The Swordmaster and the New God
"I think this is it." Austin was standing on the edge of a rocky formation in front of me. I reached him and looked down. Below me was the entrance to a mine. Equipment littered the ground in front of the cave while minecarts stood in a line, waiting to be used. The smell of coal wafted up to our perch in the rocks. For being a mine, it was deftly silent; only the waving of the trees made a noise to break the silence.
The request that Austin took was a B rank quest to clear out a mine that had been overrun with monsters. The request was lacking in details and didn't clearly define how empty they wanted the mine, or what we had to clear from it, but Austin had just grabbed a request at random and turned it in, eager to get out of the guild hall.
"So Kazuma, are you ready to fail?" Austin stood up and stretched, sword in hand.
"Come on, I think we'll do just fine. You took out those orc's in a heartbeat. This should be easy for both of us."
"True, but we knew what we were facing there. We're heading into the unknown here. I feel like we need to be cautious."
"I believe in us. What could go wrong here? You saw that receptionist's reaction to our stats. We can handle a little mine shaft, no problem."
"Did you forget what happened right after that?"
"Of course not. I'm just choosing to focus on the positive. Wait, could it be that you're scared?"
"Heck no. My head is just not filled with butterflies blocking my common sense. Things don't always go your way, you know."
"Sounds like you're defecting to me. Also, my common sense is just fine."
"Ah, to think we've reached the day where common sense is not so common anymore. You're a great example of that Kazuma."
I ignored Austin and hopped down towards the entrance. The faster that we started, the quicker we finished. Bickering like this just wasted time, though we would probably continue debating in the cave. This was the protagonist's first quest. Those seldom went poorly.
He jumped down and ran after me until we reached the mouth of the cave. As wide as it was tall, it loomed over us. If the inside of the cave was as large as its entrance, we would be here for a while.
"Oh, this feels like Japan." Austin took off his blue jacket and threw it to me to put in my inventory. The outer tunnel of the cave was muggy and hot, with water droplets falling from the stalactites above. We probably should have changed into clothes from this world before we left, but the strange actions of the receptionist, I still wasn't sure what to call what happened, messed that plan up. Besides, most of the Earthers we saw were in Earth clothing. Maybe it was a stylistic thing here, or maybe there was a shop to buy earth clothes here in Ronoe.
Austin's sword lit our way as we walked down the dark path. The pink light illuminated the dark cave. Shadows reflected off the walls from the stalactites, making the walls seem to loom over us as we walked.
We reached a room in the cave system after walking warily for fifteen minutes. It was lit with yellow lanterns that surrounded the edge of the room. Inside lay mining equipment scattered everywhere reminiscent of the entrance, but more complex and intricate. Machines were in the center on top of the minecart track.
There was movement in the back of the cave. The shadows ebbed and flowed in the back of the room, with creatures passing across the lights. Their shadows were hunched over, with pointed faces and ears like elves. Goblins, the stereotypical fantasy creature.
"Hey, Kauma, I think they're dragging something." Austin pointed to the edge of the cave, where they seemed to be piling something up. The towering mound seemed irregular and scattered.
"I think you're right. You want to get closer?"
"Well, we sort of have to if we want to finish the request. Failing our very first one wouldn't look good." I said.
"I agree. I just get a strange feeling from the pile, like it's something that shouldn't be approached." He said.
"You're just scared."
"I'm not starting this again. You're a broken record dude; come up with an original joke for once."
Ignoring Austin's obvious deflection, we walked through the damp air towards the goblins and the now ominous looking pile. You could hear the goblins moving around like factory workers, so we could make a little noise without bringing unwanted attention to our location. When I stepped over what seemed to be my billionth pickaxe, I looked up at the towering pile and stopped in my tracks.
The pile was made out of bodies, human bodies. Most of them were in mining uniforms, all with the same brown hair that every local had. The bodies were bloody and mutilated. The smell was even worse. I had never smelled a corpse before, but I would never forget the smell. It was a rotten stench that permeated around the cave, like the stench of roadkill but exponentially more powerful.
"I feel like I'm going to puke." I turned away from the bodies. I felt sick to my stomach. How could something like this happen? Protagonists always were fine with the blood and gore. They looked at it sadly and moved on with their lives. The more I tried not to think about the pile of bodies, the more the image burned itself in my brain.
"If you didn't puke, that'd be great." Austin seemed unaffected as he stared directly at the pile. "Honestly, this is less violent than the movies. I was expecting worse."
