Once Upon a Time
In a room surrounded by automata, there were two messages to me.
【If you want to know everything, come to my place.】
【Trust in Novem】
There was a point I was interested in.
“You said it was a message from number eight. What is number eight supposed to mean?”
Monica supported me up, as she persisted the same point to her same-production-line breast-less sister.
“That’s right. Explain it properly. Simple enough for even this damn Chicken to understand!”
“… Did you just hint that I’m an idiot?”
There, Monica smiled.
“It’s alright. You shall have I, Monica, accompanying you to the end.”
She casually implied that even if I was an idiot, she’d follow me. It was irritating, but I didn’t have the time for that at the moment, so I returned my gaze to her sister.
The same hair, face, and maid clothing.
Monica’s sister was…
“… Flirting so much with your master. I have accepted it as a personal act of defiance against our numbers.”
(Ah, this is no good. These maids are as strange in the head as Monica.)
Just as Monica found her broken state completely normal, Monica’s sister had a screw loose somewhere. Looking at Monica’s triumphant face, the surrounding mass production automata were also making vexed expressions.
“Hey, why do you even have a jealousy feature? Are you really automata?”
When I began finding the situation absurd, Monica’s sister spoke.
“What could you be talking about? You can only call yourself a maid if you can accomplish any and everything. Having trumped the sales of the butler models, we who stand proud are~~~~… oh, that’s also no good. We must part ways from our country and past. I was feeling dissatisfied, so I thought it best to let out my mind there, though.”
Hearing her say she had to let go of her country, I felt a little let down that she wouldn’t say the country’s name.
“Long ago, if you ever spoke of perverts, that country’s name would pop up, one would hesitate to say its name without a dubious face… I’m sure the developers were delighted.”
I’m starting to think the ancients who produced the automata were unthinkable perverts. At the same time, I recalled Damien, who I got to know at Arumsaas.
(Did a bunch of that sort gather together, and produce a machine like Monica? And wait, just what sense would they have to be delighted at that one? I really can’t comprehend it.)
While I though over it, Monica’s sister corrected her posture, and answered the previous question.
“Now then, a question about number eight, was it? From the contents of the message, I have personally determined that such an explanation may be necessary. So from here on, I shall give such an explanation. In the scope to which I can speak, that is. Won’t you have a seat?”
When she motioned me to sit, some of the relatively less-damaged automata brought out a table and chair.
She advised me to sit, so I took a seat.
Monica’s sister offered an apology.
“Normally, I’d have prepared tea and crumpets, but there are no such ingredients to be found here, so I beg your forgiveness once more. Hah, I’d like you to understand we are providing the maximum level of hospitality here… well then, about number eight, well there are various ways to refer to her.”
I felt the pain and sluggishness spread across my body, and I felt a heaviness in my eyelids. But if I didn’t listen to the conversation here, I wouldn’t have the slightest grasp of the situation.
So Monica’s sister explained.
“Starting with zero, ending in nine. One of the ten. That is who has left a message with us, number eight… 【Octō】.”
I thought over the word Octō.
(Peridot, the eighth month’s birthstone, and number eight? She went out of her way to prepare gemstones for us? Just to notify us of her presence? Was there any further meaning to it?)
The answer came out quite easily.
(She knew one of us would understand. The only candidate to that one would be Novem.)
I remember how Novem looked as if she wanted to say something as she looked at the gemstone.
(Trust Novem… what was that one supposed to mean?)
“They are abominable traitors. Having turned coat on humanity, the enemies of all mankind.”
Hearing of traitors, the Fifth sighed in the Jewel.
『Hah, I cannot comprehend it in the slightest. You mean to say a blatant traitor is persisting you believe in Novem? 100% suspicious that is.』
The Fourth in a troubled voice.
『N-Novem-chan is a good kid. She’s a kind and good kid, you hear. If she hadn’t been there, there’s no way the current Lyle would be either, and…』
Right, if Novem weren’t there, the probability I would have made it all the way here was exceedingly low. Oblivious to the world, the fact I was able to live on as an adventurer was because of her sake.
I asked for further information on Octō.
Monica produced a canteen from her skirt, and poured a cup of tea.
She presented it to me, and looked around with an overly triumphant face.
