Two Sides

by

Shiki Khorinthian

Dungeons and Dragons - Bond (2)

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"The best way to keep a secret, I think, is to not know it in the first place."


 

“Just as I thought. They’re not looking for the exit.”

Blanc remarked as she checked the room.

Following Fyrn and Tehr’s wake of destruction allowed them to progress faster than ever. Gone were the days when Elaine’s undead, awkwardly trotting along with them, passed them every so often due to their agonizingly cautious pace. Although they still exercised care, especially around corners, they’ve managed to set what may be called a blistering speed.

But after a while of following their trail, both Blanc and Ss’zsl started to have doubts.

“It seems like the captains are headed deeper into the dungeon,” the latter explained.

“Why?”

“… Well—“

“It’s because those two have muscles for brains,” Blanc spat. Though the annoyance was prevalent, there was a hint of fondness in her voice, like someone reminiscing their old days. She pried a projectile made of bone out of the body of a bat-like monster and crushed it with one hand. Elaine thought of how ironic it was to claim that a skeleton had ‘muscles for brains’ but decided not to mention it in fear of getting awkward looks from the others.

Ss’zsl explained further.

“Normally, we’re supposed to look for an escape, and if possible, rally the scattered forces while we’re at it, yes? However, the captains’ movement patterns appear to not follow either. Rather it seems like they’re instead deliberately ignoring rooms with weak monsters and traps and targeting larger prey.

Also, since a couple of floors back, they’ve ignored stairs that lead up, to the surface. It may be too early to presume that they aren’t looking for an exit, given that the ground they’ve covered should be incomparable to ours, but it’s a valid guess at this point.”

“It’s strange, though. Both of those idiots aren’t known to ignore standard procedure despite being battle freaks.”

In a way Elaine understood exactly what Ss’zsl meant. Since they started to follow the two captains’ trail almost exclusively, there was a good chance that they’ve missed other paths that might suggest otherwise.

Fortunately that particular behaviour didn’t prevent them from following their trail. For some reason Tehr had marked their path with some kind of bone pillar.

“Huh? They’re both directionally-challenged?”

That seemed kind of ironic considering minotaurs were supposed to be labyrinth monsters, right? At least, in her world...

“Very much so,” Blanc answered laughingly. “It was only until we assigned numbers on our streets that they stopped getting lost.”

They continued following the trail until they ran into a large monster. Elaine recognized it as the same mantis-like beast she encountered under the mountain a few days before. Once again, it was no match for Blanc, but since they’ve been travelling since she woke up, they decided to stop for a while to have breakfast.

Pseudo-mantis and pseudo-porcupine stew tasted surprisingly good. Elaine could only regret that there weren’t any coffee to end it with.

“Coffee? What’s that?”

Elaine felt like hope had left the world.

“I’d like some chocolate coffee right about now...”

She realized that it had been more than a week in terms of her old twenty-four hour system that she last tasted the wonder of chocolate. Her heart suddenly ached with homesickness. Though she was thankful that she was finally able to eat delicious, warm, cooked food, the guilty pleasures of sweets were still something that tugged at her thoughts. Do they even have sweets in that world?

“Silly child, sugar is quite expensive, you know?”

At least it exists!

“Tell me, dear, where did you come from, hmm? We find your presence here in our territory surprising, to say the least. I’ve never had the opportunity to ask, but might as well now that we’ve grown closer, yes?”

Blanc pushed another helping of the stew onto her hands. The second bowl had an additional ingredient in it, and it looked like one of the eyes of the mantis monster. The heat caused the dark red eyes to turn dark brown and unappetizing, but after familiarizing herself with Blanc’s cooking, she took the plunge and bit into it. She was pleasantly surprised to find out that it tasted like a hard-boiled egg, despite having the consistency of burnt jelly.

More importantly, how was she supposed to respond to that? Was it alright to just say she was a student? Where there such things as schools in that world anyway?

Was she even supposed to hide being an otherworlder in the first place?

“I came from somewhere far from this place.”

She decided to hide it. Better safe than sorry. Last thing she wanted was the possibility of being experimented on or something. It was better to be paranoid for those kinds of things. Though she did start to trust the Blanc and Ss’zsl to some extent, there were some things that she still couldn’t tell them about. The only problem then was creating a narrative that was believable.

