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Pre-note from lizzz: As per the result of a small poll on Discord, I’ll use -san starting this chapter. If there’s no -san, that means the character didn’t use it, not that it was omitted.
I returned to the spring and ate dinner with my party. Today’s meal was soup with black bread and some yellow fruit I hadn’t seen before.
“Okay Schwarz-san, please help yourself.”
Lali-san handed me a large wooden bowl full of meaty soup and vegetables inside. It was similar to a soup I had eaten during a campaign in Russia called Shi or Shchi* something
“Thank you, I’ll be eating now.”
I started to dig in with the spoon that came with the bowl. The warm soup and wheat-flavored bread were delicious. The yellow fruit was called Namy. It was juicy with an edible skin, like pears. After the meal, Marinda and Lali asked about the Dorchester. I lightly answered with a finger on my lips.
While we were chatting and sipping tea, Will came over from the Rafflesia side.
“Schwarz, is now okay?”
“Yes, it is. Let’s ask the Guild staff to join us and talk over there.”
The staff member was sitting alone bundled up in a blanket. I invited him over, then showed them both the map I had drawn earlier and exchanged intel. Of course, Will had also prepared a copy of the area Rafflesia had explored. With the maps, we verified in which direction the labyrinth extended. We also talked about which types of goblins we met, how they appeared, and from which point we began to encounter hobgoblins.
When we compared maps to consider which routes to take tomorrow, it appeared there wasn’t just one path leading to the center of the Spring. It also showed that the paths branched out in a complex pattern before merging back together, then repeating. There wasn’t a point in both groups taking the same route, so we decided which route each group would take. At the points were our routes merged, the group who arrived first would use the light grass to flag which path they took. The group that came later would take the other path.
We also asked the Guild staff to inform the Knight group coming tomorrow about this rule as well.
After the exchange, I went back to the party and handed them my map. I told them about tomorrow’s plan as well as the information I had gotten from Will. Then it was time to sleep.
There were 13 of us in the Spring, including the Guild staffer, but we couldn’t afford to not keep watch just because of that. There also wasn’t enough trust between our parties to leave the watch to only one side.
“We’ll change shifts every 3 hours. Schwarz and Mitche will take the first shift, then it will be me and Ruu. Afterwards, Marinda and Lali. Use this to keep time.”
Saying so, Frau-san took out an hourglass. It was an ordinary hourglass just like those I had seen in my world with a glass body fitted into a wooden frame. Mitche-san and I took the first shift, passing the time by chatting. Of course, I also checked my goggles’ map for any light points coming our way and kept track of any suspicious moments from Rafflesia’s side.
I chatted with Mitche-san on a wide range of topics, but what interested me was 2 things: Their connection with Rafflesia and why a Lord’s third daughter like Lali not only joined Sasanqua, but was also participating in a Labyrinth conquest. Mitche-san wasn’t particularly secretive, but to keep the other party from overhearing, she sat next to me. She leaned on me, the distinctive fragrance of women mixed with the smell of sweat became captivating.
“Mitche-san, that’s too close.”
“Nights in the labyrinth are cold, nya. If we get cold, it’ll affect tomorrow’s exploration, nya.”
“Isn’t the temperature inside the labyrinth stable…? What factor makes the temperature change?”
“Rather than that, let’s talk about Rafflesia, nya.”
According to Mitche-san, the relationship between Sasanqua and Rafflesia was not that complicated. Rafflesia had been a high-profile clan for a long time and in its long history, established that male adventurers would be above female adventurers. This was also due to the fact that the Kurtmelga royals who joined the clan from time to time were all males.
On the contrary, Sasanqua was founded by a group of female adventurers who disliked being looked down on and being used by male adventurers. Its history was as long as Rafflesia, and if male royals joined Rafflesia, many female nobles joined Sasanqua. Lali was one of them. Why would noble girls like Lali become adventurers and join Sansanqua to participate in its activities? The answer to this was also simple.
To train to become a bride.
There were 2 types of nobles in this country, normal ones and sorcery ones with powerful magical lineage. To protect their magical lineage, these houses needed fertile women with high magical power. Once a girl reached adulthood, she would go out to receive training to strengthen her power and gain experience using magic. She would mature while accumulating experience and then get married into another sorcerer noble house – maybe even royalty.
One of the noble sorcery houses that cultivated their magical lineage like this was the Kurtmelga Royal Family. Lali-san’s Barga family was also such a house. When she became an adult, she was sent to Sasanqua to receive training. She then joined this Labyrinth Conquest to earn proof of her maturity.
“This tradition of those houses sending their barely grown daughters out for bride training must be kept?”
“I don’t know, nya, but without powerful magicians, this country would be swamped by labyrinths, nya. It is impossible with just adventurers, nya. We need someone to take the lead at the front line and that’s the duty of noble magicians.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t view things negatively just because of some temporary emotions. I still didn’t understand completely. This country, this continent, or this world – all of it. I wanted to know more. I felt another purpose in life, another aim, born inside my heart.
We rotated our the watch then welcomed the morning without incident. We aimed to reach the Gatekeeper’s room today, so our exploration started early in the morning. We had a proper breakfast so we wouldn’t get hungry halfway through, then prepared for the exploration. Rafflesia also seemed to have planned for an early departure. They would have some rest days at the camp so they were tidying up their side. Linel was also working briskly. He was nasty to female adventurers, but he did do his job properly.