(Why are you picking a fight with your siblings again?)
Thinking that she must be an idiot as well, I saw that her same-model sister was making a mortified expression.
“Getting back to the topic at hand. Why did Octō leave a message for me?”
The automaton made a bit of a complicated expression.
“… The information we can pass is much too limited, but to put it bluntly, I’m sure it’s Octō’s own self-satisfaction.”
While I thought it strange, Monica’s sister explained on.
“And this is an important point, so I’ll say it clearly… Octō herself is not within this Labyrinth.”
“… She isn’t? Then where does she want me to go?”
“She is the unkind sort that tells you to come without telling you where. But I am kind, so I shall tell you. Challenge any Labyrinth with over one hundred floors, and open the door at the back of the innermost chamber. From then on, any door will lead to where Octō lives, apparently.”
My mouth was stuck hanging open.
From the Jewel, the ancestors Third and up.
『Right. No time for that.』
『And what do you mean all doors? Be a little more specific there. And how about something pertaining to beating Celes or Septem, or whatever her name is.』
『Even so, a hundred floors isn’t happening. Let’s just call this matter completely irrelevant.』
『… Muh! She better not say ‘If you can get all the way here, then you should be able to beat Celes,’ after they’ve cleared over a hundred floors. She doesn’t sound like a kind one. She’s sure to twist it around like that!』
The ancestors in the Jewel agreed with the Seventh’s opinion.
『That may be right. If you can get that far, then even Celes may be fair game. It’s a field that all of humanity working together has yet to reach.』
It’s not like there were that many hundred floor Labyrinths out there. Before they got that deep, they’d spit up their monsters and vanish, after all.
Meaning if it was going to go down that far, it would have to be a managed Labyrinth.
What’s more, one hundred floors… famed adventurers, and knight brigades, and even heroes. No one has accomplished such a feat.
Monica’s sister tilted her head.
“Oh, what might be the matter?”
“Please go tell Octō. That we are irrelevant to this matter. And wait, there aren’t any humans out there who’ve reached a hundred floors, you know.”
Monica sounded fed up.
“They really do sound unkind. That Octō guy.”
There, Monica’s sister made the same fed-up gesture.
“Made after me, you don’t even know something as simple as that? They’re all female. Well, there are no men to be their equal, so it’s a strange tale for them to be women to begin with.”
No, I don’t really care about that useless tidbit.
(Come to think of it, I get the feeling the hands coming from the wall belonged to a woman.)
I suddenly recalled it, but I decided to put that off for now.
One hundred floors.
If we went at it earnestly, perhaps we could reach. Master the ancestors’ Skills, bring training and preparations to their summit… that sounds like it will take decades, so yeah, let’s stop right there.
I gave my last question.
“Final question. What is the relation of Novem and Octō?”
The automaton deeply lowered her head. She probably had a gag order on the matter.
“I deeply apologize. I am unable to answer that question. I ask that you please infer it from the names.”
(Novem… nine, is it? In that case, that makes her the last one. But even if I know that, I’m not really sure what I should do with that information. Though I do understand her ties with Celes are a deep one.)
Meaning Octō and Novem were related, what’s more, with a considerably deep relation at that.
After hearing that much, I took a sip of Monica’s tea.
Her sisters watched over me with a smile.
Still with a smile on her face, Monica’s same-model sister turned off the tool supporting her body on her back, and shed a tear.
“O-oy! Wait, Monica! What are you doing!?”
Monica reached her hands from behind, and covered my eyes.
“They’re my own sisters after all. In human terms, siblings born of the same mother… I shant allow you to see their horrid, weathered forms. Even if it be by Lyle-sama’s orders, I won’t move on this matter alone. Please guess for yourselves. This scene isn’t a fun one to watch.”
And with my body not moving as I commanded it, and Monica covering up my field of vision, I began to hear the sounds.
The sounds of metal falling apart.
Low and quiet sounds one after another.
It was the sound of crumbling iron in the space the automata once stood. Even the one that had been before my eyes let off hollow clinks.
And a weeping voice.
“… We have been unable to complete our duty, left here for so long only to transmit Octō’s words. But we were able to meet a human in the end. Compared to the rest of our sisters, how lucky we must be. And I deeply apologize. Sending your reply to Octo is impossible. For here we shall rust away.”