“Me and my parents lived alone for as long as I could remember. My father was a hunter while my mother tended to our garden. I, on the other hand, couldn’t do anything really useful around the house, but my parents didn’t mind. We were happy enough together.”

She elaborated a modified story of her own life back in her old world. It wasn’t difficult to adapt her life in the terms that she thought that era used, though she admit she had taken a lot of liberties in guessing details, like the technology of that world. After all, it was obviously much easier to tell half-lies than blatant ones.

“But a few years ago, my father suddenly didn’t return from his routine hunts. We waited for days, until it turned into weeks... years. He was gone. Just like that. After that, a few nights ago, the crawlers came and...”

As she progressed with her tale, she found it impossible to talk about the incident that broke their family. It pained her heart. She grasped her locket, finding comfort from the weight of the coin inside it.

“We ran. Away. We ran for so long and when I looked back, my mother was gone... I—“

“Stop.”

Blanc’s voice was heavy, startling her. Her heart skipped a beat. Did she pick up on her lie? Just as she thought so, a pair of white arms reached out and pulled her into an embrace, cold as it was.

Elaine didn’t mean anything when she told a modified version of her story. Her father was the breadwinner, yes. Her mother took care of flowers, yes. And she was a kind of disappointment to her family in her eyes. It was also true that her father suddenly disappeared one day. Police investigation revealed nothing, as if he just evaporated into thin air. Though they waited for years he never returned. Her mother took it upon herself to get her through college by selling flowers.

Sappy story.

“I’m fine, really. It’s been years already.”

“You’re a strong one, aren’t you, child?”

“I’m not a child. And no, I’m not strong.”

“... You’re stronger than you think.”

Blanc showed a meaningful smile as she wiped what Elaine discovered to be tears on her left eye. For someone with over a hundred years’ worth of experience, Elaine must look like nothing more than a toddler.

Understandable.



.



They continued following the path the two before them had set out. Due to taking their time with their break, by the time they had resumed tracking, monsters had already started replacing the ones Tehr and Fyrn had gotten rid of. Thankfully the former had kept marking their paths so following them was still a simple matter. The only issue, really, was their pace.

It would be impossible for them to catch up if the undead kept the same pace. In the end, they managed to persuade the arachne to get involved.

“... Really?”

“Don’t worry, dear, undead don’t feel pain.”

The result was quite comedic. Because Blanc did not want to touch the zombie to the very end, she decided that the best way to carry it with them was to do so literally. So she wrapped it up with her web and dragged it behind her like baggage.

“... I almost feel sorry for your undead, Miss Elaine.”

But that was the only thing that loosened her nerves.

The farther they walked, the more Blanc and Ss’zsl’s suspicions started to make sense, even to the nigh clueless Elaine. Once, they had passed through more than a couple of upward-leading stairs just for them to go even deeper. The monsters they encountered started to become more and more ferocious, as well as numerous. Though, still, they were not a match even en masse against the overspecced arachne, that did prove that they were venturing deeper into the dungeon. At some point Blanc had even entertained the idea of backtracking.

“The fifth one, already.”

Blanc cursed as they encountered yet another floor boss room. Compared to the previous ones, the massive double doors were made of shining metal, engraved with the image of innumerable scourge crawlers across its surface.

“Sister Blanc, maybe we should go back? I don’t like how things have gone at all.”

After everything that had happened, Elaine found it much easier to talk to the spider monster. Time had certainly helped dissipate the fog of distrust she had towards the other, but if she were to guess, it was that time she was able to get some sleep on her lap that made her more trusting. It genuinely felt like monster cared.

And just as she thought so, Blanc flashed a tender, knowing smile.

“Let’s just see what this room holds, alright? If it leads even deeper, we’ll go back.”

“Okay. Good luck, Sister Blanc.”

“... Huhu. I believe I won’t ever get tired of hearing that. Thank you, dear.”

With that, after releasing her undead from her webbing, Blanc entered alone once more into the fray.

