Root Hubbard was located south of Pond, about a five-day trip away. Walk ten minutes from the town and you’d arrive at the entrance to the dungeon Underground City of the Ancient Gods, which was discovered five years ago. Root Hubbard itself was a town hastily-built solely for the dungeon, and as such it didn’t have any walls, only simple fences.
No card check was done on people entering or leaving the place. There were three guilds in town: the Alchemists Guild (branch), Adventurers Guild, and the Merchants Guild. They all pitched in for the money used in hiring mercenaries who maintained peace and order.
Wooden buildings lined the main road, twenty on each side. There were a few back streets, but that was it. It might as well be called a “village”, but since the buildings were actually fairly fancy, people called it a “town”.
「There’s barely any houses here.」Hikaru said.
「You’re right. Maybe they don’t have plans to develop this place.」
「They might get rid of the town itself once the excavation for treasures and examination of ruins are done.」
There weren’t any dungeon masters here. Treasure chests didn’t just pop up. You couldn’t gather monster loot like there was no tomorrow. The town itself wouldn’t be developed. This place was simply not a happy hunting ground.
Once the dungeon walls were destroyed, they didn’t magically get fixed. Once a treasure was taken, there wouldn’t be another one.
Hikaru and Lavia found an inn and went to sleep early. No identity checks were done; they didn’t have a way to know who was a wanted person anyway. It was the innkeeper’s duty to make their own judgment about their guests and whether or not to let them stay.
The next morning, they headed to the Alchemists Guild’s branch. As to why it was called a “branch”, it was simply because it didn’t function as a guild at all. You couldn’t take requests. All you could do was buy items that were sold by the Alchemists Guild – items that were ordered from the nearest guild.
The place sold potions, magic catalysts, and staffs, among others. Hikaru bought two potions worth 1,200 each which was a little more expensive due to shipping costs.
「Holy Water Talisman, Venom Antidote, Cure Disease Potion…」
Unfamiliar items lined up the shelves, each costing more or less a thousand gilans. A young man approached Hikaru. He was a guild staff who seemed to think Hikaru was loaded since he dropped 2,400 gilans on the potions like it was nothing.
「The Underground City of the Ancient Gods is an undead monsters den. It would be best to use special items. The Holy Water Talisman can temporarily repel the undead. I greatly recommend buying the Venom Antidote as well as once a Poison Gust wounds you, you’ll most likely get infected. The Cure Disease Potion is for the cold air that a Ghost emits. Although some people just use pure will to shrug it off.」
The staff didn’t mention one thing. The Poison Gust was a high-level monster that could only appear in the deeper parts of the dungeon. Only a handful of adventurers had fought one before.
「What’s this? Holy Oil… Lamp?」
A different item caught Hikaru’s attention. It looked exactly like a spirit lamp. The glass was poorly-made, however, causing air bubbles to form, resulting in a low transparency.
「Ah, this one. It’s used for when you spend a night in the dungeon. By lighting it up – well the flame itself isn’t visible, but I assure you it lights up – it creates something like a force field invisible to undead monsters in a radius of about ten paces. It’s used for long breaks, in other words, for when you sleep.」
「I see. I want five, then.」
「…I’m sorry, what?」
「So that’s 5,000 gilans.」
「Forgive me if I sound rude. Monsters are more active at nighttime. A Holy Oil Lamp only lasts for about eight hours, so you might have to fight some of them.」
「The longest anyone had explored the dungeon was three days and it was a five-man party of rank C adventurers. They lost two of their members by the time they returned.」
「I’m aware of that. I already looked it up. Anyway, I’m buying five.」
The staff’s expression changed to that of pity. He was probably sure that Hikaru would die inside the dungeon.
Our food will only last for five days. We’ll have drinking water thanks to the Water Spirit Magic Gem, but it’s not like it can create food.
In reality, Hikaru was carefully considering how long they were going to stay inside.
Next they made their way to the Adventurers Guild. The place was thriving. Many adventurers were gathered in the building which was as big as the one in Pond.
「We’re a rank D party and we need at most three Healers.」
「Recruiting people for this day only! We’re not asking for much as we’re only rank E ourselves.」
「We’d like to join a party looking to collect magic gems. One swordsman and one archer. We’re only rank E, but we have five-character classes on our cards.」
People were looking for party members in the guild. Once a treasure chest was opened and the loot taken, there wouldn’t be another one. But it was possible to get rare items as well. People who liked to collect works of art, medicine, weapons, books, bugs, or herbs posted requests here at the Root Hubbard Adventurers Guild. Adventurers might not find actual gold in the dungeon, but they could earn money by clearing these requests. It was the dream.
