People Call the Dungeon the Forest of Deception – Part 06
Freya said it wouldn’t take long, so they decided to talk as Hikaru walked her home. It was already dark, and Hikaru wanted to return to Lavia as soon as possible.
“So, Sir Unken actually called me to his office today.”
Freya had changed from her receptionist’s uniform to plain clothes, a stylish burgundy dress that Hikaru wouldn’t have expected her to wear. She gave a ditzy vibe, but it looked strangely good on her.
“Yeah. You were curious about Count Morgstadt’s murder, right?”
“Is there progress with the case?”
Freya told him that the Count’s daughter had vanished into thin air en route to the capital, and a soldier was ambushed by a young bandit. In fact, it wasn’t just a soldier, but the commander of the kingdom’s knights himself, but Freya withheld that information. News about the commander’s defeat must not be made known to the public.
“Were they killed?” Hikaru asked.
“No. Just badly injured. He survived.”
Hikaru believed the commander wouldn’t die, but actually knowing that he was alive gave him relief.
“Do you think that the girl’s disappearance and the ambush are related?” Freya asked.
“I don’t know. There’s not much to go on. Common sense says they’re unrelated.”
“Is the Adventurers’ Guild going to search for the culprit?”
From what Freya just said, Hikaru assumed that Gloria also knew it was a young bandit who ambushed the soldier, and she suspected him.
“No,” Freya said. “It’s a government matter.”
The Adventurers’ Guild operated above national borders, but since having a good relationship with nations was important, it maintained close contact with governments.
However, with cases like this—a knight being ambushed—the government would not request the guild to search for the perpetrator in order to preserve the dignity of the Order.
“But that means the guild failed the commission, right?”
“Yes. Sir Unken seemed dejected. He’s expecting a severe reprimand from the government.”
“Well, he always looks dejected,” Hikaru joked.
“You’re right.” Freya chuckled. “Oh, I’ll be fine from here. My house is right over there.”
“You have a bakery?”
“We do. Please try our bread if you get the chance. It’s amazing.”
“I bought some today.”
The famous store where they bought sandwiches from turned out to be Freya’s home.
“So, um, you can invite me to dinner any time,” Freya said.
“I-It’s nothing! Never mind. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
Freya scuttled into the closed bakery.
“Invite to dinner? Me?”
After racking his brains, Hikaru remembered.
The day he rescued Lavia, Hikaru’s arm was injured from an attack by Commander Lawrence, but he showed up at the Adventurers’ Guild to strengthen his alibi.
“You look a little pale.”
“Y-Yeah. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Didn’t you go straight back to your place after dinner?”
“I went for another round of drinks.”
“What?! No fair! I didn’t drink much, you know.”
“We can go out again sometime.”
“Oh, no… I had a lot going on in my mind back then. I know all sorts of alcohol, but I can’t even drink. Hell, I’m only fifteen.”
In this world, you drank at your own risk. And if you were old enough to earn your own coin, you were old enough to drink.
Hikaru set aside his prior appointment with Freya for now.
“I’ll keep a low profile while gathering information about Lavia’s case. Do what I must.”
The next morning, Hikaru and Lavia left the town to grind for levels. Although the Adventurers’ Guild had a party system, it did not affect the Soul Rank. Whether or not you belonged to a party, working with others to kill monsters would increase your Soul Rank. Though the fact that Hikaru’s rank was increasing more slowly than when he was fighting alone suggested that operating in pairs reduced efficiency by half.
Meanwhile, back in the town of Pond, Paula, Priscilla, and Pia were gathered at the Adventurers’ Guild for a discussion.
“So what do we do about our party?”
“I’ll leave it up to you two.”
“We’ll form a new one. Just the three of us.”
The girls ran into trouble in a forest half a day’s walk from Pond. Their previous party, composed of the three of them, all hailing from the same village, plus two young men from a neighboring village, were deceived by a group of veteran adventurers.
The forest wasn’t normally dangerous, but by ill fortune, a horde of Goblins had established a settlement there recently. The veteran adventurers decided to sacrifice Paula so they could escape. Being a woman and a noncombatant, Paula was the ideal breeding receptacle for the goblins.
Then Hikaru came to her rescue, thus beginning their relationship. The veteran adventurers and the two boys from the neighboring village had not returned to Pond ever since.
“It makes sense to form a new party, but I think three members is not enough.”
“What are you saying?! The three of us are far better than having people we can’t trust. Besides, who would even treat female rookie adventurers as proper teammates?”
There were a few adventurers who approached Paula and her friends solely because they were female and young. But they all really just wanted to hit on them. There were no kind and honorable adventurers who would seriously show them the ropes.
“If we need someone trustworthy, there’s Lord Hikaru,” Paula said.