By that time Elaine was already quite used to preparing camp by herself. To start with, she would take two of the usable glowstones from the pack, place it on the ground and light it up by striking it multiple times with an iron rod or a knife. One would be used as a source of light and the other, a source of heat. She learned that hitting it as such would make the glowstone hot, but produce a dim light. If she wanted to make the light brighter, then she needed to use a sharp object to strike it with. Finally, to return the stone to its inert state, then she only needed to apply a steady amount of force to it. It was unlike anything she’d ever seen before, and the mechanics as to which it functioned were a complete mystery for someone so used to electronic and fuel-based lights.

“Ss’zsl, if you’d please?”

“Alright.”

The shining serpent slithered down her shoulders and went towards the heated glowstone. With magic, he raised the ground around it to form a bowl large enough to hold a few liters of liquid with. Then she placed a waterskin made out of the intestines of one of the previous monsters they’ve encountered onto the bowl and undid the rope that bound its opening together.

Soon the fragrant scent of spicy stew filled the chamber. But just as she was about to have a taste, she was asked a strange question seemingly out of the blue.

“Are you feeling well, Miss Elaine?”

“Hmm? Yeah no problem. Getting a few hours of sleep really helped, thanks.”

Where did that come from? Ss’zsl opened his mouth but decided against saying anything else. He simply crawled away to inspect the area like usual.

“Is anything wrong, Ss’zsl?”

“...”

He didn’t respond. It was like he didn’t hear her at all. Puzzled, Elaine returned to tending to their meal. Once Blanc came back, preferably with some more meat, then they’d be able to expand the flavour even further.

Honestly, even the intestines they used to hold the stew with started to smell good after some time over the heat. If nobody else was present Elaine would have loved to take a bite out of it. After a while, small bubbles started to rise out of the greenish-red liquid and the fragrance reached its peak. It was then that she found herself in a conundrum.

Ss’zsl’s lack of response earlier made it awkward for her to ask him to make a bowl. Every time they had a meal they would leave those behind to save up on weight since the ‘abyss serpent’ could make them out of nothing anyway. But to her surprise he came back without a word and made them without being asked.

“Ah, thank you.”

“...”

Ever since she woke up he’d been acting strange. Did something happen while she was asleep? Blanc appeared to have leeched all the mirth from him. While it made talking to the former much more comfortable, even enjoyable, Ss’zsl looked to have entered a state of gloom and restlessness that made talking to him difficult instead. It used to be the opposite, and the change was rather disconcerting.

“What about you? Are you okay, Ss’zsl?” she asked again. His name was still a handful to pronounce but by that time she was already used to how it rolled off her tongue.

“Yes I’m fine...”

He paused and sunk into silence. Elaine felt another period of awkwardness between them again. When she was about to turn back to the food, surprisingly Ss’zsl spoke out.

“I’ve never been able to thank you for what you did for us a few nights ago. So, ‘thank you’. You saved our lives.”

The sight of the tied cloth at the base of his tail caused her to remember. She recalled that time when she carried her myriad of bodies back to his den; when she fumbled in her desperation to treat their wounds with the bare necessities available to her. It wasn’t something to brag about, but it was something she could be proud of.

Elaine immediately found herself quite flustered. Being thanked for something wasn’t anything new, but the way he thanked her bore the weight of an entire life.

How should she respond? Should she say something profound? Or just a ‘you’re welcome’?

“N-no problem! My mother always told me to help anyone I can, so yeah...”

He then chuckled lightly.

“’Anyone’, including monsters? As the Captain said, you are indeed, full of surprises.”

She never thought of it like that.

“Ahaha... you’re right. I guess my mother never actually thought I’d consider it for monsters, I guess.”

It suddenly felt as if the air between them had gotten lighter. Even Ss’zsl appeared to have surfaced from the depths of his contemplation. Was that all that had weighed on his mind?

“Regardless, your mother sounds like a wonderful person.”

“Yes she is.”

“Did your family live in the woods all alone, far from any towns?”

She tried to recall her previous story as best as she could to avoid discrepancies. It wasn’t too hard, since her memory was... well, it was tested earlier, but she could still regard it as quite good.