「Oh, thank heavens. There’s one left.」
Unlike Pond, the reference room here was frequently used. On one hand, you could make bank in the dungeon, but it was extremely dangerous as well. There were books in the reference room that put together the things that adventurers learned from exploring the dungeon.
Hikaru grabbed the last book left, used Group Obfuscation on Lavia and himself, then headed to a corner so they could focus on reading. The accounts were quite peculiar as they were mostly rumors.
Year X, month X, day X; An account from XXX, a D-ranked adventurer:
He had a narrow escape from death and returned alive after an encounter with a Living Head. According to him, it was a floating head of a corpse, which matches what we know so far about the monster. It lets out a screech called a Bind Shout that strikes fear to those who hear it. “Surrounded by five Living Heads, I was prepared to die. A fire spell fired by my friends hit a bottle of alcohol, lighting up the whole place as bright as day. I then escaped from the monsters…”
It looked like the person simply wrote down what he heard, albeit incoherent.
「This is actually helpful.」
「So a Living Head is weak against light?」
「I don’t know about that. But I guess it strictly relies on its two eyes for vision.」
Someone who was prepared to die escaped easily. If it was a monster you could run away from, he wouldn’t have braced himself for death. That only meant they created an opening for him to escape. Reading and analyzing was a crucial skill indeed.
Lavia was also smart, so he didn’t have to explain anything. Hikaru continued reading to find out if his hunch was right.
「Wait a sec, there’s no books left! Hey, you! You’re done reading, right? Hand yours over.」
It sounded like trouble. A brawny adventurer, who looked to be more or less thirty years old, was yanking a book from a boy in his mid-teens.
「I’m still reading that! Give it back!」
「What? Wait, aren’t you the kid who always looks for party members here but completely ignored anyway? Rank E solo adventurers have no business being here.」
「What does that have to do with me reading that book?!」
The reddish brown-haired boy tried to reach for the book, but the man was around 185 centimeters tall. He couldn’t do anything.
The other adventurers laughed. They knew about how the boy was recruiting for members and that no one gave him the time of day.
「Who would actually listen to a rank E Civilian?」
「He should just go home, to be honest.」
Not one soul sympathized with the boy. The guild staff was at the counter, having conversations with adventurers. They didn’t bother with what was going on. Perhaps they were too busy, or trouble in the guild was simply an everyday occurrence.
「We’re exploring the dungeon tomorrow, so we’re going to read this. Understand? I’ll give it back once we’re done with it.」
「I don’t care! I’m going to clear the dungeon too! I have a right to read it!」
「A right? No, you don’t. You gotta be strong if you want to be an… adventurer!」
A mere front kick from the man sent the boy flying, slamming his back on a pillar. No one batted an eye. Everyone was used to seeing brawls.
「All right. Let’s start our strategy meeting.」
The man seemed to have lost complete interest as he returned to his friends. The boy was down on his knees, not moving. Tears streamed down his face, either from pain or frustration.
「Are you going to help him?」Lavia asked Hikaru as he stood up.
「I don’t care about what other people get themselves into, but we’re done reading anyway.」
They were both fast readers. Hikaru was a bookworm back in Japan, and Lavia read novels a lot. They had the contents of the book in their mind already.
「Ugh… who are you?」
Hikaru approached the boy who quickly rubbed his sleeves on his eyes to hide the fact that he was crying.
He was dressed elegantly. The fabric of his clothes looked luxurious, and his face had a tinge of softness in it. Most adventurers had this rough look on them, but he didn’t have it.
【Soul Board】Hawks F. Linden
Age: 16 Soul Rank: 14
Hikaru almost dropped to the floor when he saw the boy’s Soul Board.
He’s weak! Like, awfully weak! I’m surprised he made it to rank E. Maybe that man was right. He might actually be a Civilian.
Still he had a point on Sword Weapon Mastery. He probably received proper training since he was clearly the son of a Baron, as indicated by the “F” in his name.
「You can read this.」
「Are you sure?」
「Yeah. I’m done with it.」Hikaru said as he handed the book over. Hawks regarded it before turning his attention back to Hikaru.
「I’m sorry, but I can’t let you into my party.」
「You look like you just got promoted to rank E. I understand the feeling of being desperate for party members, but exploring a dungeon is not a game. You should enter one once you’ve grown and found friends you can trust.」
「No, I uhh…」
「You should go home. Find a place where you can gain experience.」Hawks said, before turning around and making his way to a nearby table.
「You just got dumped, Hikaru.」
「Did I say I wanted to join his party?」
The other adventurers heard the conversation and the whole place erupted into laughter.
