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“AHHHHH—!”

Crack!

“Shut up, Kayden! Do you want more skeletons to come?”

Kayden awoke with wide eyes, sweaty palms, goosebumps all over his body, and a large bump on his head. He rubbed the sore spot with his hand, trying to ease the pain and swelling.

“What happened? And why did you hit me?”

He looked over at Alice, who sat on a chair beside him. In her right hand held her black metallic staff which she had used to hit him.

“You were making far too much noise. Did you have a nightmare? Seriously, how childish…”

‘A nightmare…?’

Slowly, the memories came back to him. He had just finished a massive battle against the undead and wanted to take a break. Unfortunately, he fell asleep and awoke in a dark place. After exploring said dark place, he found a… thing and woke up.

“Um… How long was I knocked out?”

“Around four hours, I think? Ah, I don’t know, I don’t have a clock with me.”

“That long…?”

He looked around at his surroundings. Wooden floorboards, wooden walls, and a large chandelier at the top. Towering shelves of books occupied the majority of this room, leaving only narrow pathways between each bookcase. This was definitely not the room he was in before.

Alice caught a glimpse of Kayden curiously looking around and explained.

“This is the next room we found after that skeleton one. It’s a massive library, though many of the books we found are destroyed or in a different language. I doubt there’s much we can get here either.”

Kayden picked himself up from the ground he laid on. The area where he rested was some sort of study, with rotting tables, chairs, ancient books, and a very dusty rug. His cloak had already been torn to shreds at this point, so it didn’t matter how dirty it got now. He took off his tattered cloak and threw it to the side.

“I’ll get to searching. I already wasted so much time as it is.”

“Knock yourself out. I’m not moving an inch from here. The place is incredibly dusty.”

Kayden nodded and moved to the nearest point of interest, the bookcases. A quick glance was enough to tell him that this library hadn’t been maintained since a very, very long time ago. The moment he picked up a random book, the edges already started crumbling.

“…Looks like I won’t get much here. I wonder where the rest of the party are.”

He wiped away the dust from his fingers and made his way deeper into the library. The room wasn’t completely dark like the room before due to the chandelier on the ceiling still being lit. It seemed that whatever is powering this place hadn’t faded yet, judging by the powered barrier and lights.

A few more minutes of exploring led him to eventually reach the middle of the room, an empty space where his allies resided. A red fluffy carpet adorned with gold patterns lay on the floor which everybody sat on. It seemed that the carpet had magical properties that allowed it to remain clean even after so long. Resting on the carpet all around them were stacks of books that piled up so high it nearly came up to his height, and he was tall.

The rest of the party was concentrated on searching for something within those books. Unsurprisingly, Ezekiel was the first one to notice him.

“Good to see that you’re finally awake. These books here are the salvageable ones, and we were hoping you could read them.” He said while flipping the pages of a red book in his hand.

“Me?”

“Weren’t you able to communicate with the goblins through some sort of translation magic? Maybe you could read this language, it won’t hurt to try.”

Ezekiel tossed the book that he was reading to Kayden, which he caught in one hand pretty easily. The book had a weird leathery feel and there was no title on the cover. After setting it straight, Kayden flipped to the first page.

What seemed like runic patterns and weird symbols filled the page from top to bottom, with not a single empty space to spare. He patiently waited for the System to translate, if it even could.

“…Uh, Sys— I mean… uh… Sys?”

“Ah, sorry Kayden. I can’t help you with written words. Besides, even if I could, I doubt a direct translation would make much sense. Maybe in the future, when you’ve leveled up more, I could unlock those features.”

Kayden shrugged and handed the book back to Ezekiel. If the System couldn’t do it, then it really couldn’t be helped.

“Hah… Sorry. I can’t read it.”

“Well,” Ezekiel closed the book and placed it on the top of the pile. “It was worth a shot.”

Louis, who finally noticed Kayden’s arrival, threw away the book he was holding and made his way over. Clapping his hand onto Kayden’s back, he laughed.

“You’re finally awake, huh? Come on! Convince the other party to leave already! I can’t stand these books any longer!”

“What are you guys even trying to find within these stacks of books? I’m pretty sure none of you can read the language either.”

Ezekiel helped answer his question. “Maybe not, but there’s a lot we can learn from diagrams and stuff. We’re pinning our hopes on a map or floorplan of some sort. That would give us a huge advantage even after losing our head start.”

“Ah. Then, in that case, I’ll help you guys. Where should I start?”

Ezekiel pointed to another tall stack of books, which admittedly intimidated him at first, but he still did his best to skim through every book.

With the collective searching of nine people at once, the pile of books was slowly but surely getting smaller by the minute. It wasn’t until an hour or so did they find something.

“I- I think I found it!” Cathy exclaimed in excitement. The other party members, Kayden included, immediately surrounded her to see what she has found.

“Oh wait… No, it’s just the world map…”

The party groaned and went back to their searching, much to Cathy’s fluster. Kayden however, noticed something peculiar about the map.

“The five main continents… They’re all connected.”

Cathy glanced at Kayden, who was currently looking over her shoulder.

“R-right. This most likely means that this place came to be before the fourth calamity when Eden was completely burned down. I suppose being buried under a mountain let it survive for this long…”

Kayden was intrigued. He knew about the fourth calamity, as well as the fact that the God of Thieves predates that time. It wasn’t what they were looking for, but Kayden wouldn’t mind studying it for a little bit after they were done here.

“Does anybody want this map? I’ll be taking it if no one wants it!” He called out to the rest of the group, to which Conner responded with a dismissive gesture.