“Yes. But we used to visit a town every so often back when I was a kid. After a while, it was left to my father to do so alone every time he had business there, and when he disappeared, it was left to my mother.”

In a sense, that was the truth. Back in her world her father used to take her to work occasionally, but after she had graduated from elementary that had completely stopped. After his disappearance, only her mother was left to work for their family of two.

“Do you remember the name of the town you visited? There are many such human towns surrounding the monster country’s territory in this continent.”

“No, I can’t. It’s been such a long time.”

She couldn’t even remember the company her father used to work at. It was the safe answer anyway, given that she didn’t know the name of any location besides their city Lylyc Port.

“I can’t even remember if we had relatives,” she laughingly said. And it wasn’t a lie, either. Besides both her mother and father, she had rarely heard a word from their other relatives, especially those from her mother’s side. It was as if her mother did not have a single relative at all. Was it simply due to issues with communicating overseas?

“Oh... Unfortunate.”

Maybe Ss’zsl wanted to say that he’ll help her get back to her family, she didn’t know. But the disappointment in his voice was obvious. She very much appreciated his concern, but even if her ‘story’ was true, then it would mean that there wouldn’t be anybody waiting for her to come back home.

It was then that she realized the kind of setting she had placed herself in. With no remaining family members to the best of her ‘knowledge’ and an indeterminable citizenship, she was basically a refugee. What that meant for her, she did not know, but at the very least her belongingness in that world would be up in the air until she finds a place to stay.

How did the isekai heroes from novels go about that issue? In several of the ones she’d read, a lack of citizenship wasn’t much of an issue. A common trope was registering in an adventurer’s guild for identification, and was rarely, if never brought up again. She didn’t know if adventurers’ guilds existed in that world, and if so, did that mean that she would end up having to be one anyway?

“What about you? Tell me something about your family.”

She decided to point the conversation towards his side instead, just to avoid creating any discrepancies any further deliberation towards her story would inevitably create. Surprisingly Ss’zsl looked somewhat troubled with it.

“My... ‘family’?”

He sunk once more into thought, but not like the earlier one where an aura of ‘don’t talk to me’ emanated from his being. After a short while he seemed to come to a decision and nodded his head.

“I don’t have a ‘family’ in the same sense as you humans have,” he started. “Our kind are born from one Mother, with each of them forming individual ‘swarms’. My clan are called the ‘Zsl’’, which is one among the three in the city.”

“Kind of like bees?”

“... Yes I guess it’s similar to how bees are, but slightly more complicated than that.”

If anything that at least confirmed that bees existed in that world.

“Unlike bees, our Mother births three kinds; ‘Workers’ such as myself, ‘Motherlings’ which are basically candidates to become the next Mother, and what we call ‘Cssul’ which form the extended bodies of us workers.”

“Ah so the other ones you had with you are called... that?”

“Yes. They allow us workers to perform more complicated tasks.”

True, that. She imagined that having a malleable, separable body would make almost any kind of work be much easier to perform than a body with a set form. It would probably be even better than a body like an octopus, since the mass of snakes could act individually over long distances, controlled by a ‘team leader’ per se.

“Wait a minute,” Elaine suddenly realized. “Does that mean your clan only has one ‘Mother’ to birth all of you?”

Ss’zsl tilted his head questioningly.

“Yes. That is so.”

“But aren’t you named ones ‘individuals’?”

“Correct.”

She thought for a while before asking again.

“That also means you ‘workers’ aren’t allowed to have any spouses, right? Isn’t that strange? My mother taught me that the goal of every ‘individual’ was to find a partner and have offspring.”

That was what almost two decades of social enforcement has taught Elaine. In a society that valued individuality, their ability to make a choice, especially with regards to matters of the family, was key in promoting a sense of self. At the very least that was what she understood from it. In response Ss’zsl chuckled.

“Is that so? I don’t believe that to be the case for our kind.”

“Then it would be strange to call you an ‘individual’, then? I mean, you’re essentially just part of the collective ‘swarm’ despite having a name.”

Elaine realized her response wasn’t thought out. The words just came out of her mouth unfiltered. Ss’zsl stared at her with wide eyes, and eventually became downcast.

