A Withering Labyrinth
“Why… must humans fight one another…”
The eighth basement floor.
With the cave floor being submerged in water, the space had become like an underground waterway.
I was sitting on the bow of the boat Porter, as I absentmindedly stared out into space.
I spun the water wheels on its sides and advanced forward. Attached to its back by a rope, I was pulling along another vessel.
Within the shaking light of the boat’s lantern, I made a soul-less expression, and furthermore…
“… Why must humans repeat their mistakes again and again…”
When I said that, I heard a laughing voice from the Jewel.
It was the Fourth.
『No, this time was quite the bomb, mr. lyle. Oh, I mean Lyle!』
I hung my head, and took a stance with the normal bow in my hands.
After slowly standing up on the deck, I took an arrow from my quiver.
From the waterfront before me, a Sahuagin jumped out. When I set my aim, and fired my arrow, it pierced through its head, and sent the monster falling back into the water.
It was accompanied by a splash that rocked the boat.
I sat back down, and proceeded to propel the boat, as Miranda sitting behind me unwound threads from her five fingers, and pulled in the floating Sahuagin body from the water.
She was holding a dagger in her right hand, as she lifted up its body in her left, and retrieved only the Magic Stones from the pierced monster.
Without stripping off anything else, she tossed it aside.
Miranda’s Skill 【Wire】 was one that allowed her to send out strings made of Mana from the tips of her fingers. But you couldn’t just say that was the end of it.
Of all else, by regulating the strings’ fineness and strength, she was able to rip monsters to shreds.
When did she become able to use a Skill? The current me wasn’t in the mood to ask such a question at present.
I could only vaguely stare out at the water.
From the Jewel, the Sixth was observing my state.
『Lyle, you seem quite depressed this time, but… you’ll get no consoling from me.』
(You rarely ever do that to begin with. Especially after laughing so much at my Growth highs, you’d be the first to tease once I regained my sanity… just because I gave him a bit of trouble, he doesn’t have to put it like that.)
I only regained sanity, the morning after I had spent a full day in that state.
I opened my eyes, praying that it had all been a dream, only for Monica to greet me with a disappointed face. ‘So your fever time has come to an end. How many months to the next one, I wonder.’
Hearing that, I could infer I hadn’t been dreaming at all.
Alette-san was still fleeing from me with a face dyed bright red.
Touching her lips on occasion, Aria letting out a sigh with an expression unsuited to her usual disposition.
Clara’s face turning red to her ears whenever she saw me.
Eva telling me she was looking forward to my confession.
Shannon glaring at me.
May ate her fill at the food stalls as per usual. But she came and handed over a single skewer to me.
And Novem’s smile was more refreshing and beautiful than usual. I’ll keep it to myself, that her refreshing vibe felt just a little scary to me.
Lastly, Miranda behind me was grinning as she put her hand to her mouth.
“Lyle, I’ve resolved myself today, so it’s alright if I slip into your bed, isn’t it? You promised to teach me a thing or two, after all.”
My shoulders twitched, and I awkwardly turned towards her.
“T-today’s a bad time. More than that, um… well…”
Miranda should understand everything going on, yet she’s come to tease me.
“Even when you said you’d make me happy~?”
My ears felt hot from embarrassment, and I cut the conversation short by turning back to the front.
Seeing my behavior, Miranda seemed to be having fun.
From the Jewel, the Fifth.
『But this time went well. You got the benefits from a Growth, and the party’s looking better than before.』
Tying ropes to other boats and rafts, we had taken up the task of pulling things through the submerged eighth floor.
People, goods, carrying such things from point A to B was our current job. There was a large reason for that. Having experienced the fake real battle in the Jewel- starting with Clara- the ones who’d stayed behind for the Boss battle had started experiencing growths.
Clara, Shannon, Eva. May didn’t show the signs, but anyways, that was a majority of all our members having experienced Growths, we decided to get used to our elevated specs for a while.
After going through that battle royale, while some ill will still existed among party members, they gave off the feeling that the matter was settled for the time being.
I remember how everyone besides Shannon looked so refreshed afterwards.
Now about Shannon. She was at the back-most point of the boar, glaring at me.
