Authors: Fujino Omori
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy
Heavy rain pounded the office window.
Eina looked up from her desk to take a look outside.
It’s really coming down…
Not too long ago, a golden moon lit up the sky. But now black storm clouds unleashed a deluge of water onto the city.
People still out on the street were dashing to the protection of eaves and awnings. Main Street emptied in the blink of an eye.
Eina put down the paperwork she had been working on and listened to the rain. Leaning back in her chair, she watched the rain cover the landscape.
“Eeeeh? First we get stuck with overtime, and now it’s raining cats and dogs! No luck at all…”
“… It came on pretty quickly. The rain should let up by the time we’re done here.”
One of Eina’s coworkers moaned about the rain as she stumbled up to her desk carrying a small mountain of files.
It was almost nine o’clock. Guild headquarters’ staff still lined the lobby windows and filled the office nearby, every one of them wrestling with overtime and paperwork. Eina’s human friend and coworker had had enough, despite all the bosses saying, “It’s the final stretch!” and looking all-important as they worked through their data.
“I know it’s almost time for the festival and all, but I wish the bosses would cut us some slack, you know? We aren’t all as productive as you!”
“Misha, don’t lean on me like that. You’re getting in the way!”
“Hee-hee. Wait a sec, Eina. Did you already put away the festival plans?”
Casually brushing aside Eina’s hand, Misha’s eyes grew as she scanned the papers on her coworker’s desk.
Plopping her own files down on the corner of Eina’s work space, Misha snatched up one of the papers before her colleague could protest.
“Oh, one of your adventurers’ profiles, right? Hey, this is your new guy, isn’t he!”
“… I was told to give an update to our team leader, so I was putting the finishing touches on it.”
Eina had given up trying to keep the girl back and answered her with a long sigh.
Misha held an adventurer profile in her hands. It had only the most basic information such as race, personal history, and
allegiance neatly written in an easy-to-read layout. All adventurers in Orario had profiles on file at the Guild.
At the top of this one was the name “Bell Cranell.”
“What?!? He’s been here two weeks, and he’s soloing on the lower fifth?! This guy’s incredible!”
“No, he’s not. He got cocky and wandered down there without conquering the other floors first. He got to the lower fifth on sheer dumb luck, and he nearly died there.”
Eina’s elegant eyebrows rose as she remembered all the advice she had given Bell, only to have him completely ignore it.
Eina’s harsh tone came from a genuine concern for the boy’s well-being. Misha chuckled a bit at the worried looked on Eina’s face.
“Sure, but that was the Minotaur that escaped from
, right? He may be a newbie, but Minotaurs even give veterans a run for their money.”
“Yes, the Minotaur was an irregular. But for the boy, for Bell, the lower fifth is a death trap.”
Eina plucked Bell’s profile from her coworker’s clutches and looked over the information she had written with her own hands.
“Everything changes at Level Five—the monsters get stronger, the Dungeon path is more complex. As he is now, Bell would die if he went in there again.”
His armor and weapons weren’t strong enough. He was going in alone, no allies to protect or support him.
What’s more, his status was far too low. He was still a newbie, after all.
The Dungeon would not take it easy on him just because he had started only half a month ago.
Eina came to the conclusion that it was far too early for Bell to venture to the lower fifth or below.
“Well, anyway. As long as I’m drawing breath, I won’t let him go into the deeper levels.”
“Aren’t you being overprotective? Are you falling for him?”
Eina hadn’t been expecting that.
Completely unprepared, Misha’s question made her heart skip a beat.
The moment Bell had yelled “I love you” yesterday was still fresh in Eina’s mind. It didn’t seem like a real confession of love, but his face looked so innocent. Before she knew it, Eina’s cheeks had turned a rosy pink.
Realizing that her pointed ears were getting hot, the half-elf Eina calmly took a deep breath and locked eyes with her human coworker.
Misha picked up her pile of files from the desk and flashed a smile. Eina glared at her colleague’s back and sunk into her chair.
I hate being teased…
He was like a younger brother to her—she’d scold him, and he’d vigorously apologize. This scene repeated in her mind. She giggled as she remembered how he’d nodded his head. Her memories felt so real.
Bell… What are you doing now?
Eina once again gazed out the window at the rain that was getting heavier.
The downpour showed no sign of letting up, as if the sky were raining anger from the heavens.
Kick off from the ground.
My blade flashes, faster than before.
The monster behind me crashes to the floor, making a short squeal.
A bulb-eyed frog monster is gushing black liquid from massive cuts all over its body.
It attacks adventurers with a long, spear-like tongue, a “frog shooter.”
It’s not worthy of pity. I feel nothing looking into its sunken, dead eyes. Just keep moving forward.
Pain in my arms and legs doesn’t matter. I will slay anything that moves. My feet take me deeper into the Dungeon.
A flat floor, smooth walls, and the ceiling are my guides.
