Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 5 (2 page)

CHAPTER 1
THE MIDDLE LEVELS

I can see ash-colored rocks everywhere I look. The walls, floor, and ceiling are all made of solid stone. The air is dank, almost musty.

It looks like any cave deep in the heart of the mountain. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that’s exactly where we are. Standing here at the top of the thirteenth floor, the so-called “front line” of the middle levels of the Dungeon, that’s the only way to describe this place.

“So this is the middle levels…”

“Lilly’s heard about it before, but it’s much dimmer in here than farther up.”

Welf, his hand on the handle of the broadsword strapped to his back, and Lilly, her eyes quickly scanning the room, voiced their first impressions.

A seemingly endless descending stone tunnel was waiting for us after we left the upper levels. It had to be the pathway that connected to the first “room” on this level. But still, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a straight path that doesn’t have a visible exit.

Also, there are large well-like holes in a few places beside the walls—pit traps connecting to the lower levels—in here, too. The landscape, the poor visibility…it’s nothing like the upper levels.

“Level thirteen is known for its long hallways going from room to room. We can’t safely engage monsters in this area, so Lilly suggests we find the first room as quickly as possible.”

Welf and I nod to each other as Lilly explains the situation.

From what I can see, I’m pretty sure that this hallway is wider than the ones upstairs, but we’d still have a hard time if a monster showed up.

It’s too cramped in here to fight effectively as a team, especially if we’re surrounded by a group of them. Trapped among monsters in the middle of the hallway—with no escape route and no backup…just the thought of it gives me chills.

Engaging monsters in a room with plenty of space to systematically take them down one by one, on the other hand…Numbers and strategy are very valuable in a fight, and that’s exactly what a party gives us.

“Let’s advance while there aren’t any monsters around. Mr. Welf, this is a one-way path, so please move ahead as quickly as possible.”

“All right.”

Lilly must’ve spent a lot of time studying the information available at the Guild. It’s like she has a map of level thirteen in her head or something. She’s not just a porter, she’s a
supporter
in every meaning of the word. As I think about how lucky I am to have her in the party, I look ahead at Welf.

The three of us advance through the middle levels in a straight line while making sure to keep some space between us.

“…But still, these things are awesome!”

“The salamander wool?”

“Yeah, can’t complain about a thing.”

Welf starts up a conversation just as the eerie silence of the Dungeon was starting to get to me. Lilly quickly joins in.

Conversations like this are rather pointless, but they help ease the tension. I think that’s a hidden benefit of working with a battle party. The loneliness and isolation of being solo really adds up after a while.

“Lilly never dreamed of the day that she would be able to wear this fancy fabric. Thank you so much, Mr. Bell. Lilly’ll take good care of it.”

“Ah-ha-ha-ha…I did get a discount.”

I turn my head around to see Lilly happily grinning at me. All I can do is force a smile and take a look at how each of us is wearing salamander wool.

It’s a glossy red fabric that’s so light and thin that it almost flutters with each movement. Most people would think it were weightless if they saw someone wearing it on the street. My inner shirt and pants, Welf’s long jacket, and Lilly’s new robe are all made from the same material.

“Fairy Protection”—cloth that fairies have literally woven their magic into. Basically, it’s an item that has some kind of magic effect because of them.

“Even with a discount, just one set of fairy-made material costs an arm and a leg! How much was it for three?”

“Well—um…To put it simply, they were five zeros on the end…”

“Mr. Welf, make sure that you pay back every val Mr. Bell spent on you, got that?”

“You’re quite the calculating prum when it comes to money, you know that?”

Eina had insisted that we all equip salamander wool before venturing into the middle levels, and I followed through on my promise. The others took a little convincing, but now all of us are wearing it.

Welf and I are wearing ours under our armor while Lilly is draped in one big robe that covers her entire body. I suppose it could be thought of as fancy fabric, since it practically sparkles vibrant red in the low light.

“To think that a High Smith couldn’t make anti-flame equipment on par with this wimpy jacket…I don’t got a chance. Those fairies are something else.”

I can feel a bit of resentment toward fairies in his voice as he straightens the sleeve on his jacket.

Just like animal people, fairies—salamanders, sylphs, undines, gnomes, and so on—are classified by their element and place of origin, which also means that “Fairy Protection” items also vary depending on what kind of fairy created it.

Salamander wool, made by the fire-wielding salamanders, is very good at protecting against fire and heat. I’d call it an “anti-flame material.” It’s said to be very good against cold as well.

Fabric made by the water-dwelling undine not only protects the wearer from water-based attacks but can keep him or her cool in areas with intense heat.

I’ve even heard people say that items blessed with a fairy’s spiritual protection are like a gift from “another god.” While this fabric may not be as strong or sturdy as the kinds that we humans make,
the strong elemental forces that dwell within the material more than make up for it. Just as Welf said, even the High Smiths’ work can’t hold a candle to the things fairies can do.

“But Lilly’s glad we have them. Lilly feels less anxious about going into deeper levels.”

“…Hellhounds, right?”

That’s the name of one of the monsters on this floor. They’re the main reason that Eina was so insistent that we have salamander wool.

These doglike monsters are also known as Baskervilles. Compared with other monsters in the middle levels, they’re not all that physically powerful. The real danger is the flaming projectiles they shoot out of their mouths.

The flames are hot enough to get even some of the better types of armor to crack. It’s been said that the inferno unleashed by a pack of hellhounds can be strong enough to reduce an unlucky battle party to ash on the spot.

