18-35. A Boy in Labyrinth City (9)
Morning, I ran into Lachesis on my way back from my daily running regime.
I tried to get closer but noticed she was with other people behind a building.
Those people Lachesis is talking to are hiding under their robe hoods, looking real suspicious. I've never seen deep purple robes before.
Thinking she might be having trouble, I stealthily sneaked closer.
"We are seeds left behind by gods."
"I am me. Don't call me a seed."
I could hear them talking behind the building.
Judging from the tone, they seem to know Lachesis at least.
But maybe not in that good of terms.
"Let us go back to the 『Mansion of Freedom』. Your parents are waiting."
"You mean foster parents you cult prepared?"
Cult? Not temple?
--Niisan. You shouldn't eavesdrop. Young ladies have a thing or two they want to keep secret.
My little sister's words suddenly flashed on my mind.
Or so she said when I came across her talking with someone.
"--I'm not like elder sisters!"
I turned my sight back and saw Lachesis running to the opposite direction.
Looks like they had a disagreement while I was thinking about my little sister.
Wonder what's going on with Lachesis?
Wonder where had she been living, and how it was like?
It's bothering me for some reason.
"--Oy, Sharon. Hey, Sharon!"
The knowledgeable Zaki is standing in front of me.
"What's up with you? You've been spacing out all morning."
The quiet Rasa look at me with upturned eyes.
Right, I'm now in the square where beginner course is held before I was aware.
I can't recall what I've been doing with Lachesis occupying my mind.
Considering my damp hair and full stomach, I think I took a bath at the riverside and had breakfast with Zaki and Rasa after that.
"You caught a cold or something?"
"My bad, I was spacing out for a bit there."
I apologized to the worried Zaki and Rasa before we moved to our group's meeting place.
"Ou! There you are!"
"Morning~ I still wanna sleep more~"
Yuto, an apprentice priest of Zaikuon Temple incapable of casting sacred magic, the small ratkin Neze, the big dogkin Tegu, as well as--the gloomy looking Lachesis were there.
Noble lad Rojim and his servitor Sagu haven't arrived yet it seems.
"Good morning, Lachesis."
She replied back halfheartedly to my greeting.
Looks like the thing this morning is weighing on her mind.
"Students, gather round so I command."
Just as I was about to ask Lachesis, the beautiful instructor interrupted with her loud voice.
"Let's go, Sharon."
Urged by Rasa, I went to where instructor was.
"Today we shall hold a mock group battle with me as your opponent so I inform."
"Eeh, dunno how strong you are instructor, you're not gonna win vs this many people, yeah?"
"Student, Neze. There is strength in number indeed, but so is in level so I correct."
Despite our incredulity, instructor easily made a short work out of us all while giving advice on how to improve our combat.
What surprising was--.
"Next up, we shall practice fighting against tentacled monsters."
She used magic to control several ropes, making them move like a creature that twine our limbs and taught us how to deal with such monsters.
She also used [Flexible Shield] magic to represent sturdy monsters, or made cloth and firewood float like flying monsters, and many other kinds of monsters.
We were lying on the ground all beat by the time it was break time.
"Professional explorers are really something else..."
I whispered as I looked at instructor while gasping for breath...
I thought she was a warrior, turns out she could even cast magic.
The noble lad, Rojim and his servitor, Sagu refuted my thinking.
"Fool, don't use that as a standard. You won't see many explorers at that level."
"Young master is right. You'd be hard pressed to even find someone so skilful in Shiga Kingdom."
There's six other like her in this very place though?
Is it cause they're sisters?
"Breaktime is over so I inform. Second turn will feature Hell Crabs and Sand Worms so I notify."
Completely unlike the interesting sounding names, the practice from noon on was hellish, forget Lachesis and Zaki, even Rojim and priest apprentice Yuto who had been training since childhood were laying on the ground by the end.
"Standing up until the end is impressive, so I inform. Do continue your basic training from now on, so I encourage."
The last one standing, me, finally gave out with that praise from instructor.
"Sorry, it's my fault."
"Don't mind it. Everybody else couldn't walk either, their legs were trembling and all."
Now that the practice is over, we make our way to the stall square.
"Tomorrow's the real thing!"
"Ou~, labyrinth at last~"
Ratkin Neze and dogkin Tegu are right, the last day will be in the labryinth, with instructor leading the way for us.
"Let's get something hearty today."
"Hum~, money's getting tight so I'll just grab the usual."
We couldn't work during the course, so our finance is getting to dangerous level.
"Ah! It's Gon's group."
Zaki pointed at the big Gon, grumbler Keros and Shina accompanying them.