“Ah—“

The oppressive, unapproachable air returned to him as he once again sunk into deep thought. She apologized weakly, but all she received in response was a nod and a grunt.

Thankfully he snapped out of his meditation quickly and eased her worries with a smile.

“I guess you have a point, Miss Elaine. I’ll think about it in the future.”

She sighed in relief. It looked like she didn’t step on some social landmine, or even if she did, at least Ss’zsl didn’t look like he minded. Elaine made a mental note to steer clear of the topic in the future.

“What is your mother’s name? And your father’s, if I may.”

“My mother’s name is Mizu Kirika, if I remember right, and my dad went by... Johann Dawn, I think.”

Was that right? Or was it Jonathan? Despite her great memory, she couldn’t remember exactly, it had been far too long since she had tried to recall his name. She simply called him ‘dad’ or ‘pops’ or ‘father’ at home. Or maybe it wasn’t that she couldn’t, but that she wouldn’t?

For some reason, though, Ss’zsl had a look of shock painted across his face.

“As I thought...” he whispered to himself. It was Elaine’s turn to tilt her head in wonder. He, again, sank into thought, and that time remained quiet for a much longer period of time. By the end of it Elaine had already eaten a serving of the stew and was about to have another when Ss’zsl broke the oppressive silence between them.

“Miss Elaine, have you ever told anyone else your full name?”

She tried to recall how she introduced herself to the others. Kog greeted her casually, so she only gave her given name; the encounter with Fyrn was much more formal, but she was interrupted by him before she had a chance to tell him her entire name; and Blanc, well...

“I think I’ve only told Alice – the fairy I mentioned, I mean.”

“Good. You must not tell anybody else about it. Understand? I will keep it a secret until we know what to do.”

Huh? Why?

His sudden, serious change in tone scared Elaine a little. Though he did not elaborate, it seemed as if he was almost threatening her to do as he said. To such an expression, Elaine could only nod in agreement. Ss’zsl grunted his approval. And that ended their time talking together.



.



Half an agonizing hour later, Blanc appeared from out of the metal double doors.

“Oh, Elaine, dear. I’m back.”

“—Welcome back.”

Blanc smiled, but could not do anything to hide the contemplative expression on her face. It had only taken her almost forty minutes to clear the room of the floor boss, but instead it looked like she had just come out of a board exam.

“What’s wrong, Sister Blanc?”

“Come,” she simply said. “We have... a problem.”

Blanc turned around to leave abruptly, leaving Elaine and Ss’zsl to clean up camp in a fluster. Thankfully everything except the glowstones and food were disposable, in a sense. They packed up quickly and went after Blanc, who had already returned to the floor boss room by the time they finished.

Inside, the aftermath of an epic battle was spread out before them. From what Elaine could determine, the fight was against two wolf-like creatures whose bodies were made of crystal. One was left shattered while the other had a missing head and a body wrapped in webbing. It was the usual kind of scene. The issue lay with what they found at the room past it.

It was a flight of stairs that lead up. Not a mystery in and of itself, but unlike the others that they’ve encountered, that particular set of stairs reached at the very least a hundred meters into the ceiling.

The previous room, the floor boss room, had a ceiling that was around six to seven storeys tall, which was the normal height of every floor boss room. Considering that the halls were always only three or so storeys tall, it meant that taking the stairs would allow them to skip several floors towards the surface. And that was good news.

Right?

“This isn’t right,” Ss’zsl whispered, just loud enough for everyone to hear. He glanced at Elaine who only had question marks written on her face and elaborated.

“Dungeons form a highly stratified structure, not for aesthetics or function, but due to necessity. A dungeon core forms from a concentration of miasma, while the floors form in accordance to the density of miasma in the dungeon; the closer it is to the core, which is usually at the deepest part, the denser the miasma is.

The reason for the stairs isn’t for explorers to use, but for the miasma that the dungeon emits to have a way out; to exhale, in a way. However, it needs to do so in such a way that maintains its form, or the imbalance in miasma will damage the structure and the core itself. Flights of stairs like these connect high density areas with the safer levels above. That’s why it’s... either this dungeon isn’t a normal dungeon, or—“

“It’s deeper than we thought.”

