Hikaru and Lavia left the royal capital on a carriage.
「Where are we headed to next?」Lavia asked.
「I want to take some material delivery requests. I want to get promoted to rank E fast so I can enter the dungeon.」
「Do you really love dungeons that much?」
「I’m just interested in them. That’s all.」
Dungeons – a staple in fantasy worlds of swords and magic. There were even games and novels with only dungeons. Hikaru wouldn’t have to worry about other people seeing him use his abilities as well.
「You also want to enter the dungeon, right?」Hikaru asked.
「What? I, uhh… If you really insist, I can tag along with you.」
Lavia was clearly restless – brushing the hair over her ears and stroking her nape. Hikaru knew that most of the books she read in the capital involved dungeons. She borrowed plenty of them because she expected to explore a dungeon soon. Apparently she finished reading them all during their stay.
「We’re still novices. We should go about hunting monsters for now.」
The carriage they took first thing in the morning followed a long route towards Pond. They were headed to the forest near the lake where he met Paula and defeated a Goblin Leader. He wanted to go deeper into the woods so he could test a few things.
On the bank of the lake, Hikaru explained to Lavia their course of action.
「First we’ll sneak up to our target, then strike.」
「The both of us?」
「Only I will attack. All you have to do is hold my hand and follow me.」
「Okay.」Lavia said without thinking twice.
Lavia trusted Hikaru’s abilities even though Hikaru hadn’t fully explained his Stealth skill to her at all.
Hikaru wanted to try a few things. First, the party feature. He knew that adventurers sometimes formed parties. But it was actually only more of a formal declaration to the guild that they were going to work together. Nothing more. The members didn’t receive any special buffs by being in a party.
What Hikaru was curious about was the soul ranks. Say in a party there’s a healer who just stays in the backlines, and someone with a high soul rank. How would their ranks go up after killing a monster? Hikaru’s battle with Lawrence was fierce, but his soul rank didn’t go up, which meant that the target must at least be killed.
「Wow…」Lavia blurted out.
Green Wolves were prowling about five meters ahead. They were so close, yet the monsters didn’t notice the two of them at all. Their ears simply twitched as they continued sniffing roots of shrubs without a care in the world.
「Ssh, be quiet.」Hikaru whispered.
Slowly, they inched closer to the Green Wolves. One thrust to the nape with Hikaru’s Dagger of Strength and the wolf was dead.
Then, Lavia’s body trembled. Hikaru quickly plucked off a special kind of plant called Wolf Moss from the monster’s back. They only grew on the back of Green Wolves. There was a request that required these materials to be delivered.
Hikaru led Lavia, who was squirming about, away from the Green Wolf’s corpse. The other Green Wolves were drawing closer.
「Did your rank go up?」
「I think so.」
Soul ranks going up was widely-known phenomenon.. Upon checking Lavia’s Soul Board, her rank had indeed increased.
Age: 14 Rank: 7
Lavia didn’t do anything and yet her soul rank went up. I guess that means we’re in a party right now? I suppose it’s safe to assume a “party” feature exists in this world. But why isn’t there any definitive information about this?
Hikaru considered a few possibilities.
One: Soul rank is not valued that much, so there’s not much study done.
Two: Scientific method of thinking is not really applied in this world, i.e. making observations, performing experiments, and drawing conclusions.
Three: The “party” feature is only available under extremely limited conditions and as such there have only been very few precedents.
Hikaru had a feeling it was all of the above. But they didn’t come here today to look into why there wasn’t information about parties. Finding out that Lavia’s soul rank could go up just by being near him in battles was more than enough.
He opted to save the point for now in case of an emergency.
「Next we’re going to test your magic. What happens if you push yourself to the limit?」
「I will lose consciousness.」
「How do you feel after you wake up?」
「Awfully sick, but no one’s died from it before… I think.」
「I see. You mentioned you can use Fire Breath thirty times in a row without a break, but that’s not really an exact figure, right? It’s just a rough estimate.」
「Then our next experiment is to find out the limit of your mana.」
This was necessary if they wanted to enter the dungeon.
My special skill is Stealth, and Lavia’s is fire magic. Not a lot of synergy between the two.
Using magic would draw the attention of enemies. They didn’t have any healing abilities, so if she fainted from magic overuse, Hikaru would have to carry Lavia, and that would limit his mobility.
「There’s no monsters around to use as target practice, though. I guess we’ll just have to pick some random monster.」
With the sun’s position as their guide, they strolled through the forest. They had to pay careful attention, since the position of the sun changed with time. They said that the deeper you go into the forest, the stronger the monsters. It was time to find out if that was true.
Hikaru spotted the perfect target for Lavia to use her magic on.
「Do you see that?」
「Is that a Goblin settlement?! This is my first time seeing one!」
「I don’t think there’s any other daughter of a Count out there who’d get excited from seeing a Goblin settlement.」
「You mean former daughter of a Count.」Lavia corrected.
About a hundred meters ahead of them was an open area where trees have been cut down by none other than Goblins. They used the trees they cut to make simple houses. There were fifty to a hundred of them, though Hikaru wasn’t sure if they belonged to the same family he encountered before.