Miranda spoke, fed-up.
“That’s enough of that, Shannon. I’m sorry for letting you get dragged in, but I had my hands full fending for myself. And since you’ve overcome that, don’t you think it’s about time you start building up some abilities for yourself?”
Shannon would’ve been left alone on the surface, so we couldn’t help but pull her along. However, she persisted she’d participate in the transport service.
She looked at me.
“Lyle, you don’t know a thing about it! I’ve no words to describe it! This isn’t a matter as lukewarm as getting pulled into a little mess, you hear! That was hell! Chaos! Dropping a little girl into the flames of hell, then waking her up with a smile!?”
(That wasn’t me. While the one who did that was definitely me, that wasn’t me!)
I couldn’t understand what I was trying to get at myself.
But that state wasn’t normal.
Perhaps it was accurate to call it a stupor. A sensation that you could accomplish anything, that led one’s judgement and thoughts astray.
As a result, I ended up kissing everyone…
I got down on my knees.
“… I can only say I’m sorry.”
When I said that, Miranda.
“Ah~, Shannon made Lyle cry~.”
When Miranda joked around, her sister Shannon began flailing her arms about. Because of that, the boat began to rock.
“I’m the one who wants to cry here! After that, everyone seemed to be making a refreshed face, but… that’s definitely abnormal!”
Miranda stroked her hair, as she sat down with her legs crossed.
“You should try hitting someone sometime. It’ll blow away your daily complaints, you know? Do you have someone in mind you’d like to hit?”
There, Shannon spoke quite boldly.
“Once is enough. Onee-sama, I’d like to beat the hell out of you.”
And because she said such a thing, Miranda smiled, and extended her hand towards Shannon’s head. She placed her palm on it, and continued smiling.
“Ow! That hurts, Onee-sama!”
She began gripping hard enough to produce grating sounds.
『It’s because she says unnecessary things it always ends up like this. But to these girls, something of this extent is still affection, I’m sure.』
Hearing that, the Third.
『She seemed inadvertently happy when you kissed her. It’s that nice, Lyle? You’re getting more wives by the minute. More importantly, you’re properly planning how to carry out that confession on your own, right? I’m expecting great things of you, so think up something clever.』
There wasn’t a single person to comfort me.
Because of that blood storm they had to sit through, the ancestors were taking a cold attitude towards me.
As I gave a sigh, the destination point came into sight.
The eighth floor’s Boss room.
I brought the cargo over to the strip of land there. There were several lights prepared, and it was a space being used as a temporary base by those challenging the ninth floor.
Novem and the others were on standby there. Aria and Clara, Eva and May, and Monica were doing work around the temporary base.
We had brought Porter in, boxed up and labeled the Magic Stones and Materials collected by other parties, and loaded them on.
Next, we’d collect Materials and Stones for ourselves as wel returned, and ferry returning parties to the entrance of the eighth floor.
When we approached, Eva waved her hand.
… Basement floor ten.
In the boss room, the party headed by Alette was confronting the Boss.
Knights with metal protectors over their bodies were surrounding the giant snake as they used their weapons to cut at it.
Protected by its hard scales, the snake’s eyes let off a red light in the darkness. It contracted its body for a moment, and used the recoil to spring itself up high; floating a while and opening up its large mouth as it fell back from the sky.
Its aim was the one issuing orders: Alette.
Alette drew the long sword on her back, and muttered.
“Good grief… 【Airblade】.”
When she activated a Skill, wind began to break out from the large, two-handed sword. As wind blew over the room, her subordinates distanced themselves from the monster.
“Fall back! The captain is using a Skill!”
Her adjutant had everyone retreat, and watched over Alette as she was about to be swallowed up. Her expression under her helmet held not the slightest bit of impatience.
The monster closed up its mouth with the woman inside, but…
When the adjutant said that, blood gushed from the snake’s eyes.
And a vertical slice slowly began to run up its body, splitting the beast in half.
Monster blood flew around, but the knights soaked in it raised their fists to the sky, and raised cries of joy.
Holding up her sword in one hand, Alette swung it once before her before returning it to its scabbard on her back.
Walking back to her adjutant, she was surrounded by her men.