I wander around aimlessly in the tasteless air of the Dungeon.
It’s colder than this afternoon and dead quiet. There is nothing around me—no monsters, no adventurers, just these walls and the chill.
My boots echo with each step. They’re keeping me company through these winding halls.
Feels like a ghost should come out at any second, that kind of echo. I look down at my body.
No armor, just my usual street clothes. Slashes and gashes from various claws and fangs are all over me. My clothes have been shredded. They look like something a criminal would wear while committing a felony.
My right hand grips a blade I keep on me just for emergencies. My arm drips with the blood of who knows how many monsters.
I’m a mess…
That’s not a problem. I can keep going, but I rest my eyes for a moment.
Run, run, run, how much did I run?
Through the crowds of Main Street, away from that bar, into the Dungeon.
I found monsters, slew them, ran to the next, slew them, too.
Slash, slice, stab… How many have I cut?
Just how weak am I? I lost myself for a while.
The thought of my own weakness fueled my rage enough to make it this far with just one knife.
I have to close the distance between me and her, no matter what. I have to get to her level as soon as possible.
A flame burns in my heart, and I let it consume my whole body.
… Where… am I?
What do I do now?
What happened after the bar? I only remember a few flashes here and there. I take a deep breath and rack my brain for clues. I hunted the monsters—I remember that much—but everything else is so cloudy…
I open my eyes and take a look around. The walls are different, kind of a mossy green. The corridor is really thin, too, with more paths breaking off than I remember.
I’ve never even seen a frog shooter before, come to think of it.
This is the fifth… no, lower sixth floor.
I came down six flights of stairs starting at the main gate. This has to be the lower sixth.
It seems I’m exploring a new floor.
I continue forward without fully grasping what I’m doing. The idea of turning around never crosses my mind, still numb from the night’s events.
I look around for my next target. Nothing is moving; it’s just me and the echoes now.
“Ha… ha… ha…”
My breathing is a bit rough. Maybe I’m pushing too hard?
How long have I been in the Dungeon?
Sure, the sparkling specks on the ceiling make it easy to see, but they don’t tell me the time of day. It could be noon. I have no idea. I don’t have a watch, either. Oh, well.
… What’s this?
I’ve been walking a while. This spot looks a lot like my room under the church.
Except it’s a full square, and there’s nothing in here. Light green walls, looks as bleak and deserted as the church…
I’m already halfway in, but I don’t see any other paths. Seems like there’s only one way in or out of here.
I should turn around; this is a dead end.
What is that?
There’s nothing here, no monster could hide behind anything… Such an eerie sound.
Nothing left, nothing right, I can’t see where it’s coming from!
It’s just me and that sound. My echoes are gone. It’s drilling into my ears!
Is it possible that my senses improved along with my status? That has to be the only explanation.
If that’s true, I should be able to follow my ears to the source of the noise.
The wall! It’s coming from that greenish wall!
Why would a wall be making noise? The walls aren’t alive…
A crack! Spreading! It’s right in front of me!
Monsters are born from the Dungeon walls!
A new monster is being born, right here, right now, from inside this wall. Right in front of me. Monsters don’t emerge as babies. They are born as full-fledged, battle-ready adults!
The Dungeon, the only place in the world that gives birth to a threat to humanity…
A massive, three-fingered hand bursts through the crack. It’s flexing, grabbing at the air. A foot! The other hand now!! It’s coming out of the wall! Pieces of the Dungeon wall are breaking off and falling to the floor, adding even more echoes to this dead-end square.
The creature lands on the floor with a
; the last pieces of the wall come crashing down around its feet.
There is only one word to describe it:
It’s probably about 160 celch. This monster is about as tall as me. Its entire body, head to toe, fingertip to fingertip, is pitch black. Shape-wise, it looks almost human. It has no skin pattern or hair, just smooth black shadow.
Its head looks like a pointed plus sign, with a big, silver, round part in the middle.
The freaky shadow straightens up and turns to face me.
This is the lower-sixth-floor monster, “Wall Shadow.”
Behind me! The wall is cracking! Don’t tell me another one is being born right here!
I’m caught in a pincer!
No, the room is wide enough, so I have room to move. Still, it’s two on one. Not good.
But this timing… Did I fall into a trap laid by the Dungeon itself? So this is the Dungeon’s true face.
The two Wall Shadows silently flex their bodies as they surround me, getting ready for battle.
Their silver “eyes” are flashing like dying magic stone lamps surrounded in fog. They are locked onto me, their “prey.”
A deep breath. My blood-stained knife is as ready as it’s going to get.
I’m probably too far gone, trapped in the lower sixth, no armor, no hope.
But the flames that ignited at the bar are still burning. Everything I heard that guy say, that’s all that I care about.
That pain is far worse than this. The fire within me will be more than enough to keep me going.
There is a voice in my head, telling me to run. But I say fight!