“You can usually find that kind of map in any library, so it’s practically useless. Take it if you want.”

Kayden shrugged and thanked Conner, before rolling it up and placing it into his bag. Afterward, he immediately resumed his search.

Another hour passed, and then another. Surprisingly, the number of salvageable books in this library was astoundingly high, yet no one could even hope to read the written language. Eventually, Alice became so bored that she joined them in the book searching.

“You know…” Kayden looked up from the sixty-fourth book he picked up. “Are you sure it’s okay to spend so much time here? We’re practically doing nothing.”

San looked up from his book as well. “Well, this search doubles as our resting time. If we really can’t find a map or blueprint, we’ll have to explore blindly, which may lead to us being ambushed by the undead like last time.”

“Have you guys checked any other locations where a map could be held? How can you be sure that they’re in these books?” Kayden asked a question that had been bugging him.

“We already searched everywhere else in this room while you were still asleep. The only thing left is these books. Well, I won’t lie to you, we’re grasping at straws here, but think about the many benefits we gain if we have a map. It would open up to many possibilities.”

He began counting with his fingers, with a big smile on his face.

“With a map, we could see this info for gold or magic items to the other adventurers. We would also know the best routes to treasures and how to avoid traps. It’s basically a monopoly over the entire dungeon!”

Kayden thought over the prospects and agreed wholeheartedly. More gold! Who wouldn’t want that? Having this kind of info who bring in so much gold he could probably scrape enough money to rid himself of twenty percent of his debt. That would be a whole one hundred gold! Or the equivalent of fifty thousand goblins.

Just as he was having this fantastic dream, Bell, who had her nose buried deep in the books for quite a while now, raised her hand. Little did he know, his daydream was just about to come true.

“Hey, I think I’ve found it!”

The party gathered around a single person again, this time a little more doubtful than before. However, immediately upon seeing what Bell was holding, they immediately got serious. It was a yellow piece of parchment with what was unmistakably a bird’s-eye view of the entire dungeon. Though it wasn’t as detailed as they would have liked, just knowing the layout was already a huge advantage.

“It really is the map!” Conner traced his finger along one section of the map. “Look, here’s the entrance, then the corridors, and then the massive room with those skeletons. Hmm… it seems this place has another four massive rooms. Perhaps we should aim for those first?”

“What if they are traps?” San asked.

“It’s highly unlikely that the owner of this place would waste so much space just to have trapped rooms and nothing else. There has to be something of worth in at least one of them.”

Ezekiel agreed with that sentiment. “Alright then, we’ll head for the large rooms. The closest one should be—”

Boom!

A subdued explosion could be heard a long way off from where they are, in the direction of the entrance to the dungeon. It was so faint that several members even thought that they perhaps had misheard it. However, Ezekiel’s astonished expression and wide eyes were very telling.

Kayden wasn’t stupid and could immediately guess where the sound came from and how it came about. He looked over at Ezekiel with a serious expression on his face.

“H-hey… You don’t perhaps think that—”

Boom!

The noise could be heard again, this time a little bit louder than the previous. There was no mistaking it, the adventurers were on the move!

Boom!

“Quick! The adventurers are entering! Everybody move out of the library!”

The moment Ezekiel raised his voice, the party sprang into action. Bell immediately rushed to store the map safely into a bag, while the rest of the group started packing up and heading for the exit.

“Both the left and the right path bring us to a large room. From the map, we can tell that the room to the left is a dead end, while the room on the right continues to other rooms.” Said Conner as he slammed open the door and exited the library.

The party quickly followed suit, and Cathy, the last one out, closed the door behind her.

“Wait,” Ezekiel added. “There’s still another path that comes before the skeleton room we had fought in. That path leads to another large room as well, which means we have three choices.”

San looked incredibly worried. “That’s a tough decision. If we pick another trap room, our only benefit to coming here early would be the map, and we’ll have taken two blows for the other adventurers for nothing.”

He looked over at Aisha, who had been mostly silent during the entire expedition.

“Party leader! Please make the decision! We’re running out of time!”

Aisha expressionlessly looked down and looked up again a few moments later. It looked like she had a tough time getting the words out of her throat, but she eventually got them out.

“We split up.”

“What?”

Kayden was shocked to hear this.

“It’s a risk versus reward thing. Splitting up allows us to cover more ground while staying together means we are safer. However, as you said, we’re running out of time.”

“Um…” Kayden knew Aisha since he was ten, so he knows that this wasn’t the decision she would usually make. Taking the risky option for more gold is something he would do.

He remembered that Aisha had seemed down from the beginning. Perhaps her decision now had something to do with it.

“Are you sure about this?”

“Yes.” She replied seriously. “Besides, we were never from the same party. We were merely working together on a joint operation to enter the dungeon early. Now that we’re here, it’s every man for himself, no?”

Kayden was about to argue, but Alice held him back.

“There’s no point, Kayden! They have made their decision, and we don’t have the time to waste!”

“But—”

“She’s right, Kayden. We’ll manage somehow, and we don’t have to split the loot with another party. Isn’t that what you always wanted?” This time it was Ezekiel that interrupted him.

Ezekiel looked straight at Aisha. “We’ll go our separate ways here. Don’t worry about the map, I already have it memorized.”

With nothing else to add, Ezekiel turned and walked towards the left path. Louis, Cathy, and Alice also turned and followed. Left with no choice, Kayden could only spare one last glance at Aisha, before turning his back to her as well.

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Kageko

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