Gon is holding a giant shield, Keros has an eyepatch on him for some reason. All three have more bandages on them than the last time we saw them.
"Are you hurt, Keros?"
"Sharon huh--Just a cut on my eyelid. I can see just fine soon."
I called out to him out of worry, and got a cold reply.
"And you Gon, that new equipment looks great."
"I've been selected as a shielder, see."
Unlike yesterday, he seems to be in a good mood today.
"But isn't it dangerous. I mean, that last shielder got hurt really bad too. If even Gon ended up like her..."
Shina who had just lost her friend expressed her worry.
From training today I learned that shielders are heavily equipped but they also get hurt the easiest due to their role of aggroing monsters.
"Hmph, like I'd let some monster do me in. I've been selected and all. I'm gonna show 'em my best!"
"But still, try to not get hurt."
"Hmph, guys who don't even earn anything in the labyrinth got no business preaching me!"
Looks like my concern touched Gon's pride, he left with perked up shoulders.
"Are they gonna be alright?"
"They're getting wounded again, guess labyrinth really is dangerous."
"He's one sturdy guy, he'll be fine."
We looked at their back for a bit before joining up with the others who had been waiting for us and had a meal together.
"This is the minimum amount of luggage you should carry into the labyrinth so I inform."
The following morning, we had gathered at the usual space when the instructors gave us our provisions.
Which is six torches, two tinderboxes, a smoke bomb and a flash bomb, two spare water bags, a few rags and a rope. The rags are apparently for stopping bleeding and markings. Also three portable food. And finally several sacks to hold gathered materials.
"Hey this isn't water? Liquor?"
"That Beria Liquor disinfects wounds so I correct."
That's quite extravagant for a disinfectant.
"Once you have disinfected your wound, use either Beria Salve or Magic Potion depending on the severity so I inform."
"It's all Beria."
"Yes, student Neze. Half of the explorers survive thanks to Beria's amicability so it has been acknowledged."
Oh right, we did some daily Beria Leaf gathering didn't we.
That was only a few days ago, but it felt like ages ago. We were with Gon, Keros and Shina back then.
"We will now distribute medicine supply so I declare."
The instructors gave one Beria magic potion and one Beria salve to each of us.
You sure we can have these for free?
Think they're worth several silver coins or so.
"Master has donated a great amount of cash for the sake of rookie explorers' survival, fret not so I inform."
Felt like my little sister said something similar before.
Next to me Lachesis whispered, "Why is it in English."
Lachesis who was moody yesterday is looking a bit livelier today, she's probably excited for the labyrinth diving.
Lachesis looked at me quizzically when she noticed me staring at her.
I'm a bit afraid she's gonna hate me but more importantly, I'm just glad she's looking better.
"In addition to those, mappers should bring pens and papers with them, so I inform."
"I have them with me!"
Zaki showed papers strung together and black coal sticks.
"Student Zaki, smartly done, so I evaluate."
"Hehehe, thank you, instructor."
Zaki looked bashful from the praise.
Apparently he couldn't work on his map during the time we got in the labyrinth that time, so he learned from his failure.
"Executing final reminder--"
After checking with some of us if we had carving knifes on us, instructor led the way to the labyrinth.
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"As you can see, the competition for good hunting grounds is fierce, thus you should avoid them in your first two, three years so I recommend."
Affirming the instructor's words, there are several parties waiting in the marsh area for Maze Frogs and meadow area for Maze Beetles, every time monsters come out of the gushing holes, they will rush from all directions to be the first to hunt them.
"Well, we don't have enough levels anyway."
"Yes, student. Either spot requires late 10s or early 20s so I estimate."
I recall that former soldier old man who retired in my village was level 8, how many years would it take me to get there I wonder.
"Hey, so, can't we just hunt weak monsters in the same area?"
"That is one option so I inform."
The instructor affirmed Neze's idea.
Having strong explorers around would be reassuring when you get in trouble.
"However, you must also consider the fact that people limit their hunting activities while they wait for the next gushing, so instruct."
"Because it's not profitable?"
"Yes, student. The only things you obtain after a hard struggle will be magic cores and materials with low demands so inform."
Apparently there's better places than that.
The instructors let us hunt once as a trial, and the result was one copper coin, around Maze Moth worth, despite the higher difficulty.
We managed to not get seriously hurt thanks to heavily armored Rojim and the big Tegu, but we would have suffered more with our daily ware armor otherwise.
We left the crowded marsh area and went to the goblin maze in the first area.
"Uwaa, it's awesome. There's a maze on the bottom of the ravine."
"I can see passages inside those pillar-like rocks in the maze."
