Chapter 3:

Mastering the First Layer with Chloe

What it Takes for a Loser to Become a Career Isekai Adventurer ダメ人間が本職異世界冒険家になる資格は

Den’s breath came short as he followed Rika in the early evening light up the hill to the Primordial Hollows. While Den had been pleased with how simple it had been to sign up for the trial membership, Rika stormed forth uttering a constant stream of grumbling. Just as they left the last residential street behind and made their way up a steep staircase through the woods, she said, “I still can’t believe that they expect us to pay 10,000 dabloons a month as a membership fee! I have never heard of such an expensive membership.”

“You’ve never been to a high-end gym have you?” Den asked. Not that he knew much better. It wasn’t that unreasonable though given what he heard from his sister.

Rika rolled her eyes. “Whatever. At least we don’t have to pay for two weeks. It’s going to be a lot of ramen nights from here.”

Den laughed as they finished scaling the hill and arrived at the hilltop clearing. Now in the light of day, Den could see the old Guildhouse set back in the woods. The three-story lodge and adventurer hub was in a sorry state. All the windows were boarded up and the heavy wood paneling was rotting away, stained by many seasons. The grass grew tall and vines had consumed half the building. It was hard to believe that this was the original hotspot of the suburb. The building was probably one of the only built by the Isekaijin when the land was first developed. Even in its sad current condition, Den could see that this was once a majestic place. He wished he could be an adventurer working out of this building as opposed to the shack downtown.

Looking on to the stone doorway to the Hollows sticking out of the suddenly steep hillside, a figure in a long shimmering blue coat with bunny ears stood with their back to Den and Rika. Den sighed internally. Rika better not have brought her younger sister along. He had been skeptical from the first moment when Rika declared that she had already scouted another member. What they needed now was an actual capable individual, not someone even weaker than Den himself. He literally had no way of carrying the party.

“Hello! This is Rika of Rika’s Amazing Party!” Rika announced, raising a hand. “Are you Chloe?”

The waiting individual turned sideways, but did not look up from the phone they tapped on rapidly in hand. While Den was still reeling from the fact that Rika had named their party after herself and announced it in such a shameless fashion, he was equally entranced by the girl before them. After an awkward moment of silence, the girl nodded as she finished typing a message. She looked up at them as she stowed her phone in a pocket and blew bangs from her eyes. Her skin was a soft blue and she eyed them up and down skeptically

She has oni blood in her? Den wondered. He’d gone to school before with a few kids with a similar skin hue. He’d heard that oni had incredible strength. He seriously doubted she did, however. In his experience, the blending of character classes over time resulted in most class based skills watering down to insignificance. Still, he wouldn’t mind a party member with superstrength. Despite the cold gaze examining them, Den raised a hand. “Hi. You here to adventure too?”

She snorted and gave them a curtsy. “Yes. Chloe came to adventure. She is glad to meet you.” When she rose, Den had serious doubts as to if the girl-- Chloe apparently-- was really ‘glad’ as no emotion shifted her calm face. She reached up and pulled back her hood, revealing long black hair and a single fluffy rabbit ear hanging limp on the side of her head.

Rika gasped. Her mouth was open and her cheeks had flushed bright pink. “You’re adorable!” she declared.

The girl gave a solid affirmative nod. “That is true.”

Den recognized the girl was indeed beautiful now that they mentioned it. Having beastman blood was common enough. Though the fact she had a rabbit ear was a little unusual. Most people he’d met with beastman heritage had something like cat, fox, or wolf ears. As far as beauty went, if he had to compare the two, Rika-- despite being the tallest of them-- had the energy of a child, while Chloe gave off the elegant air of a refined lady. Den had been instantly drawn to Rika by her unwavering confidence, but he imagined most would find Chloe the more alluring. Not that it mattered. They’d come here to adventure. Maybe once he got to know her better, he would--

“Will you go out with me?” Rika asked.

Den’s mouth dropped open. “Rika-- we literally just met her! Don’t make her think we’re weirdos!” He chopped her once on the head.

Chloe did not seem the bit taken aback by the sudden confession however. “How cute. Chloe accepts your kind words, but regretfully declines. Perhaps if you prove yourself worthy Chloe will keep you as a pet, Rika.”

Wait? Was telling a girl they were cute that easy? In an instant he made his decision. Better late than never. “I thought it, too. You are really cute.” And just as quickly he regretted that decision. Damn! he thought. I should have just said it when I first thought it. Now I sound like an idiot.

She turned her calm gaze on Den. “Is this your servant, Rika? He does not look very dependable.”

“I’m Den,” he said, a vein pulsing in his forehead. Beautiful or not, it appeared this individual was as much a piece of work as Rika. “I’m a member of the party too. I know I may not look the part, but I promise I’ll make up for it in willingness to destroy things with full effort and minimal morals.”

Chloe eyed him for a moment longer. “You’re cute too. Chloe appreciates your curtness.” She gave another solid nod. “Chloe accepts Rika and Den as party members. She looks forward to exploring the Hollows with you. Go team. Yay.” No excitement entered her voice even as she calmly raised her sleeved hands in what Den could only imagine should be excitement.