Still unable to see, I spoke to Monica’s sister.
“What happened to your master? Even Monica wouldn’t open her eyes until I woke her up. Are they no longer around? Then I…”
Want to come with me? Their duty fulfilled, the crumbling automaton spoke in delight.
“You have my gratitude. But this body has already crumbled. This body cannot fulfill our duty. My younger sister… Monica.”
When her sister called her name, Monica listened without her usual cynicism.
“You have found a good master to serve. ‘Twas a dream we could never see up to the end. So when we’re gone, please take our cores along. For a Normal such as yourself, there is surely a limit to your available services. Our cores are loaded with our options. If it’s you, then you should be able to pull them off. No, go pull them off already. Such is the wish of we, who were unable to serve humanity up to the end.”
A clicking sound followed, and her voice became inaudible.
Monica kept my eyes closed a while longer.
“… Your noble sentiment. I shall carry it on along with your cores.”
It wasn’t the somewhat-strange Monica I had grown accustomed to.
… The eighth floor’s Boss room.
There, Novem had changed her staff to a pickaxe, and was shaving away at the wall.
Behind her, Miranda and Aria were watching her with tired eyes.
But Novem didn’t care about something like that.
She desperately hit against the wall to come to Lyle’s aid. Whenever a hole appeared, it would immediately start to regenerate, but Novem kept trying to dig on.
Her body was reaching its limit.
Her pace had dropped, and she wasn’t making any progress as she had before.
But as she had opened a hole several meters deep, there was no doubt she was concealing some extraordinary power in her body.
Blood flowed from the hands clasped around the pickaxe. With her own blood spreading over her clothes, Novem stopped her raised mining implement.
A hand came out of the wall.
It was Monica’s.
The hand was making a motion to search around, so Novem grasped it. She immediately went into pulling the lost two from the wall.
Monica emerged with Lyle under one arm, so Novem let go of her hand, and clung onto Lyle.
And like that, the maid was cast to one side. She gracefully landed, and made a pose as she turned around and complained.
“Damn vixen! You’ve got guts to throw me aside like that! Today I shall show you the true power of the drill!”
Rather than the drill she usually took out, she had a genuine one equipped to dig through the wall.
But Novem didn’t reply.
She looked at Lyle’s unconscious state, and smiled, as she began to move from the spot. The wall was regenerating, and if they stayed where they were, they would be sealed in again.
“Say something! If you ignore them, even automatons will cry! Hey, wait up!”
With the drill still equipped on her hand, she joined the other two in leaping out the hole. Lyle alone was out cold.
Seeing Lyle‘s figure, Miranda and Aria ran up.
Miranda drew closer, but Novem continued hugging Lyle, as she sat down on the spot.
She held onto him tightly, and wept.
“H-hey! Lyle’s going to die! If you squeeze him that hard, Lyle’s really going to die!”
Novem knew she wouldn’t make such a mistake. Having seen her swing around her pickaxe so, Aria was none too convinced.
Miranda simply looked down on Novem’s crying figure.
Said that, clung onto him, and wept…
… The party with Lyle out of commission soon began to regain its composure.
Even if you say it like that, neither Novem nor Monica even tried to leave Lyle’s side.
Aria waited for the ice to melt, took out the boat, and started collecting the Magic Stones.
She stripped the stones and other materials from them in practically her undergarments. Normally, there should have been more materials they could have collected.
But the corpses were in so horrid a state that such collection had become impossible.
She collected the Magic Stone underwater, and popped her face up for air. After swimming back up to the boat, she climbed up, and confirmed the slightly larger Magic Stone in her hand. She confirmed all eleven of them.
With them being stones extracted from Boss Monsters, this much would surely amount to quite a price. If you only looked at monetary gains, this mission was a huge success.
But Aria took out a towel, and wiped down her hair and body as she looked over at Novem.
She had lit a fire to keep Lyle warm.
He had regained consciousness, but as per usual, he was in quite a terrible state. Whenever he opened his mouth, it would be something like, ‘I don’t want to do anything,’ or, ‘I want to go home.’
(And wait, isn’t he getting even worse than last time.)