"I'm sorry I don't fall asleep while watching slasher films every night, Austin." Good, I could joke. Maybe I was in better shape than I thought.
"I think you're the lucky one here. I'd rather not be desensitized to everything. It has its cons too, you know.
I stood up, careful to avoid the devastatingly tall pile of bodies with my eyes. The goblins were still busy at their tasks without a care in the world. I silently took out my sword. I wanted to get out of here as fast as possible. This room was weird; even Austin was serious.
I trotted forward as fast as I could without making a sound. When I broke through my cover, the goblin didn't have time to react. I still was terrible with a sword, but these goblins were way easier to deal with than the green orcs.
When Austin appeared behind me, sword glowing pink, I was already on my fifth goblin. Most of them were unarmed or had pickaxes, so my blade found its way through their heads without issue. Every time, I heard a thud next to the body as the head slid off; I never looked. The goblins with weapons were harder to deal with. They weren't an instakill, making me watch my back while I fought. The goblins were not great at fighting, but they had numbers. If I could feel fear, they would have overwhelmed me in an instant.
I stood panting as Austin cut down the last one. With my mind out of the heat of battle, I had time to process and realize what I did was stupid. We could have died there. Everything seemed to go our way, however. None of the archers in the back hit a shot, and none of the goblins' sneak attacks worked. My strikes also always hit their mark even though I was not an accomplished swordsman. In fact, I was perfectly average at Kendo.
"Well, that takes care of that." Austin walked over and kicked one of the goblins, seeing if it was still alive. When he turned it over, I looked away. "Wonder how many more of these we'll have to deal with."
"Hopefully, that was it," I said, looking straight up.
"Oh, so I'm the scared one. Kazuma, you do know these things called mirrors exist, right?"
"It's just all the gore. This is why I've never liked American media. It's all too violent."
"Have you picked up like any manga dude? Some of that stuff is wack." Austin said.
I walked towards the exit nearest us, where the goblins had come. It looked exactly like the cave we had come from, the shadow stretching inside it. I kept thinking that I should have been scared, but I felt no fear. What had Lillith done to me?
Austin lit up his sword, and we continued down the cave system. The air had changed in the room. It was cool and damp, compared to being incredibly humid. I could hear water dripping down onto the floor, but other than that, it was practically silent.
We heard a scurrying ahead, and Austin turned his sword toward the noise. A single goblin stood in the pale pink light. Its yellow eyes glowered at us as it snarled. The cave made the sound echo, reverberating all around us. The goblin bared its claws as if to attack, then turned the other way and ran.
"Austin, we have to chase after it!" I said.
"Never would have guessed." Austin ran after me, making the light of his sword move back and forth. It was disorienting, even for the goblin.
The goblin continued to run through the cave tunnels. It kept looking back at us with its teeth bared, snarling. Whenever we reached a fork in the road, it always went toward the rightmost path. Maybe it was taking us to its leader, or maybe it was leading us into a trap. It all depends on how clever the goblin was. From what I knew from novels, however, I thought its leader was probably up ahead. Goblins were as bright as rodents on average.
A few minutes later, Austin caught up to the goblin and stabbed it in the chest. Despite its little legs and small body, the goblin was fast and had run for a long time. I was panting but only felt slightly winded. I would have never been able to run for that long back on earth. Did our stats increase our strength? The receptionist had acted like my status was high. It would have been weird if they didn't affect me in the slightest.
Austin, on the other hand, looked perfectly fine, without a beat of sweat on him. If I hadn't seen it, I would never have been able to guess that he had just run over a mile.
"Hey Kazuma, you hear that?" Austin was looking off into the distance into the darkness, past where the light of his sword reached.
I focused on where he was looking but heard nothing but the sounds of the cave, the water dripping from the ceiling, and the faint sounds of the wind that had made its way into the cave, just like a normal cave. I shook my head, and Austin frowned.
"No, I definitely hear it. It's like a crowd of people. Faint, but I can barely hear it. Can you really not hear anything, Kazuma?"
"I just hear the cave, certainly nothing like a crowd. You sure the cave just isn't getting to you dude?"
"Of course not. That should be clear to all seven of you Kazuma's." Austin had a smirk on his face. Yeah, he was fine.
We continued forward, more carefully than before. Austin kept insisting that he heard something, so we followed the noise through the twisting hallways. Whenever we reached a fork in the road, he always insisted that the noise was coming from the rightmost option. I guess that goblin was leading us to his leader after all, or maybe the goblins were having a rave in there, probably the former.