"They look more like towers than pillars?"
We looked down at the goblin maze from atop a ravine.
"There's so many suspension bridges between those pillars."
Those bridges range from looking really sturdy to really frail it's probably falling if you get on it.
"You should remember the general shape so I advice."
According to instructor, this maze houses countless gushing holes where goblins--referred as demi goblins by instructor--from the lowest rank to upper rank like fighting and warrior goblins roaming around.
This doesn't seem like a [Profitable Ground].
"The only thing worth anything out of goblins is their core after all."
"What about goblin oil and goblin liquor?"
I overheard about it in the stall square, you can buy goblin oil cheaper than animal oil so it's pretty popular among low level explorers as lantern fuel.
"That oil doesn't get dropped by goblins ssuyo. Labyrinth oil merchants extract that off goblin corpses ssu. And only poor explorers drink goblin liquor ssu. On top of tasting bad it also gives you a tummy ache ssu."
Servitor Sagu replied.
Is that weird speech pattern his actual personality?
"But then why are we here?"
"Because it is optimal for the purpose of [Gathering Magic Cores] for your bronze badges, so I inform."
Apparently there's some competition here too but it's not as fierce as with the Maze Moths and Maze Rats in the main passages.
"Well then, let us begin the final phase of the course so I inform."
We advanced through the goblin maze led by instructor while taking detours around spots where other explorers were fighting.
Sometimes coming across other explorers around our age when we crossed the suspension bridges connecting the pillars.
"Be wary of shadows, so I warn."
Instructor struck a pillar shadow as she stepped forward.
A jet black goblin fell out of it.
"Careful now! Their weapons are laced with toxin!"
"First strike win! Get 'im!"
Neze took command as we all hit the shadow goblin all at once with our weapons.
"What a mess. No formation or anything."
"Wasn't young master super ready to leap yourself there."
The noble lad Rojim and his servitor Sagu opted to keep watch on the surroundings instead of participating.
"I believe you have been taught during the course. About how shadow goblins are the leading cause of mortality among rookie explorers by far so I fear."
Instructor spoke as she looked over us.
It's hard to tell since her expressions don't really change much, but it seems like she's concerned about us.
We kept hunting [Stray] goblins while polishing up our coordination, and once we got the hang of it, we looked for a group of three goblins and engaged in a group fight.
"That's a high ranking one."
A high ranking goblin showed up at the other end of the maze.
I quickly hid behind the wall before it found us.
"It's alone, we will make it a practice against stronger foes so I declare."
With instructor's command, we went up against the Goblin Grappler.
"Tell me about it, can you really call this goblin."
The high ranking goblin is big.
Towering over me and Zaki, about as big as the huge dogkin Tegu.
"Grapplers attack fast and hard so I warn."
"Understood. --Come, you Goblin Grappler!"
Noble lad Rojim hit his shield with his sword to attract Grappler's attention.
Pro shielders would have [Provoke] skill but not us with our low levels.
Rojim and Tegu alternately act as shielders, while servitor Sagu support them by hindering grappler.
I, Lachesis, and priest apprentice Yuto attack from the sides, Rasa and the small Neze slice at grappler's ankles from behind. Zaki who can't fight well is in charge of occasionally stabbing grappler with his short spear, drawing its attention.
"Dammit, it's so tough."
"My blade doesn't work."
"Mind how you swing your sword, so I advise. Compose yourself and recall your training so I inform."
Grappler's thick skin is unharmed by our weapons except for Rojim's prized sword.
The dagger my little sister gifted me could damage it, but all I could manage with each strike is a shallow wound.
A barrage of attack from grappler's unnaturally large fists and long arms proved to be very powerful, even the big Tegu got blown away along with his shield when he took it head on.
As I was watching Tegu, my lower body suddenly received a powerful shock.
I crashed and rolled on the ground.
I can't breathe.
No broken bone.
There's a dull pain on my waist.
It's a kick. I probably got hit by grappler's kick.
Priest apprentice Yuto fell down near me.
He got blown away along with me it seems.
Even my trump card, Ground Shrink, is useless against attacks coming from my blind sides.
As the grappler shifted its focus at Lachesis, the two shielders hit it with their shields luring it away.
"Sharon, can you move?"
Rasa ran up and checked my condition.
Zaki pulled Yuto.
"I'm fine. It wasn't bad enough to take magic potion."
Rasa looked at me worryingly.
--Rom-niisan, don't even try to save medicine to your grave, okay?
My lil' sister words flashed on my mind as I endured the pain.
That's right. Getting slower from the pain would only cause trouble for everybody.
"No wait, I'll take one after all."
