~~Eighteenth Day of the Fourth Month, Six Oclock in the Morning~~
We had entered the Labyrinth of No Return… And one hour had already passed.
A chilly ambience that couldnt 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.
“By the way, what was the party composition of the previous exploration party”
“From what Id heard, three B-ranked warriors and two mages.”
“Still, theres a chance that they never made it here.
Like they got wiped out by those thieves on the way”
“Hmm… Thats worth considering.
Weve fought a few monsters so far, and theyre not on the level that would throw off a B-ranked party.
Even if they didnt make it all the way, they should have defeated the earlier monsters if they were here, so its definitely possible that they never made it to the labyrinth.”
Exactly… So far, there hadnt 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 werent something a B-ranked party would have issues with.
Monsters after this one werent 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 wasnt 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.
“Theres something like a keyhole here… did we pick up anything that might fit on the way”
“These seem pretty solid… Maybe youd need to be as strong as the Six Braves to cut them”
“Lets give it a try, then… Asley, support.”
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 its harder than iron, right Special alloys, maybe”
“Would be an alloy I dont know, then… But if we get this off, wouldnt that be enough to complete our mission”
“Master, isnt this…”
Pochi turned around and called me.
The cage was a metallic silver… with a pattern of reddish-tinged speckles.
Sure enough, Id seen such a description written in some of my books.
From how Pochi acted, she probably knew what was up as well.
The trio turned to me all at once.
“Oh man, is this for real, Asley”
“Its priceless… Like, wouldnt it be more precious than the treasures inside”
“That may be the case… But if we cant 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 — howre you gonna do that”
Bruce raised his voice with a hint of excitement.
“We can dig around the cage, for one.
Itll take a bit of work, though.”
That didnt surprise Bruce much.
It may seem funny in principle, but the solution made perfect sense.
“Ive 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 Pochis, then.”
“Hold on, Master — Why mine, too!”
“Isnt a Master and his Familiar supposed to be synchronized in both body and soul, Pochi”
“As if thats 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, youre so young, but its like youre 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 thats a priceless reaction.
An expression of utter disgust… uh, whys 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… Its… its done…”
“Now thats 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, cant let you two overshadow them now, can they”
“Uh, I cant say I understand…”
“Its 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 thats easy to understand, yes.”
Those were some wise words.
Gotta note that down.
“Its a shame that we cant take the cage with us as well, but thats half of our request done.”
“Hmm, all we need to do now is go back alive, then.”
“Bruce, you still in this”
“Ill manage if I get to sleep for ten hours.”
“Cant right now.
Blazer, taking Bruces 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, arent 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 cmon, wouldnt this mean were practically stuck”
“What should we do, Master”
“……Well use Pochi as a decoy and run for or lives!”
“Not that again! I wont agree to it!”
“Cmon, just play along once in a while, yeah”
“I cant dieonce in a while if I only live once, sir!”
“…Ooh, nice one.”
“T-that wasnt intentional, I swear.”
Youre 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, lets see how fun this deathmatch thing is!”
“Mm-hm, we cant avoid this fight, so well have to whittle them down as much as possible — increase their burden while coming after us.”
“So whats 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.
“Ill be using a layered casting of Title Up and Hype Up for Pochi.
Thankfully, that can be easily done with Swift Magic, so theres 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… Id like you to guard me.”
“Pochi is the only one fighting, then So thats what you meant bydecoy.
So, why would you need all three of us on guard”
“Yeah, wouldnt 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 Ill be completely defenseless in the process, so I need as much help as I can get.”
“…So what youre saying is that youll be pulling off a pretty big move”
“Its not quite that elaborate, so to speak.”
“All right, lets go with that.”
“Eh — are you all really fine with it”
“What, youre 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-thats not what I meant…”
Youve 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, lets get down to business!”