And the support in wait nearby swarmed in to disassemble the corpse.
Removing her helmet, Alette offered a line.
“I wanted to have my men defeat it, but perhaps I was too prudent.”
“It’s still too soon. I believe taking that one on would still be a harsh task on new recruits. In a few months, a number of them shall return to the country, so I wanted to have them beat it and build confidence as well, but there’s no point if they die in the process.”
Alette planned to leave the matter to her subordinates, but as it was a more troublesome one than expected, she was forced to raise her hand.
The innermost chamber.
With the defeat of the Boss, the atmosphere in the Labyrinth changed.
As it lost its characteristic suffocating air, Alette looked around.
“It seems it’s begun to wither. I don’t think it’ll collapse before we can get out, but there are no absolutes. Let us hurry and collect the Magic Stones and materials, get our hands on the treasure, and leave.”
When she gave those orders, her adjutant ran off to give the finer details.
Her subordinate that’d confirmed the treasured rushed up to her.
“Captain! The treasure is…”
“What happened? Was it gold? Then bringing it back to the country will alleviate the financial problems a bit…”
From her face to joke around with the man, Alette’s face turned serious.
“… What did you find?”
Perhaps searching for the right words, the knight’s mouth opened and closed. And after getting his breathing in order, he reported the treasure that had come out.
“It’s mithril! What’s more, amount wise, it isn’t something appropriate for this Labyrinth!”
(At a time like this, why did it have to by mithril of all things!?)
As Alette listened to her subordinate’s report, her head began to hurt…
Around the entrance to the eighth floor, I could instantly tell the atmosphere had changed.
Sudden changes began to spring up in the Fifth’s 【Map】 Skill.
The movements of enemy monsters faded out from the Sixth’s 【Search】.
I stood from my seated posture, and it seems Miranda had noticed as well.
“The air has changed. It’s become somewhat quieter.”
Monica looked at our actions.
“There are some peculiar tremors. And some rooms have collapsed. It’s as if the space is contracting… so this is a Labyrinth.”
Clara lifted up her glasses with her index finger, and corrected their positioning, as she picked up her staff.
“I’ve entered a Labyrinth a number of times, but this is the first I’m experiencing one wither.”
Wither… when an adventurer cleared a Labyrinth, and the monsters and treasures disappeared, it was referred to as withering.
It varied greatly by the Labyrinth itself, but there were times the rooms devoid of people would begin to collapse. And on the way back, no matter how many tens of floors you’d gone down, it’s been reported that people can suddenly find themselves back at the entrance.
Shannon looked at the water’s surface, and cried out.
“Ah! The water level is falli… and it’s gone.”
The water drained away, and the boat fell flat on the ground.
The surrounding ships were pretty much the same story.
I spoke to Novem.
“… We’re retreating earlier than I thought. Start loading luggage into Porter.”
“We already finished those preparations when Alette-san’s party went off to fight the Boss. Should we start moving at once?”
I nodded. Waiting for her party here held no meaning.
It would be more productive to make preparations to greet them on the outside.
“Yes, we’ll set out at once. The road back is safe. No monsters at all. Let’s get outside, and make preparations to return.”
The world above was now a full-blown town.
There was no need to return it to the state we found it in, so all we had to do was make the trip back to Beim.
(So now we’ve taken part in Labyrinth subjugation, but the earnings were much better than expected. We’ll use this funds to gather information and equipment, I guess.)
I also piled up some memories I didn’t want to recall, but for now, let’s just say I accomplished my goal, and call it a day. Once we return to Beim, I’ll need some time alone.
I need some time.
Time to heal the wounds of my heart…
Novem looked at me with a wry smile.
“Um, I don’t believe you need to corner yourself so. It’s something everyone experiences, and more or less, everyone experiences failures in them.”
From the Jewel, the Third let out his voice.
『Novem-chan sure is kind. But Lyle’s failures, or perhaps mr. lyle’s actions were right in a sense. Lyle, you should strive to have that level of decisiveness on a regular basis.』
I shook my head, and spoke to Novem.
“… If I could forget it, how happy I would be.”
Saying that, I went into the preparations to retreat.