Blanc finished Ss’zsl’s explanation in a way that made her seem like she was trying to spit the words out of her mouth.

The way Elaine understood the latter’s spiel, a dungeon could be imagined as something similar to a planet’s layers. The stairs would be akin to volcanoes or underwater thermal vents. She didn’t know how it would be bad for stairs to skip floors, but it had something to do with how the core is formed from miasma, and that it needed to have a certain structure to it else it was dangerous to both it and the dungeon itself. Since this was another world with magic and such; things that she had no inkling about how it worked, she just assumed that what Ss’zsl had said to be true.

In any case, the presence of such a long flight of stairs caused much conflict within both of her companions. There was no need to even check what her undead’s reaction was.

“What do we do, Captain?”

Blanc, in response, looked back towards the previous room and considered their options carefully.

“... It does seem appealing to take this opportunity, I admit. But I have my misgivings. It feels like a trap.”

“Can’t we take the previous ones and just take it slowly?” Elaine asked.

“We could, but...”

Blanc’s white fingers pointed upwards, around ten meters above the ground. There, they saw a familiar structure; one made of bone and didn’t fit with the overall aesthetic of the place.

“Ah so they passed through here too.”

“Yes, that’s right, dear.”

If it had been Blanc alone, she could have went on ahead to face whatever the dungeon threw at her. But instead she was accompanied by a powerless human, a weakened monster and a mostly unresponsive undead.

If they took the safer, longer route, then they risked not meeting the two other captains, which was actually fine. It wasn’t like they expressly wanted to do so. Their primary objective was to escape the dungeon in one piece, so the longer detour was preferable in that sense. However, they also mean to do so in as quick a manner as possible. Now, unless the dungeon turned gravity upside down, stairs that lead up naturally meant stairs that lead closer to the surface – to freedom.

Also, the shorter path also had the appeal where if they do meet with the others, then their passage would be much easier with three powerful monsters to guard the group. They did not even have to guess; the bone marker proved that the two did pass through the same path, at a particular direction. The only thing that really stopped them at that point was both Blanc and Ss’zsl’s instincts.

So, Elaine came up with a plan.

“What if we decide with—“

There, she paused and stopped herself from opening her locket.

Right. The fact that she came from another world was a secret to everybody, besides Alice. If they saw her coin, wouldn’t her origin come into question? In the off chance that coins were used as currency in that world, then they could easily use her own to verify the legitimacy of her story.

“Hmm? What about it, dear?”

“It’s nothing! Hahaha!”

That was awkward.

In the end, they decided to take the shortcut. Though it went against their intuition, Blanc was quite confident that she would be able to handle whatever the dungeon had in store for them if ever it was a trap. After all, a dungeon only became easier to closer they are to the surface.

It was the first time for Elaine to ascend such a long flight of stairs and they had to stop to rest a couple of times. She decided to give her undead their pack so she could have an easier time, but it still left her winded every few storeys.

Upon reaching the end, the dungeon appeared a bit brighter, though only very slightly. The walls looked newer; unlike the ruin-like appearance it had several floors below. That gave them encouragement that their choice had been the correct one.

But they soon ran into a... something.

“Oh... fancy meeting you... here... Captain Blanc...”

Elaine was stopped as Blanc’s massive lower half abruptly stepped right in front of her. Ss’zsl quickly reacted by wrapping himself around her mouth to prevent her from making a sound.

“Captain Volren. Greetings.”

Blanc’s voice was deep, authoritative, threatening, and similar to that time in the command tent. She obviously did not mean well for the other party. Weren’t they fellow captains in their army? Understanding her companions’ meaning, she slowly crouched down to hide herself from... Volren; a massive cyclops with bronze-colored skin and full plate armor. Thankfully the spider abdomen was large enough so her body couldn’t be seen.

Quiet, Miss Elaine,” Ss’zsl whispered. “And whatever you do, do not look around you.

Unaware of the presence of another group behind the arachne, the other party continued.

“We’ve been... looking all over for... you... The army... has been in total... disarray... since the ground... opened...”

“What’s wrong, Captain Volren? It seems as if you’re having difficulty speaking.”

