this rate, we'll find ourselves outside the first area."
"Un, the other parties turned around too."
Come to think of it, the other parties competing with us earlier are nowhere to be seen.
"I've got some sort of bad feelings."
Can't make light of Rasa's intuition.
It helped us avoid falling rocks and sudden downpours so many times on our way here.
"So what's the verdict?"
"Let's hunt to at least match our number."
"...Okay. Just two more and we'll head back."
"Those giant rats earlier would be our last."
Thus we resumed our pursuit.
"It's a dead end!"
The cornered giant rats turned to face us, but they were no match against our spear stabs.
I took the magic cores out with Gon's help.
"Alright, we got enough for all of us!"
More than good enough for a full day's work.
We were told to gather five cores for each of us in two months, but at this pace, forget next month, we're gonna finish it in ten days.
A man's voice from behind us.
Accompanied by sounds of clapping hands from above.
We turned around and got greeted by an evil-looking group of men blocking the passage.
I looked around and saw several other men peeking from a hole around the ceiling. Every single one of them is looking evil.
The Lost Bandits laughed evilly.
"Boss, let's kill those kids and take the woman with us pronto."
"Now now, even men will do, the scrawny ones that is. Just kill that big one over there and leave the rest."
Men shouldering curved swords showed up from behind this boss man while grinning like lowlifes.
....A fate worse than death awaits me at this rate.
As I fell into despair, the words my little sister left me resurfaced on my mind.
--Niisan. You must never give up. Keep struggling even when you've fallen in the pit of despair. You must not let yourself get killed no matter what.
That's right. No way I'm gonna let myself get killed here.
I encouraged my trembling mind and took a deep breath.
After which I could see the surroundings clearer.
The only hand we have is--.
"We're breaking through the middle. Run with all your strength with my signal."
I whispered to the others.
The odd is stacked against us, but still better than being here.
Besides, I've got a last resort. Kinda unreliable, but better than nothing.
I bet on that as our sole ray of hope and put strength into my hands gripping the spear.