After what seemed like an hour, I started to hear the noise too. It sounded like a busy crosswalk in the middle of Tokyo. The sound of footsteps was prevalent, with voices that all mixed together to create a dull mummer. I pulled my sword out. If I could hear it, we weren't too far away. Apparently, one of Austin's skills gave him super hearing. None of his skills mentioned anything of the sort, but maybe it was a side effect or something. "Why do you always get great skills? First sword mastery, and now super hearing?"
"Says the person with the ability to create literally anything. Like you said. I just swing a stick around. I'm jealous of you, dude. You can create anything, store it, and appraise any enemy. You can even theoretically destroy anything, not that it has ever worked. You have to be the most incompetent isekai protagonist ever, dude." Said Austin.
"At least I've used more than one of my skills."
"Hey, if I knew how I would. We supporting characters don't get everything handed to us."
I rolled my eyes and turned back towards the front. I hadn't noticed it, but the cave was slowly getting brighter; it was to the point that I could probably see just fine without Austin's sword. Austin turned his sword off just as I thought that and held it in front of him.
The cave got brighter and brighter until we saw a pathway in front of us fully lit up. I poked my head around the side. Inside was what looked to be a throne room. Goblins were everywhere, lit up by flames lighting the room. They scattered around on the ground like rats. Several of them carried boxes they were moving to who knows where. Near the back of the room was the main attraction, however.
On a ledge of stone sat a goblin-like creature. It was huge, at least six meters tall, with pale green skin and jewelry all over its body made of bone. Some of the bones looked human. It seems to be counting all the other goblins while it sat on its throne, doing nothing. It had an antenna sticking out of its forehead. Behind the enormous goblin was an unopened wooden chest.
"Of course, it has to be a goblin king. Apparently, original creatures are too complicated." Austin muttered under his breath. "Hey, Kazuma, how much mana do you have left?"
"It's completely full; why?"
"We have two options here. Either we can approach the goblin king and fight him, along with all the other goblins in the room, or you can create a gun, and we can shoot him."
"You have a point."
Minutes later, Austin was holding a pistol in his hand. We had tried to make a sniper rifle first, but I didn't have enough mana for that. A pistol and a pack of ammo took four thousand mana, so a sniper rifle was definitely out of my range for now.
He aimed at the goblin king. The pistol was unmoving as Austin breathed in and out. He looked like a trained professional, though he was in a way with his hunting license.
The cave rattled as he shot. The bullet flew through the air as all the goblins turned towards the source of the blast. When the shot reached the goblin king's head, it seemed to stretch back like rubber. The bullet pushed his whole body backward as it hit the wall. His body split, part of it getting back up while the other half laid on the ground. The part of the goblin king that was standing started to run towards us, the fragments of his legs shaking with every step, but his body began to shake. Parts teleported up and down, and his limbs seemed to go inside his body. It was like a video game model, one that was glitching heavily. The goblin king's legs disappeared suddenly, and it fell to the ground and then his entire body disappeared in a glitchy mess. There was no blood, instead, the body of the goblin king laid on his throne like he was asleep.
"You have advanced to level two," said a voice in my head. Did it count because I created the weapon? It didn't count when I made the swords, though?
All the goblins in the room suddenly collapsed as the lights in their eyes disappeared. The ground was littered with goblin corpses as we walked inside. We had completed the request.
"Huh, that was anticlimactic. Guess that antenna controlled all the other goblins, like robots." Austin said
"Still better than a fight."
"True. I couldn't have defeated this many goblins, much less the king with ease. Now, what's in the chest?"
We walked over to the throne, careful to avoid the body of the goblin king. Austin broke the lock on the chest with one swing of his sword. He opened the chest and put his head inside. "Wow, this is disappointing."
He came up with a single stone. It was in the shape of a diamond, with pale grey sides that shone with the light of the flames. He tossed the stone to me. "Here you go, Mr. protagonist, maybe you can appraise it or something."
I looked at the stone. 'Appraisal.' A screen appeared next to it. "This item can not be appraised." Maybe there was something to this stone after all. "Hey Austin, it won't let me appraise it."
"Really? Keep it for now. Maybe we'll find a use for it soon."
I put it in my back pocket. It was small enough that I barely felt it but large enough that I knew it was there.
"Ok, let's get out of here. I don't know about you, but standing in a room with a pile of corpses is not my idea of fun."
"Absolute shocker here, but I agree," I said as we turned towards the exit of the throne room.