“Oh…” Pia groaned.
“I know you’re crazy about him, but I don’t think the feeling’s mutual.”
“I don’t mind!”
“Uh, that’s not what I was getting at.”
Paula fell in love with Hikaru at first sight after he gallantly saved her from being nearly attacked by Goblins.
Pia sighed. “Love sure is a pain.”
Suddenly, a man covered in mud walked into the guild.
“So this is the town’s Adventurers’ Guild.”
He had gashes all over his body and looked like he would collapse at any moment. His appearance betrayed urgency, sowing restlessness in the building.
“It’s Mr. Pippin!”
Paula ran up to the man.
“Is that really you, Paula?!”
“Mr. Pippin, are you okay? What happened?”
“Is something wrong?”
Freya came out from the counter. Pippin was about to crumple to the floor, but Pia managed to hold him up.
“R-Right. I have to inform the Adventurers’ Guild,” Pippin said. “Monsters are pouring out of the dungeon. The village… Our village is in danger!”
The guild moved fast. First, the matter was brought to Unken, the guildmaster, who then immediately sent a report to the royal capital’s Adventurers’ Guild. Paula healed Pippin with her Healing Magic, and he was currently resting after drinking some water.
Freya asked for more details from Pippin.
Cotton-elka, Paula’s village, was the closest settlement to the dungeon known as the Forest of Deception.
However, the dungeon was owned by Leather-elka, the nearest fortress city, and adventurers who wanted to enter the dungeon traveled from there. As such, the villagers of Cotton-elka lived lives that had nothing to do with the dungeon.
But out of nowhere, a severely wounded adventurer showed up in the village. They said that the dungeon was teeming with nearly ten times the usual number of monsters.
The village chief—Pia’s father—immediately sent Pippin and another person on a run. Pippin came to the Adventurers’ Guild in Pond, while the other reported the matter to the knights in Leather Elka.
Unken appeared. “Pippin, was it? Can you speak now?”
Pippin was sitting right in the middle of the lobby, surrounded by adventurers. Everyone wanted to listen to his story.
More than half of the adventurers saw Unken as nothing more than the old man in the butchering area, so when Freya addressed him as guildmaster, a collective gasp rose from the crowd.
Unken sat down across from Pippin. “First, I want you to tell us everything the adventurer told you, down to the last detail.”
Aurora, a receptionist, had a pen and paper ready for taking notes.
“What I just told you was pretty much everything. The adventurer…”
The adventurers stirred.
“Did he say anything about the monsters?”
“Oh, right! I think he mentioned something about monsters that could only be found in the deeper levels.”
Unken’s face turned grim. There were two types of dungeons in this world: the first type included natural caves and ruins, while the second type referred to structures created by a Dungeon Master, monsters with unknown ecology. They created dungeons like ants’ nests, producing pseudo-monsters.
The Forest of Deception was a dungeon created by one such Dungeon Master, consisting of five levels and extending underground through several entrances. The first and second levels were made up of foliage, so they were called the Green Floors. The third and fourth levels were made up of tree trunks, so they were called the Wood Floors. And the fifth level was made up of roots and soil, and was called the Root Floor. Different floors generated different monsters, and the middle level that Pippin mentioned meant a Wood Floor.
As a matter of fact, adventurers had only reached the fifth level, and not much progress had been made in exploring it. There might even be more than five levels to the dungeon.
“Freya, check the catalog,” Unken ordered.
Freya already had the documents at the ready.
“What kind of monsters appear in the middle levels?”
“There’s the Lesser Basilisk and Woody Bat, both Rank E. These two species also appear in the upper levels. There’s also the Treant, Lost Man, Evil Eye, all Rank D. Rank C monsters appear as well, although rarely, namely the Executioner and Lesser Wyvern.”
Upon hearing the last two, the adventurers shrieked. Executioners were ogre-like monsters standing three meters tall, with unusually long arms, except their arms were blades. Lesser Wyvern meant inferior dragons, but they were as large as a house and breathed fire.
Paula swallowed. What would happen if such monsters streamed out of the dungeon and attacked Cotton-elka?
“Guildmaster, has there ever been a case of monsters leaving dungeons?” asked a calm Aurora.
“There has. It is said that Dungeon Masters kill living organisms inside the dungeon to absorb nutrients and magical power. However, pseudo-monsters themselves are not significantly different when inside or outside the dungeon. As a matter of fact, dungeons created by Dungeon Masters are often discovered by adventurers and hunters that follow the monsters back inside.”
Unken pressed his hand against his temples; he seemed to be having a headache. No one could blame him.
“Rest well today, Pippin. The royal capital branch will decide our next course of action. We might have a much clearer grasp on the situation tomorrow.”
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