I pulled Beria magic potion plug and gulped it down.
I almost vomited from the grassy smell, but I bore with it.
"--The pain is going away."
I can move now.
Rasa and I returned to battle.
"Sharon, stop its right arm please. Our shielders won't last long at this rate."
I followed Lachesis's order and struck at the grappler's right side along with Rasa.
The two shielders really have slowed down from fatigue.
Ratkin Neze rolled on the ground.
Grappler foresaw his attack and counterattacked.
Yuto and Zaki also returned to battle, reducing Lachesis's load.
"Dangit, how is it still fine after that many slices."
Zaki spoke half crying.
"Don't give up!"
I encouraged Zaki.
"Keep your spirit up! It may be strong, but this goblin is nothing compared to our instructor! Remember our training with instructor!"
"You're right! Compared to that hellish training this is nothing!"
"I ain't gonna lose to some grappler!"
Following Yuto, Rojim heated up.
Looks like Zaki wasn't the only one getting dispirited.
"It's getting weaker! Look how slower it's now!"
This might be the first time I saw her being this proactive.
"Just a bit more!"
Noble lad Rojim shouted.
Bathed in his own sweat, looking like he's gonna fall down anytime.
Dogkin Tegu also yelled out loud.
Grappler launched a fierce assault on the two.
It's really intense. This grappler can still keep going it seems.
"Its movement is getting rougher."
Rasa leaped in when grappler made a large swing, stabbing at its exposed side.
Grappler swings its backhand fist at Rasa who's stopped moving.
I tackled at Rasa's legs, saving him from grappler's fist.
The two of us rolled down together.
Lachesis and Yuto stopped it as it was about to attack us again.
"This'll finish it!"
Noble lad Rojim pierced grappler's neck deep.
"Student Rojim, evasive action!"
Rojim couldn't react to instructor's warning and got hit by grappler's fist.
Sagu who took the hit for Rojim got blown away.
The other shielder, Tegu stopped grappler with a ramming attack.
"Just a bit more! Don't let up your attack!"
We won't last for long with one of our shielders down.
We gave up on defending and jumped on grappler all together.
Yuto got blown away by a random fist swing, but the power was lacking compared to before.
I lunged at an opening, using my whole strength to spring up and cut at its carotid artery.
Bluish black blood gushed out, dirtying my shoulder.
Grappler fell down as it tried to attack me back.
"Is it dead?"
"Hold it, keep your guard up. It might be pretending."
After stabbing grappler body with short spears from a safe distance and confirming its death, it finally hit us that we had defeated it.
Not even grappler who survived getting its throat pierced could keep going after getting its carotid artery sliced it seems.
My little sister taught me that living beings have these arteries as their vital points.
"Can't move anymore."
Shielders Rojim and Tegu sprawled on the ground, followed by everyone else.
"Warning. Relaxing too much post battle is ill advised so I inform."
Instructor who had been watching our fight spoke.
"Students besides Sharon are to hone their stamina outside labyrinth so I recommend."
Yup, I'm confident in my stamina.
"Taking a break is fine. What important is to keep watch on your surroundings still so I add."
Instructor stopped Yuto as he tried to get up and said that.
"We really beat it."
After a breather, Zaki said that while looking at the corpse.
"So you can deal with stronger monsters as long as you split up the roles."
"Yea, we really went and did it."
"That line of thought is dangerous so I warn."
Instructor called us out while we were praising each other.
"You should avoid fighting higher ranked foes inside labyrinth as much as you can so I inform."
"But we won?"
"That is because I prevented other monsters from joining the fray so I add."
Instructor produced a magic light and lit up the other end of the passage.
"Yep. But, something's weird. Those are high ranking goblins."
Several corpses of higher ranking goblins lay there.
There's even a few grappler corpses, the same one we struggled with just now. As well as shield, sword fighters and wand bearer mages.
"Had they joined the fight..."
"--Retreat. No, we'd be wiped out."
We all had a bitter look on our faces.
"Shadow Goblin corpse..."
Rasa pointed at a shadow goblin dead body holding a toxic dagger someplace away.
I realized how lax I had been, sending a chill down my spine.
"If instructor hadn't been here..."
Lachesis's mutter made us all imagine our death.
"Have you understood now, so I inquire."
We all nodded at instructor's question.
"Only explorers who secure safety margins return home in one piece so I instruct."
It was the thing taught during the course yet we only realized the true meaning of it now.
"Very well, let us return--"
Someone ran out of the other side of the passage while screaming that.
Countless shadows are moving behind them--.
"It appears a stampede has broken out so I warn."
I felt like there was a hint of unease in instructor's voice there.