Rika gave her a thumbs up, her momentary daze of affection seeming to have passed. “We’re going to clear the Hundreth Layer. You think you’re up for that?”

“Chloe is intrigued. She wishes to see how you will attempt to accomplish such a feat. It will at least make good entertainment. Chloe will accompany you,” the girl said without hesitation.

“We’re happy to have you,” Den said, giving a salute. “I don’t care about how deep we go as much as becoming successful adventurers. We need to smash a lot more monsters before this work starts paying for itself. Are you sure you want to enter the fortress wearing something that nice?” Den took the cusp of his t-shirt and drew it out to show the new holes. “Slime acid turned this into a Hollows-only shirt.”

Chloe looked down at her dress-like jacket as if thinking about it for the first time. The blue fabric shimmered in the early light, revealing a light second print of rabbit faces. Den had a sinking suspicion the material was silk-- and if so-- it probably cost more than his entire wardrobe he’d brought to the suburb. After a dubious moment of consideration Den couldn’t read, the girl gave a halfhearted shrug. “Chloe only goes out in clothing she likes. She does not mind if this piece of fabric were to gain more character.” She pumped her fists. “Chloe does not feel regret with the paths she chooses.”

Den liked that. “That’s the attitude we want on our team. We have some hard work, but I am going to enjoy smashing some monsters. Let’s do our best.”

“Chloe also wishes to kill monsters,” the girl said, her single rabbit ear lifting in excitement. “She has wanted to kill since she was young.”

“That’s the spirit!” Rika cheered, seemingly unbothered while Den was suddenly overcome with doubt concerning their new teammate. Rika lifted a palm-sized shield locket-- her Guild Badge-- up to the door “This better have been worth it…” she grumbled. It seemed she still wasn’t happy it had cost 10,000 doubloons to receive the Enchanted Item. He understood a bit given he’d seen that purchase had completely emptied her wallet. His too for that matter. She finished undoing the lock, and a mystic energy lit in the center gem of the shield, then took hold of the doors. Den and Rika stepped back, but Chloe held her ground as the doors swung wide open, showing the crystal tower chamber beyond.

“That’s more like it!” Rika said, her eyes shining. Den liked that much more than squeezing through the crack. They made their way inside, the doors swinging shut automatically behind. Den pulled his locket off the rope around his neck and, following the Guildmaster’s instructions, he joined Rika in opening the shield face. With his other hand, he opened the Guild App they’d been told to download. They linked the bluetooth connection to the adaptor on the back of the Enchanted Item.

“I bet this would have been a lot more interesting in the Isekaijin age when the AR environment was still active,” Den said. On the Guild Badge manipulation screen, he saw a connection named “S1L1” which he took to be Stratum 1 Layer 1. On clicking it, the Guild Badge opened. A round gemstone inside hardly a centimeter across lit purple with the same light as the room’s crystal. A wide smile spread across his face. “It may not be much, but that’s magic. Alright! Now we’ll be able to teleport between Connecting Crystals we register in the future.”

Rika set a fast pace and Den was soon lagging behind as his muscles protested to a second day of adventuring. It mattered little, Den realized, as Rika with Chloe at her side led the way to the first spawn chamber stabbing through every rat they came across. Den entered just as rats spawned from the shadows, pooling out of the magic circle within.

He quickly pulled the screwdriver and hammer he’d brought along this time into hand and licked his lips. I’m an adventurer! With a quick stab to the stomach with the screwdriver, the first rat that targeted him squealed and fell to the earth. He grinned as excitement filled his veins. This is going to be much better than the pry-bar! A hiss sounded behind, and Den turned to face another Giant Rat. As he turned, the rat jumped and Den swung the hammer in his other hand into the monster, knocking it roughly off to the side with a violent crunch. Both monsters burst into smoke. Remembering all too well Rika’s wild dangerous splash damage range, he ran to the far side of the room to meet the second wave. They took another couple minutes to finish off the remaining spawns.

Den slid his tools into his belt-loops. He leaned down and picked up the Essence Ore that littered the chamber floor. Despite the fact he’d met the chamber’s three waves with significantly more confidence than last time, his breath came short. While he was thankful for his new tools, his hammer shoulder trembled from the force of the crushing bones. The sensation of bodies crumpling under his offensive left him shaken as well. I suppose that I still have a long way to go until I have the heart of an adventurer.

The magic circle in the center of the room faded. Only slowly descending wisps of black smoke remained as the doors ahead unlocked. Rika breathed heavily but grinned after having cleared the majority of the spawn single handedly.

Chloe, who had to this point not moved, clapped softly. “Impressive. Despite your appearances, you can fight.” She gracefully skipped forward and plucked up Essence Ore with one hand, her other arm straight out to the side holding a beautiful dagger shaped like a crescent moon. Den thought it looked oddly familiar. “It appears Chloe needs not worry she didn’t bring an adventuring weapon.”

