Chapter 30: Diving Again into the Labyrinth
A crustacean as big as a bear came at us with the speed of a wolf.
The red monster, shaped like a crayfish, swung its scissor-shaped hand at me.
I flicked away its attack with my sword and aimed to slash at its joints.
—But I failed.
It twisted its body in the nick of time, and my blade hit its armor instead.
Too many factors in that battleground that made me want to click my tongue: the footing was muddy, and anything I did was accompanied by discomfort.
In contrast, despite the mud, the crayfish monster was agile, making the battle not worth the struggle.
I was about to choose to retreat when Maria’s voice was heard.
A thin film of flame coiled around the monster’s head.
Reflexively, it brought both arms to its face to swat away the blinding flame.
I wasn’t one to miss such an opportunity.
I zeroed in on the monster and succeeded in targeting its joints and slashed off both of its arms—it was easy to aim at the joints of a confused monster.
Losing both of its arms, the crayfish shrieked.
I followed by attacking its vital points, other joints, thin limbs, and sensory organs; I crushed them all, as I couldn’t find any obvious weak point.
At last, with a final death cry, the monster vanished into light.
I looked over at where the monster had been, my breath ragged, and my lips curved with a sense of accomplishment.
【You have earned the title 『One Who Lurks in the Swamp』】
MAG is adjusted by +0.05
“…Haa, that was a drag.”
“I told you, don’t call me Master…”
Maria, who had been assisting from a distance, approached and congratulated me.
Having learned magic, we delved into the Labyrinth again.
Since Maria’s level had increased, we were going even deeper than we went that morning, and our goal was to go to the 10th floor to try to install the «Connection» magic there.
As of then, I had just defeated a boss monster of the 8th floor, cooperating with Maria.
I scolded Maria for calling me Master while I picked up the drop item.
Maria, however, didn’t take it to heart and continued.
“You looked like you had a hard fight.
Was there a problem?”
I just hadn’t thought that fighting with bad footing would be this hard.
Your magic saved me, Maria.
That was excellent timing.”
“No, no, that’s all I can do to be of help during a boss fight.”
Saying so, Maria gestured peevishly.
I guessed she wasn’t satisfied when I instructed her to stay in the rear and cover me just before the battle started.
She must have been growing more confident because she had been defeating small fry monsters with her dagger until we reached the 8th floor.
She probably thought she was able to help against that boss monster as well.
It seemed like a sudden increase in level took away any semblance of reasonability from a human being, after all.
Even Maria, thoughtful and measured as she was, became agitated and off the ground.
Gaining more than double STR and VIT in just a few hours seemed to invite a lot of problems.
I couldn’t say I wanted to let Maria participate in a battle against stronger opponents.
While, indeed, I was watching the monster’s every move with «Dimension», there was a possibility I wouldn’t be fast enough to protect Maria from some special ability I had never seen beforehand.
“That’s not true.
I’m sure you can defeat that boss too, Maria.
However, we can’t tell what it could do.
I say you should level up a bit more.”
“When we are fighting against an opponent like that, you should treat me like the disposable slave I am.”
“You’re not a slave.
Also, I don’t like that saying.”
Maria couldn’t understand that If I did what she said and let her die as some kind of disposable pawn, it would be me who’d die from self-loathing.
Perhaps she said it because she understood…
“Haah, you’re as naive as ever.”
I’m just allocating the right person for the right job, and you have your own job that I have in mind, Maria.”
“Lies and more lies.
You’re just overprotective.”
Saying that, Maria played with the dagger in her hand.
She twirled it around in her hand and tossed it around like juggling it.
Her DEX must have increased after she reached level seven—she had been fidgety that whole time.
I tried to warn her about her attitude.
“I’m not overprotective either.
Even I can clearly see that you are lacking composure right now, Maria.
The thing is, if you die right away, I’m the one who loses money.
As far as I’m concerned, I want you to work hard and at least cover the four gold coins I used to buy you.”
“That’s why I said you’re full of lies.
You keep saying things that you don’t mean.
It wasn’t long ago that you said you wouldn’t mind if I ran away.”
‘Right, I did say that…’ I recalled my own words, unable to argue back.