Their settlement was as big as an indoor track field. The place looked peaceful, with some of them cooking animal meat, a few playing the pipe, while others danced. But in one corner was what appeared to be wreckage from a human carriage. Pieces of clothes were scattered about. They were most likely killed.
「Can you wait here? I’ll be back in a few minutes.」
「I just want to check if there’s people inside.」
Lavia looked worried. She didn’t want to be left alone in this place. But she might end up seeing a horrifying scene if she tagged along. After all, goblins sometimes kidnapped women and use them to reproduce. There was a possibility that they had someone captive right now, considering they have killed others already.
「I can run over there and back quickly.」
Lavia stepped away from Hikaru and crouched behind a tree. She wouldn’t be easily spotted this way.
A Green Wolf would see her, though. I want to get her a magic item that’ll help her conceal her presence. Does such a thing even exist? Oh, right. Princess Kudyastoria had one.
Hikaru started running. His Strength 1 and Power Burst 2 was no joke. Even without putting much effort, he could run a hundred meters in ten seconds. The Goblins didn’t even notice the weeds swaying as he dashed forward.
No Goblin Leader in sight. But there’s a few bigger ones.
A Goblin Leader stood over two meters tall. There were a few bigger ones here and there, about a meter and a half tall – just a head taller than the regular Goblins.
No humans just yet. Living ones, that is.
Mixed in among the animal meat were human arms skewered over the fire. Hikaru looked away, holding back his urge to throw up.
Let’s check inside.
It was daytime, but Hikaru forced his way through. He couldn’t waste a lot of time with Lavia being alone. He ran through the open square and headed straight to a shack covered with blinders. Sleeping Goblins. An empty cabin. A storage room.
There’s no one here.
There were no humans around. Hikaru felt extreme relief. What if there was a woman that the goblins got pregnant? What would he do? If she wished to die, would he be able to kill her?
I don’t have the guts to do that yet.
If he checked and found someone, he would have to make a decision.
It would be better if they just retreated the moment they found the settlement. All he had to do then was report it to the Adventurers Guild, and they would take care of it. He wouldn’t have to do the dirty work.
But if… If he found someone, what then? Would he kill them? Save them and care for them afterwards? Look the other way and just run?
Frustrated by his thoughtlessness, Hikaru returned to where Lavia was. She didn’t move an inch, crouched down like she was earlier.
Tears brimmed at the corner of her eyes. She was scared. Hikaru embraced her without thinking.
「I’m sorry. You must’ve been scared.」
「You’re the one who told me to wait here, you dummy.」
「I know. I’m an idiot.」
Hikaru was scared as well. He hugged her to hide what he felt. Puzzled by his actions, Lavia hugged him back. For a while, they didn’t move, finding repose in each other’s embrace.
「All right. Time to try out your magic.」
「Are you okay now, Hikaru?」
「…All right. Time to try out your magic.」
Feeling embarrassed as he was reminded of his fear and anxiety, Hikaru raised his voice and repeated himself.
「Can you hit the place from here?」
「With fire magic? It’s a bit far. I need to move about half the distance closer.」
「Okay. Just pull on my hand once you’re within a good range. I want you to use your most powerful spell.」
「Are you sure?」
「And change the job class on your card to Flame Spirit God: Flame Magus.」
「Are you sure, though?」
「Of course. Knowing your maximum firepower will help us think of more strategies when exploring the dungeon.」
Lavia’s despondent reaction weighed heavy on Hikaru’s mind.
「I’m sorry. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.」
「No, that’s not it. I want to be an adventurer. I can’t be one if I get scared now. I’ll do it.」
「Thank you. I know I said use your most powerful spell, but please don’t cast one that’ll make you unable to move.」
「I know. There will be quite a big magic circle, though. Is that okay?」
「Yeah. It should be fine.」
「Okay, then. Let’s do it.」
Hikaru thought Group Obfuscation would be able to hide the magic circle. If the Goblins noticed them, there were plenty of trees around to hide behind. Once they hid themselves, the effect of Stealth would kick in once again.
Tightening their grip on each other’s hand, they walked forward. Lavia’s lips were tightly pursed. About fifty meters away from the settlement, Lavia pulled on Hikaru’s hand.
「I’ll use it here.」
Lavia drew a tiny breath.
「O’ Spirit, heed my call. A raging fire is what I desire. Fire to burn down all living things, all creation, even the laws of the universe!」
Hikaru gave a start. The ground around Lavia, about three meters in diameter, started glowing. He glanced at the settlement, but the Goblins didn’t notice what was going on. Group Obfuscation was working.
「Dance, Spirit! I offer you my mana, so sing, Spirit! Take back our once pure world and burn everything down to ashes.」
Hikaru stared at the scene in amazement. A huge magic circle formed about ten meters above their heads. From there, a ball of fire slowly rose.
His forehead felt hot. Lavia was sweating buckets as well. The fire was a whole lot bigger than when she used Fire Breath. What he thought was a ball at first started undulating. It looked like a serpent, in fact.
As expected, a few of the Goblins began noticing that something was wrong. There were some that screamed as they pointed at the flames. Others dropped the skewered meat they had on their hands. Others tried desperately to run away.