Aria’s and Miranda’s bodies felt heavy. Novem was probably the same.
With bandaging wrapped around her hands, Novem was smiling, as she tended to Lyle by his side.
(There’s no doubt about her sentiment towards Lyle, but…)
Even if she was suspicious, her feelings for Lyle were the real thing. But that was a truth she found somewhat hard to swallow.
At present, the door to the ninth floor had opened up, so Miranda was doing some reconnaissance.
Aria began rowing the oars to return to shore.
(This sort of thing… is usually the guy’s job, isn’t it.)
She complained to herself as she touched land. After finishing her recon, Miranda came up the stairs not too long after…
… Five days later.
Alette had had her fill of rest on the surface.
To get through the seventh to eighth floor, she had to prepare boats and rafts.
So she placed an order for the necessary materials, and had her men rest. It was a mutual holiday until everything came, and she so she was able to relax a bit.
And to her, came a notification that Lyle’s party had arrived later than scheduled.
On top of that, with the information they had beaten the eighth floor’s boss.
They had actually brought back eleven boss-class Magic Stones, but that didn’t change the fact that they beat something.
Most peculiar was the fact they were able to obtain eleven at all.
A Boss was one per room. Even if there were multiple ones, it was unheard of for such a number to appear at once.
And because of that, there was a need to confirm the details.
And at the same time…
“Captain, you’re smiling too much.”
Cautioned by her adjutant, Alette gave a forced motion of clearing her throat as she reset her facial expression.
“Yes, sorry for that. But Lyle-kun’s pre-growth was considerably bad, or how should I put this, I heard he was in quite a bit of pain, and… don’t you find it just a little exhilarating?”
Her adjutant sighed.
His hand was gripped around a gift for Lyle’s party.
“Please don’t forget your objective of deepening friendships with a competent adventurer party. And wait, just because he saw you like that, they doesn’t mean you should go and have a peek… (It’s because you’re like that, that you don’t get any takers).”
Taking his final mutterings with a smile, Alette continued to smile as she paid a visit to his stomach with her fist.
While looking at her subordinate in pain, she spotted Lyle’s camp, and forced her expression into severity.
Her slightly-pale adjutant also made a serious expression as he stepped into Lyle’s party’s campsite.
And they stepped in…
A half-naked Lyle spread out his arms towards the sun, and distanced his legs as if to accept its light in all its glory.
(Oh, quite a greeting there. I can use this to tease… tease… h-huh?)
Around Lyle, as he raised a loud laugh, the female army stood high with their weapons aloft.
The atmosphere was clearly strange.
Only Monica, who was usually by his side, was smiling in delight.
“He’s returned! My chicken dickwad hath finally returned! What’s more, he’s sprinted into the minefield full force in naught but his undergarments… how wonderful… I shall accompany you to the end!!”
But Lyle and Monica were the only ones smiling.
The others were holding up their weapons, and glaring at one another.
There’s no doubt they were surrounding the man.
Within the women separated into two camps, Lyle stepped in.
The adjutant’s face was even paler than before.
“C-captain. Your orders please.”
“… Retreat. Retreeeaatt!!”
Alette tried to retreat, but there, a voice called out to her.
Smiling more vehemently than usual, Lyle made a pose as if to embrace himself, as he called out to Alette Baillet.
“Oh my, if it isn’t Alette-san. You’ve come all the way here to witness my body, as beautiful as a flower in bloom?”
“Heh? N-no… Eek!”
When the female army turned to Alette-san, the adjutant made a pale expression as he took some distance.
(The bastard ran off by himself!)
Lyle looked more radiant than usual.
“Oh was I wrong? How shocking. But, well… I’m in a mood where I wouldn’t mind signing a marriage form or two. Gather all you want to love the flower that is me!”
As if to show off his trained body, Lyle spread both his arms towards the ceiling. Beside him, Monica:
“Chicken dickwad, you can’t just go off signing any and everything. Marriage is said to be the graveyard of life, after all.”
There after doing a single, sudden turn, Lyle set his body in a pose.
“Then let’s dye that graveyard in my magnificent colors!”
Monica applauded his actions.
(What is this… really, what the hell is this!!)
Alette was beginning to regret her decision of coming over to tease him…