「There’s a kid who got turned down by that kid!」one exclaimed.
Hikaru’s face twitched.
They had a light lunch at a diner that specialized in noodles. Unlike the wheat and buckwheat noodles that Hikaru was used to eating in Japan, this place used rice flour. The smooth texture was out of this world, and the stock made from meat bones was exquisite, making for a satisfying meal.
「Lavia. How are you feeling?」
He wanted to use chopsticks, but there was none available, so he had to use a fork instead. As always, Lavia looked elegant as she had her meal.
「Onward we go, then.」
「To the dungeon.」
And so they left the diner and made their way out of town and to the dungeon. They had already bought the food and the water-producing spirit magic gem they needed. Five nights inside should be fine, although way different from a pleasant stay at an inn.
Outside the town was a wasteland, with only a few half-withered bushes growing here and there. As Hikaru looked at the narrow, hard-packed road, he wondered how many people had tread the path and how many actually made it back.
「Lavia, how do you feel about all this? And I want you to be honest with me.」
「I’m actually a bit scared.」
「I longed to go on an adventure. But now that I’m about to go on one, I can’t stop my legs from shaking a bit. It’s weird, right?」
Hikaru didn’t think so. They were about to head into unknown territory where countless people have died and safety was not guaranteed. No one even knew what lay hidden in the deepest part of the dungeon.
They didn’t want riches. There weren’t any goods they desperately needed either. They simply wanted to go on an adventure.
「I-It’s not that I don’t trust you. I hope you don’t take it the wrong way.」Lavia hurriedly added after seeing Hikaru looking serious.
「Let’s run away.」
「If it looks like monsters might notice us, let’s bail. We might run into some monsters that my abilities have no effect on. Even if there’s treasure in front of us, we’ll run with all we’ve got.」
「Okay… Thank you, Hikaru.」
「I value my life.」
「Yes. So much so that I don’t want to lose you that easily.」
「Hehe. I’ll take that for now.」
Lavia’s mood had completely changed. She was relaxed now.
Hikaru thought about what would happen after they get out of the kingdom – when she’d finally be free…
What if she goes away? What if she always wanted to leave him? I don’t think I’ll ever recover from that.
The more he knew Lavia, the more he felt attracted to her. He was painfully aware of that.
「Oh, is that the entrance right there?」
Lavia’s voice snapped him back to his senses. Up ahead stood several wooden houses. The Adventurers Guild staff and personnel from the government lived there as they managed the entrance to the dungeon.
Beyond that was a small mausoleum with a wide opening – the entrance to the Underground City of the Ancient Gods.
「What’s this? Here for an errand? Did anyone order food?」 a man wondered as he saw Hikaru and Lavia. His proper attire painted him as a government official.
「I’m an adventurer.」Hikaru said, showing his guild card. He left the “job class” field blank, though.
「Really? Hmm, yes. It says you’re rank E, all right. Who’s the other boy?」
「My escort. I believe we can enter as long as one of us is at least rank E.」
「Those are the rules, but unfortunately, I can’t let young people’s lives go to waste. I can’t allow you to enter.」
He’s going to violate regulations?
「Whoa, what’s going on here? A kid wants to enter the dungeon?」
Five adventurers came out of their cabin.
「I’m not giving them permission, so I’m asking them to leave. 」
「Sounds good. They’re just going to die right away. That’ll only increase the number of undead in there.」one man said.
They all burst out laughing.
「H-Hikaru?」Lavia asked gingerly. Hikaru was not happy. So much so that even she felt scared.
「First that Alchemists Guild staff, that rank E kid, and now you lot… You’re all pissing me off.」Hikaru said in a clear voice that the person in charge and the adventurers could hear him.
「What did you say? Don’t think you can get away with everything just because you’re a kid. You’re being really disrespectful right now.」
「You’re the one who’s being disrespectful. Are you from the guild? Or a government official?」
「…The guild. What about it?」
「Regulations say rank E adventurers are allowed to enter, regardless of their company’s rank. And you’re blatantly violating said regulations. If anything, you’re the one not respecting the rules.」
「Watch your mouth, kid. Don’t get too cocky now. 」
「Shut up, old man. You think you’re hot shit cause you put your life on the line in your job?」
A vein popped up on the adventurer’s forehead after being called an old man.
「Care to say that again?!」
「Our plan was to head back as soon as we felt what it was like to go adventuring, but I changed my mind. We’re leaving this god-forsaken kingdom anyway, so there’s no need to hold back.」Hikaru declared.「We’re heading to the deepest part of this dungeon.」
Money left: 24,390 gilans (+200,000 gilans)