Our Labyrinth exploration then continued in much the same manner—I talked to Maria to a certain extent but never won an argument against her.
It was one thing that Maria had a way with words while I was fumbling at best, but above all else, it was her «Insight» that was the problem.
She often pointed out things so accurately that I almost feared she took her words straight out of my mind.
Feeling down as I was after losing the argument, I sensed a monster with «Dimension».
“Ah, there’s a monster in the right corner ahead.
I think you can handle this one, Maria.”
I’ll take care of it.”
It was a common quadrupedal beast-type monster.
Knowing that beast-type monsters on the 8th floor had no special abilities, I assigned it to be Maria’s sparring partner.
A rank 8 monster, a Bounce Dog—It was a monster that a level 7 explorer would have difficulty defeating unless they surrounded the monster with their party.
“Here I go—!”
Maria, though, went to the offense with nothing but a dagger and her own body.
I followed her from behind to give her cover fire.
The Bounce Dog reacted agilely to the human who ambushed it from the corner.
It retreated and dodged Maria’s opening attack with its characteristic beast-like movements.
It then absorbed the momentum of its own retreat with its four legs and went to bounce off towards Maria, who only attacked air.
I was calm as I saw that happening.
Maria also saw and understood that Bounce Dog’s headlong charge was imminent.
She leaped when the Bounce Dog lunged at her, jumping over the monster with her hand on its back.
She even managed to slash it during that interval.
The Bounce Dog repeatedly rushed towards its nearest enemy, not at me, who was at a distance.
It was a rush of speed that no ordinary human would be able to catch.
Of course, it was much faster than what Maria’s AGI allowed her.
However, it still couldn’t catch Maria.
At level 7, Maria’s STR was only average or below.
Nevertheless, she was able to compete with the speed of the Bounce Dog thanks to her Skills.
The «Insight» Skill detected the psychology of the Bounce Dog, allowing her not to miss its behavior, and the «Hunting» Skill led to efficient body movement and attack methods—the two Skills worked in tandem to allow her to accurately strike the monster’s weak points.
By the end of several thrusts, the Bounce Dog was a wreck.
Its vaunted speed had fallen to the ground in front of Maria’s fighting style, where she would aim at its tendons and various crucial muscles.
In the end, Maria burned it with fire magic, severed all of its tenons, blinded it, and stabbed it through the heart.
Maria was strong, despite her ‘Status’.
She was nothing compared to Dia and me, but she was several degrees stronger than your run-of-the-mill explorers.
Maria defeated a monster on the 8th floor without my help.
I’m sorry, it took some time.”
This is amazing for your first day.”
I should have been good at dealing with beasts like this one.
That being said, I had only ever dealt with small animals in my village…”
That explains it.”
That explained why she had the «Hunting» Skill.
“In the past, even if I could see the game, my body couldn’t keep up with my vision, but that’s no longer the case.
My body feels light, and I can feel strength welling up.
This is amazing.
I managed to fight such a terrifying beast on my own.”
Maria seemed to be enjoying herself, swinging around her bloodied dagger, spraying blood drops everywhere.
She seemed to feel a sense of accomplishment in defeating monsters.
She must have been suited to the act of Hunting in the first place.
Because she had received the perks of level 7 and a body that could move as she envisioned, her talent seemed to be blossoming.
After that, the exploration didn’t pose any problems when left to Maria either.
Even when dealing with unique enemies with total resistance to physical attacks, her «Insight» Skill told her to attack using magic.
In fact, the more unique enemies popped up, the more Maria’s capability was demonstrated.
The way she used her «Insight» to select effective attack patterns was similar to my tactics.
Thus, our new party passed the 8th floor and reached the 9th floor.
However, the monsters there proved to be a much bigger challenge for Maria.
With «Insight» as her only leverage, Maria couldn’t do anything against monsters when none of her attacks affected them.
In such cases, Maria would turn to take the supportive role and cover me with «Firefly» while I fought.
I hunted monsters at random, making sure that Maria showed her use for me before we proceeded to the 10th floor.
—The floor that Alty guarded.
A room of blazing sea of flames.
After confirming that there was nobody around, I approached the flames to conduct my experiment.