“Time to go.”
With Frau-san’s words, we resumed our exploration.
We went straight up to area we had explored yesterday. With Rafflesia’s map, I had confirmed we had not passed the Gatekeeper’s room yet. For a single layer labyrinth with no lower levels like this one, it was unthinkable for the Gatekeeper to be somewhere in the middle. He’d most likely be at the innermost area or centered somewhere around here. Anyhow, we must move forward.
We avoided goblins when we could, but killed those we couldn’t. We reached the small room filled with hobgoblins in half the time it took yesterday.
“There they are, five hobgoblins. Frau-san, can I do a preemptive strike?”
“You’ll go ahead by yourself?”
“Yes, I’ll start outside the room.”
“Okay then. After Schwarz strikes, Ruu and Mitche will follow. Marinda will be in the middle. Lali and I will take the rear.”
The room’s entrance would be right ahead of us after we turned the corner. Based on their footsteps, the 5 hobgoblins were inside. I stopped just before the turn, and asked Mitche-san and Ruu-san not to get too close.
“The weapon I’ve been using is not very loud, but the one I’ll use from now on is. So please keep some distance from me. I’ll crouch down when attacking, so advance after I stand up.”
So from now on, I wouldn’t be using the P90 anymore. I’d use the firearm I had prepared for the Spring’s depth, the Scar-H.
I jumped out of the corner, crouched down, aimed down the sights, and smoothly readied the rifle. I glided the crosshair to the hobgoblin’s heads in the center of the room. The distance was less than 20m. They immediately noticed me and glared while growling. At that moment, I fired at one of their heads. The sound of the gunshot reverberated through the labyrinth and the head burst open.
It wasn’t only the gunshot that reverberated in the labyrinth. To someone from a race with excellent hearing like Mitche-san, the un-muffled gunshot was too loud. My earpads automatically adjusted anything too loud down to an acceptable volume, protecting my ears from the ear-splitting sound. Mitche-san’s ears were pressed flat to her head and her hair stood on end. The scene was unexpectedly captivating.
This time, it was goblin roars that filled the labyrinth. I immediately turned back around and saw 2 hobgoblins charging this way, large swords at their hips.
There wasn’t any time to aim for their heads. Gliding the crosshair left to right, I shot at their torsos instead, with 2 consecutive shots each, but I went too quick. The left hobgoblin caught both bullets in the chest and fell dead, face up. The right hobgoblin, however, was only hit once in the left shoulder – the other shot missed. His momentum fell slightly, but he was still charging towards me.
The hobgoblin roared and pulled his sword in one smooth stroke. My left hand was in his swinging range.
I activated the CBS (Circle Barrier Shield) on my left hand and met the sword. My shield stopped it, but I could feel the violent force of the impact through it. While my arm was still shaking from the impact, I twisted around and thrust the Scar’s muzzle into the hobgoblin’s mouth and pulled the trigger the moment it touched its upper jaw. The 7.62x51mm bullet exploded the monster’s head, leaving only the lower jaw intact.
“Are you alright?!”
Ruu-san rushed over. Mitche-san and Ruu-san were in the corner and hadn’t seen the hobgoblins. Normally they would have been able to hear the footsteps, but it seemed like even Ruu-san’s ears were also ringing. So dealing with a sword-swinging hobgoblin charging from their blind spot was impossible.
Seeing the half-blown hobgoblin’s head, she immediately understood the situation. She circled towards me while keeping an eye on the 2 remaining hobgoblins inside the room.
“Marinda, forward! Mitche, hold on please! Lali, check Schwarz’s arm!”
Frau-san commanded. With Marinda-san beside Ruu-san, they faced the hobgoblins one on one while Frau-san and Lali-san went to my side.
“Schwarz, give me your left hand please, I’ll cast healing on you!”
As Lali said that, she took my left hand into hers, her right hand carrying a mace to act as a derivative for her magic. She then began to recite the magical incantation.
“～～、～～～、～～～、healing water, Aqua Heal.”
A spray of pale liquid wrapped up my hand, shimmering, but the light went out in an instant as if a bubble was popped.
As expected, somehow the bestowal of magic or healing magic of this world, those worked with the recipient’s magical power like strengthening or restoration didn’t have an effect on a Manuke like me…
Lali immediately understood what had, or rather what hadn’t happened, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t worried.
“It’s alright, Lali-san. My left hand isn’t injured, there’s no problem.”
“Eh? But the sword…”
“It’s alright, so can I have my hand back?”
Lali-san was still holding my left hand in hers. Noticing this, she let go of my hand but still looked like she didn’t understand what was going on. I made some space between us and activated the CBS. I didn’t make it fully transparent so one could see something was there – creating a spatial distorting in the air.
“Th- this is a magical barrier? Eh, but isn’t Schwarz-san a Manuke?”
“It’s not a magical barrier, but something similar. I used this earlier, so I wasn’t injured at all.”
It seemed like Lali-san still didn’t understand. She looked as if multiple question marks were popping over her head.
While we weren’t paying attention, the remaining monsters were defeated. We were derailed from our plans a bit, costing us some time, but from here on we could re…
“What is this—!!!”
We couldn’t resume our exploration after all.