Whenever reports of a battle party being wiped out on the thirteenth or fourteenth level come to the surface, it’s more than likely hellhounds are to blame. There is a good chance that even adventurers who have leveled up will be reduced to cinders if they take a direct hit.

“Mr. Welf, Lilly believes you already understand this, but—”

“Yeah, I’m gonna stop you right there. If a hellhound shows up, charge forward and take it down, right? I have no interest in bein’ cooked alive.”

This is just my opinion, but I think that this is an adventure’s rite of passage in the middle levels.

All the monsters in the upper levels could only attack from short range and charge with claws, clubs, and whatnot. But the monsters here have learned how to attack from a distance. Maybe saying that they’ve learned how to use something like magic would be easier to understand?

The upper levels and middle levels are very different.

Lyu’s words echo inside my mind; they seem to be etched inside my memory.

In any case, hellhounds are very dangerous monsters that we have to be aware of while we’re in the middle levels.

“…!” After walking down the rocky path for a few minutes, all of us stop talking and freeze in place at almost the same moment.

My updated status also strengthened my hearing enough to hear a
tup…tup…
sound. Something’s coming this way. The three of us get into position, all of our eyes locked on the darkness before us as the sound gets louder.

“…Right off the bat.”

Welf’s voice echoes through the musty air.

Two dark shadows appear in the dim light. Coming from the other end of the path, the monsters finally come into view.

Their muscular bodies are completely black. Eyes glowing a deep red, they practically embody the meaning of the word “monster.”

Four-legged frames far too brawny to be a dog’s. Hellhounds.

Their faces, too vicious to be mistaken for wolves, distort as the two of them howl in our direction.

“So, how’s this distance? Should we get closer?”

“My adviser warned me not to underestimate the hellhound’s range…”

“Well then—charge!”

Welf hoists his broadsword over his shoulder as he gives us the signal to attack. I quickly get into position behind his right shoulder.

The two hellhounds roar in unison before charging at us with all speed.

A distance of about fifty meders is gone in the blink of an eye.

“OooooooOONN!”

One of them howls and jumps straight at Welf.

Despite being the size of a small cow, the beast carves through the air.

I jump in front of it before it can reach its target and raise a shield.

I’ve got a small, buckler-style shield in my left hand and the fifty-celch-long shortsword in my right.

Welf prepared them for me during the week that we spent practicing our battle formation on the eleventh and twelfth floors. Since I’m in the middle, I need to be able to both attack and defend.

I catch a glimpse of its razor-sharp teeth as it comes at me with its jaws wide open—before I shove the buckler straight into its mouth.

“Gah…!”

It’s heavy.

But I can take it.

Even with its sharp fangs around my shield and taking the full force of its jumping attack, I manage to keep my feet and stop its momentum.

The hound is stuck in the air, legs flailing.

Welf charges in as if he’d been waiting for that moment and slices the beast’s defenseless body in two with one swift, arcing strike of his broadsword.

“aGA?!”

The two halves of its body fall to the ground.

A strong defense paired with a powerful counterattack, perfect coordination between middle support and the front line.

I pull my blood-splattered shield out of the fallen beast’s mouth.

“Uuuuuuu…”

The remaining hellhound growls at us from a distance as it raises its hindquarters and lowers its head to the ground. All of us realize immediately that it is getting ready to spit fire.

It bears its fangs at us. I can see sparks flying around in its mouth, in the spaces between its razor-sharp teeth.

“—A little slow!”

“GYAN?!”

However, the hellhound takes a golden arrow to its right eye just as it was about to launch its fiery attack.

It came from Lilly’s hand bow gun. It might not be the most powerful weapon, but it packs more than enough punch to stop an enemy in its tracks with good accuracy.

Welf dashes by me with the red swish of his jacket, straight up to the injured beast. He brings his broadsword down over the beast’s head in one continuous motion.

The last hound lets out a yelp before falling, its cheeks still bright red from the flames.

“Not a bad start, eh?”

“We’d be in a lot of trouble if we couldn’t work together at this point. This amount of coordination should be expected.”

“Yes, but that worked pretty well.”

The battle over, we return to our usual selves.

Sure, there were a few moments that made me a little nervous, but I feel very relieved that we were able to slay two hellhounds that easily. As long as we’re careful, we should be strong enough to take any monsters on level thirteen. Just knowing that much is worth a lot.

We also learned that the hounds need time to build up their fireball attack…I’ve got a good feeling about this.

Anxiousness starts leaving my body as Lilly sets to work retrieving the magic stones.

“Oh? We’ve got more company.”

“!” I snap back into battle mode at the sound of Welf’s voice.

The next monsters to emerge from farther down the path are three surprisingly large rabbits.

Floppy ears, white and yellow fur, and a fluffy tail. They’re hopping along on their hind legs, a long sharp horn sticking out of their heads. I think they’re about Lilly’s height.

These monsters are basically needle rabbits that learned how to walk on two legs.

“Is that…Mr. Bell?!”

“Of course not?! What are you saying?!” I snap back at a wide-eyed Lilly.

The rabbit monster, Al-Miraj. First appearing on level thirteen, these things may look cute but are actually extremely aggressive.

“So we’re fighting Bell, huh?…That’s a tough joke.”

“Is—is that a joke?!”

Welf tries his best to make a serious face but I can see him holding back tears of laughter.

The small pack of Al-Miraj in front of us each go to one of the small rocks on the ground and smash them open with a hard stomp. All of them pick up a piece of the rubble, the latest natural weapon provided by the Dungeon.

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