True, a bubbling sound could be heard in-between his words. Too bad Elaine hadn’t been able to see much of the cyclops due to being forced down all of a sudden.

“No... it’s no problem... at all...”

“... So you say. Have you seen Captain Tehr and Captain Fyrn pass by?”

“... Yes... they passed by... a little while... ago...”

There was a hint of rage from the tone of his voice when he responded to Blanc’s question, but that soon disappeared when he continued and was replaced, instead with a... disgusting feeling instead.

“You want to... look for them... together...?”

Elaine felt Blanc’s spider parts tremble in discomfort as well. Ss’zsl brought his head closer to hers and whispered:

Captain Volren is known to like Captain Blanc. Still, it’s strange for him to take initiative like this...

“No, thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back down to look for our troops who may still be trapped inside.”

Blanc seemed eager to get away from the other party if it meant having to backtrack. One of her rear legs made a waving motion, telling Elaine to move back. But before she could, Volren bellowed.

“Then let’s look for them together? There is safety in numbers after all. ORAREYOUSAYINGYOUDON’TWANTTOBEWITHME??”

That raised all the hairs on Elaine’s skin. Her brain sounded an alarm, telling her to run. Blanc immediately turned around, grabbed Elaine with her left arm and ran towards the stairs. But despite her amazing speed, the likes of which Elaine hadn’t seen even when she was fighting against those terrible monsters, she was still unable to get to the hole on the ground before a massive wall of flames erupted between them and safety.

Shit.

Blanc could likely pass through by herself, but if she did so Elaine would have been burnt to a crisp within seconds due to the blistering heat. It was so hot that the ground where the flames came out from had already liquefied. Blanc quickly created a wall of ice between them and jumped back. Her magic quickly disappeared.

Right. Ice is weak against fire.

“Ohhhh... what have you got there? AHUMANFORSNACKS??

Elaine felt Blanc disappear under her, dropping painfully butt-first onto the stone floor. The next moment the dull sound of metal hitting against stone assaulted her ears. She turned her head to see that Blanc had intercepted the cyclops’ giant club with her own scythe.

He attacked them?!

What are you doing, Captain Volren?!”

The latter only smiled viciously. He eyed Elaine in such a way that felt like he could taste her through sight. It was the first time in her life that she felt so... violated. Her mind blanked out and she felt her shoulders shiver fiercely. It was much, much worse than the time in the camp where tens of them eyed her in a similar way. Using all of her strength she managed to pry her eye off the latter’s, only to see something else that shook her to the core.

The entire room they were at was littered with corpses – fresh ones, wearing standardized armor. A cursory glance showed that Volren was covered in blood.

Did he--?!

“Elaine, run!”

Blanc almost yelled out as she once again parried a blow. The ease of which she was able to do so showcased the large gap between the physical abilities of her and the massive monster before her. However, likely because the other party was technically a comrade, she couldn’t just kill him. That would have made things a lot easier.

-- Especially when she considered the two-prong attack.

“Miss Elaine, run through the flames! I’ll make way for you to pass!”

Ss’zsl jumped off her shoulders and used his magic to cover a two meter wide part of the ground that erupted flames. Between her and the staircase, there was a good thirty or so meters of legwork needed. In her panic, she immediately ran as she was ordered to.

The temperature of the fire wall was so intense that merely passing through it burned the skin on her shoulders. She could even smell her charred skin.

But then, something made a clicking sound. It wasn’t like the sound from someone’s mouth; it was more solid, mechanical, familiar. Where did it come from? Elaine had an idea; she’d heard it several times as they travelled through the dungeon after all.

Even Ss’zsl and Blanc knew the sound. They looked towards her, with panicked looks on their faces that wouldn’t lose to Elaine’s own. Actually, Blanc’s face was the worst; she looked like she’d seen a ghost. Elaine almost wanted to laugh at it.

It really was comical.

Unfortunately she didn’t have the opportunity to turn around, point at them and laugh. She could only look on as the sight of their faces faded into the distance.

The last thing she heard was Blanc’s horrified screams before her world went dark.

 

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Shiki Khorinthian

  • Philippines

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