“Alty, can you hear me? Alty?”
* * *
Translator – Mab
Proofreader – ilafy
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* * *
I talked to the flames as if I were on a telephone.
I could feel Maria looking at me like I had gone crazy, but I gave her no mind.
I’m serious, can you—”
“Yeah, I hear you.
That is my home after all.”
The flame that spoke to me took the form of a mouth.
Maria’s dumbfounded “eh?” was heard behind me.
“I had my doubts, but you really do respond, huh.”
My main body’s a bit busy right now, though.
Sorry, but make it short.”
I’m thinking of setting up my magic here.
Do you mind?”
“The ‘Dimensional Magic’ we talked about earlier, right? Sure.
I’ll give you a place.”
When Alty said so, a corner of the flames disappeared and a path was formed.
“I made a space with no flames at the end of that path.
Try your magic there.”
I walked on the newly made path and casted my magic in the space without flames.
I envisioned it—a mass of purple magic constructing the magical door.
Magic power leaked out from my palm and gathered, forming the shape of a door… and promptly disappeared.
I simply couldn’t keep the magic in place.
“Kgh… Alty, the magic power in this room is too strong, I can’t make the door.”
«Connection» being a brittle magic was also true.
I couldn’t place the door on the Main Road since the barrier would break the magic down, and if I put it outside the barrier of the Main Road, monsters would destroy it.
That was why I had set my sights on the 10th floor, where there was no barrier or monsters… my expectations were not met, though.
For my part, I’ve been trying to ward off magic power from that area, but it’s not going well.
This very room is proof of my existence, after all.
Flames aside, creating a gap of magic power in that room will be hard.”
“Can’t you do something? Having a door here would make all the difference.”
For me, the Labyrinth was becoming less and less valuable from the 1st floor to the 10th floor.
I had made use of them that time because I had Maria with me, but I probably wouldn’t have the need to visit them next time.
I wanted to shorten the travel time as much as possible.
“Hm… Sorry, but that’s impossible.
You are basically telling me to end my own life.”
Alty apologetically informed me of such before she came up with a new proposal.
“But I think you can set it up in Tida’s room.
It no longer has its owner, after all.
There is a high chance that it has lost its magic power.”
“Tida’s…? Which means… the 20th floor, huh.
That’s a bit far…”
“It’s you, Christ, the 20th floor should be quite close for you, no? Why don’t you go there and try it out?”
“Don’t make it sound easy.
I have Maria now, and time is of the essence for me.”
“Still, let me try that tomorrow.
Thanks for today.”
“Don’t thank me.
I only do what a collaborator should.
Do rely on me again whenever you need.”
With those as her last words, the mouth-shaped flame disappeared into the sea of flames.
I had failed to use «Connection» on the 10th floor.
My next goal was the 20th floor.
“Are you done, Master?”
Maria called out to me after staying silent the whole time.
I’ve done all I could for today.”
“That voice… was that Alty-san?”
While it came out of a mouth made of flames, the tone of her speech was still the same.
Given that I had called her by name, there would be no fooling Maria.
“Yes, that was Alty.
She’s a specialist when it comes to fire magic.
She can do something like this.”
“I don’t think this is the level of a mere specialist… Just who could she be…?”
“I don’t know for sure.
She’s something of an enigma, but there’s no doubt she has much knowledge under her belt.
There’s no one better than her when it comes to the Labyrinth, so she was a good choice for a consultant.”
I kept it to myself that Alty was a monster.
We were supposed to be collaborating with each other, so we should refrain from spreading information that could jeopardize each other.
Above all else, I feared what could happen if we were discovered.
“Huh… a consultant…”
Perhaps she sensed that I withheld information about Alty from her.
Maria only gave a short response.
Well, if she was okay with that, then I wouldn’t explain further either.
I casually checked my ‘Status’ and decided to end our exploration due to my remaining MP.
“Well, let’s get back home.”
“Eh, we’re going back?”
I don’t have much MP left.”
Let me defeat the monsters on our way back then.”
Maria seemed to have a lot of excess energy in her.
That wasn’t surprising since both «Insight» and «Hunting» Skills were constant, passive skills that didn’t use MP.
