Cotton-elka Line of Defense – Part 04

After using its camouflage, the Lost Man hid by the entrance to the forest, behind a tree trunk.

Wild Horn and the other uninjured adventurers were collecting elemental magic stones from the mounds of ash.

The Lost Man waited. Two meters away from it lay a pile of conspicuous white ash, with an elemental magic stone buried in it. It was waiting for someone to come and get it, then it would attack.

Abruptly, the Lost Man lost consciousness, stabbed in the back with a Dagger of Strength.

“Camouflage, huh? More like basic imperceptibility. I could still sense it with my Life and Mana Detection. Is this really a Rank D monster?”

Hikaru studied the Lost Man as it turned into ashes. He then picked up an elemental stone—a blue translucent gem—from the ashes and put it in his pocket.

“Anyway, I better hurry.”

Hikaru started walking towards the depths of the vast forest.

Paula had told him that there was a well-trodden path leading from Cotton-elka to the Forest of Deception, so all he had to do was follow it. It was actually a little better than an animal trail. Monsters sometimes headed for Cotton-elka along the same path.

“Do they know about the human settlement? Or do they follow the scent of humans?”

At first, Hikaru took down every monster that appeared, but there was no end to them, so he eventually stopped. Since the Four Eastern Stars were in Cotton-elka, he wouldn’t have to do anything unless a very powerful monster showed up. For now, he prioritized moving fast.

Apparently, there was a more serviceable road to the dungeon from the fortress city of Leather Elka, which had control over the Forest of Deception. Perhaps a lot more monsters were headed that way. Of course, that side was well-defended, so Hikaru had nothing to worry about.

Hikaru had been walking for three hours now. The tall forest went on and on, until suddenly, he came upon a wall of branches. The Forest of Deception started from there.

The passageway, about five meters in both width and height, descended gently. Despite the gradual descent, there was plenty of light. Small leaves covered the ceiling, and sunlight shone through the trees. But the light from the sun shouldn’t reach this place, which meant it was some kind of effect created by the dungeon.

Thankfully, the route to the fifth level was included in the Adventurers’ Guild’s manual. Hikaru brought a copy of it with him so he wouldn’t get lost.

Each floor was similar in size, with winding paths ranging between five and ten kilometers long.

“A dungeon… My very first dungeon!”

Hikaru couldn’t keep his excitement in check. He loved games, and he just stepped into a real-life dungeon.

“Ugh, my eyes hurt. Is this where it got its name of Deception?”

The walls of the passage, made of tangled branches, were semi-transparent. Beyond it were more tangled branches, ruining his perception.

On a related note, he did not know the type of tree. He had never seen it before.

Branch Men and Leaf Monsters were running through the passage, going past Hikaru without noticing him. Listening carefully, he could hear the sound of creatures running here and there in the cave. Monsters were running wild.

What bothered him was that there seemed to be very few monsters inside the dungeon. Had most of them gone outside? There were several entrances to the Forest of Deception; some of the monsters left without Hikaru spotting them.

But there was no point in worrying about them. Right now, he just had to do what needed to be done.

“First, I need to check my weapons.”

Hikaru examined the new weapons he ordered from Leniwood’s Weapons Workshop. He had 2 points on his Projectile. To make use of it, he had concealed throwing knives inside his cloak, six on each side.

He had a hard time deciding how many to get. He wanted a lot because they were supposed to be disposable, but too many would weigh him down. And making them lighter would reduce their power. In the end, he decided on a knife that was just heavy enough and was about the size of a fountain pen. It was more like a suntetsu than a throwing knife.

Right on cue, a herd of Lesser Basilisks were running down the passage. Hikaru threw his weapon at the chicken head as it passed by, piercing its eyes, and penetrating clean through to the other side. The Lesser Basilisk fell forward.

“A critical hit?”

He didn’t expect to kill it with one shot. The fallen monster turned to ash. The other Lesser Basilisks looked around restlessly, then scurried away without finding the assailant.

“Lesser Basilisks are Rank E monsters. I guess I hit it at the right spot?”

Hikaru’s Assassination was maxed out at 3 points. This stat had the following effect: when attacking without the target noticing, the attack will have a lethal effect. Once maxed, the Skills Sharpshooter appeared, but since he had no points available, he hadn’t learned it yet. Sharpshooter’s effect was as follows: when attacking with a projectile without the target noticing, the attack will have a lethal effect.

Sharpshooter wasn’t that different from Assassination, but the fact that it existed separately could mean that Assassination‘s effect did not apply to Projectiles and Bows. In other words, the knife he threw just now didn’t have the Assassination buff.

“I guess that means just Projectile plus Muscle Strength is powerful enough.”

With 2 points on Projectile, he could hit even a running target. His accuracy would drop if the target was running faster or farther away, but a Rank E monster posed no problem.

Hikaru picked up the elemental magic stone buried in the ashes, retrieved the throwing knife—it was covered in ashes, not blood—and put it back inside his cloak.

“As for close combat, I killed the Lost Man with one stab earlier, so I should still be good. I’ll try killing a higher-ranked monster if I see one.”

He still wasn’t used to walking while using both Life and Mana Detection. Since he specialized in Stealth, he wanted to reliably spot the enemy first without being noticed.

He didn’t know what rank the Dungeon Master was—there were many different species, apparently—but killing Rank D monsters and higher should give him an idea how strong he was.

“I guess I’m not using this one anytime soon.”

Hikaru currently had the Dagger of Strength for melee use, throwing knives for long-range use, and another dagger strapped to his waist. The last one was the new weapon that he ordered from the elf Leniwood—a small but wide, custom-made weapon with a chunky grip that was too large for his hands. It had a button under the grip, a safety next to the button, and even a safety pin. It was designed like a grenade, but it was actually a knife.

“All right. Let’s get a move on.”

Hikaru continued walking.

It should be nighttime now, yet the dungeon was still bathed in light.

Hikaru had already descended a set of stairs once. He was on the second level, but sunlight still came from the ceiling. It must be the dungeon doing its magic. He had to keep his wits about him, or he might just forget that he was underground.

A dungeon, in essence, was like a man-eating plant that grew by feeding on adventurers who entered it, attracted by materials such as elemental magic stones. The inside was designed to be comfortable to humans to some extent.

Hikaru brought a magic lamp for light, but there was no need for it. It was bright all the way to the fourth level. From the fifth level, however, it was pitch-black, but adventurers were the kind of people who thought, “It’s pitch-black, so there must be treasure up ahead.” They would venture into the darkness fully knowing that monsters had the upper advantage in the shadows.

“Not a lot of monsters around, though. Did they all leave? Or are dungeons supposed to be like this?”

Since then, Hikaru had spotted Lost Men and Treants, all of which he slayed. He left the Evil Eyes alone because there were too many of them. The idea was to kill the monsters that would be a threat outside.

Upon checking his Soul Board, his rank had not gone up. He had one point left, and he would like to have more if possible. The more points he had, the more varied the strategies he could formulate, which in turn would make escape easier.

Hikaru realized that he was racking up levels while killing monsters in the woods, but not here.

“Maybe killing dungeon monsters doesn’t raise my Soul Rank?”

Suddenly, the ground shook.

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