I envied her a lot because of that, considering «Dimension» always ate up MP.
—As she had declared, Maria took on most of the monsters on the way home.
There were a few close calls, but with my help, we made it to the surface without serious injury.
Soon after, we headed to cash in the day’s loot.
Maria was astonished to see the money we had exchanged.
We had earned the equivalent of several months' worth of living expenses in just one day’s exploration—something that would have been unthinkable under her common sense.
I do know that magic stones from the Labyrinth sell for a high price, but I never thought it would be this high… So this is the reality of the rumors that explorers make big money…” Maria muttered as she looked at the bag of redeemed money in her hand.
“Right? It’s weird that earning money is this easy, right…?”
Hearing Maria’s words, I realized that I shouldn’t have earned that much on my own, and since she was with me, I’d share the feeling with Maria.
“Half of that is yours, Maria.”
“You’ve helped, after all, so you should have half of that…”
“No, no no! That’s weird! I mean, you did all the work, Master! We earn this much precisely because of you, Master!”
Maria shook her head, handing me back the bag of money.
But that small amount of money didn’t appeal to me.
The money I had gotten from hunting bosses and the money I received from defeating Tida had screwed my monetary senses.
Taking the opinion of Maria, someone from the bottom ring of society, was better.
“I guess halves aren’t common… Then how much do you want, Maria?”
“No, I am your possession, Master.
I am not entitled to wages.
Staying around is all I ever want…”
Maria refused the money like it was what was obvious.
She still didn’t want to change her stance as my slave.
I had lightly waved it off that morning, but I couldn’t have her be that stubborn.
With no other choices left, I revealed my inner feelings to her.
“I am the one who doesn’t like it.
I’m sure you understand me already, Maria.
I am not a big enough person to have slaves under me.
That’s why I want a more casual relationship between us.”
“…That is not true.
You are a huge person, Master.
So much so that you’re not normal.”
I was honestly pleading with her, but she just wouldn’t accept it.
As a person, I couldn’t possibly be as big as Maria made me out to be by any stretch.
If I were, Maria wouldn’t be there.
However, I could predict that I would lose to her if we were to fight with words—like how I did in our endless arguments throughout our Labyrinth exploration.
Let’s take the middle way, then.
You’re fine with that, right?”
“You put your life on the line to support me, Maria.
I can’t possibly not pay you for that”
“If you put it that way… This morning, especially, was dangerous.”
“Right? So let me pay you for it.”
If you insist that much, I’ll take some.”
Maria made up her mind to accept the salary.
She then took a big breath, trying to look as insolent as she could, and offered the amount.
“Then… Give me five copper coins.”
Five copper coins.
Just enough for one meal. She doesn’t understand how to act insolent, does she…
Maria responded to my silent objection with a sly grin. Actually, maybe she knows what she’s doing.
With my shoulders trembling, I took up her invitation to the negotiation—I mean, banter.
“No can do.
I won’t give you copper coins.
It will be a couple of silver coins.”
“What kind of aristocrat do you think you are? At most I will settle with 10 copper coins.”
“One silver coin.
That is the minimum.”
“11 copper coins, if you insist.”
“That’s just one extra copper coin… Split the differences better, will you…”
15 copper coins then.”
“Take at least 80 copper coins.
Remember, you risked your life for this.”
I risked my life, hence 15 copper coins.”
“No, no, raise it more.
We are talking about taking it in the middle, after all…”
“You leave me no choice.
20 copper coins—”
“See, now you’re finally starting to get it.
The half-joking negotiation went on for a long time.
Maria, perhaps enjoying that kind of talk, persisted until she reached the limit to what I could tolerate before we reached home.
Finally, she accepted the copper coins from me with a dumbfounded look on her face, and I reassured her that she could do her personal shopping with that money.
I then left her at home.
Just before I left, Maria asked where I was going.
I answered that I’d be working at the tavern, to which she gave me the most fed-up look of the day.
“You’ve made so much money.
Why would you go and do chores to earn a little change…?”
That was a good argument.
I didn’t want to admit it, though, for some reason.
I told Maria about the importance of gathering information at the tavern and headed off to work.
She was stunned until the end.
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