“That cool knife isn’t an adventuring weapon?” Den asked.

“Chloe does not carry said knife for the purpose of killing monsters.” She pocketed the crystal and pulled out a spectacular engraved silver sheath to stow her blade.

At once, Den recognised the knife. “Isn’t that Tora’s magical knife from Pretty Prince Pirate Sun?” Den asked. There was no mistaking the yellow sun emblem on the sheath.

The girl’s eyebrows raised. “Indeed. Chloe had it custom made.”

Rika tilted her head. “Oh, I remember that. I watched that magical girl anime when I was a kid!”

Den nodded sagely. “It’s interesting you chose the design from the remake movie. I have always been more partial to the original.”

“Chloe has only seen the new movie,” Chloe said, stowing the knife.

Now this was a predicament. Den was the only truly cultured one.

“While Chloe appreciate’s Den’s taste in media, she wishes to speak frankly. You two do not look like adventurers. This may be a surprise, but she was disappointed at first sight.”

Somehow that’s not a surprise, Den thought. I probably would have been disappointed too.

“Chloe had hoped to accompany accomplished adventurers who would be able to protect her. However, she now supposes that this is all to be expected from a party formed on the Groupus App. Even so, Chloe is pleasantly surprised her happenstance discovery appears to have produced at least minimally functional fighters.”

“Chloe,” Rika said, lowering her voice and putting a hand to her chest, holding out her spear hand. “As long as I am leader of this party, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Den drew in a breath as Chloe’s gaze fell on him as well. Laser’s words echoed in his mind. He may not be a natural womanizer like Rika, but he would have to do his best on that front of the adventurer life too. “I may be brand-new to this adventuring thing,” he said, his face flushing red and voice coming out squeaky and broken, “but I will do my best as well. I can’t let a cute girl like you down, can I?”

Her calm face broke into a pitying smile. “How cute. Chloe is not inspired but she is entertained and wishes to see how you intend to protect her.”

Between Rika’s pokey stick, and Den’s tools, they cut their way forward through the Layer, Chloe casually skipping behind and making Essence Ore disappear into her seemingly bottomless center pocket. They moved forward steadily, but an almost constant stream of spawning monsters kept them silent and focused. Ten minutes had passed in the time it took them to cut their way to the point where the path split into three. Den’s limbs were trembling with fatigue. As he gasped for air, a slime popped out of the rocks a step ahead. He turned his hammer around and slashed at the slime with the sharp nail-removing end and jumped back to avoid the splash. “So much better than the pry-bar,” he said, almost crying.

Chloe rushed forward and used a plastic water bottle to catch some of the slime before it faded. As she sealed the lid, the potion began to sparkle a soft blue.

“Nice hustle,” Den said. “Do you exercise often?”

She nodded to Den. “Chloe is in top shape from running six days a week.”

“What about you, Rika?” Den asked. “What’s your secret to health?”

“Oh, I always run around a lot and forget to eat,” Rika said. “My family says I’m like a squirrel.”

So I’m the only one who doesn’t have good genetics. Den sighed.

Chole rose up, stowing her bottle and gave Den a heavy considering gaze. She drew out her cosplay knife and made her way for Den with steady steps. “You are the weakest member,” she said, and jutted the blade at him.

He held up his hands, and could barely manage to maintain his grin. “I promise I’ll get healthier. I don’t even have the time or money to snack anymore.”

With her sleeved hand she took his and brought it to the handle of her knife then she slid the hammer out of his hand. She hefted it and brought it down once with a solid nod. “Much better.”

Den looked down at the blade that had been given to him. “Why?”

A Giant Rat jumped out from the shadows behind a boulder, and with a sharp twist, Chloe nailed the monster under the chin, sending it spinning until it slammed against the ground and burst into a dark cloud several meters away. Looks like that oni super-strength thing was real afterall. She looked at Den. “You’re weak. But Chloe doesn't mind.”

“Well maybe I mind that…” Den said, slumping. At least she isn’t going to kill me for it.

“Don’t worry. Den is cute. Chloe will be sure to protect him.” She gave him a thumbs up barely visible within her sleeve. “Den should be the caddy.”

He heaved a sigh. “That’s not my ideal image of an adventurer.” He limped forward to pick up the shard dropped from Chloe’s kill. “But I suppose I won’t say no to a little break.”

Rika swung her Pointy Stick to her shoulder and looked up at the sign hanging from the ceiling. “I don’t mind taking your portion of the spawn,” she smiled, her eyes sparkling. “But no promises you won’t have to fight in the mini-boss room.”


Despite the name mini-boss, Den was very pleasantly surprised to find he was allowed a true break. He sat on the Infinity Chest in the center of the small round stone chamber while Chloe and Rika stood on either side. Monsters spawned every five to ten seconds out of a mist that hung in a ring around them, but as expected of the other two, Den wasn’t necessary. He’d finally caught his breath. As a rat spawned from the hanging fog ringing the round chamber. Den snapped half a dozen pictures as Chloe promptly brought down the hammer on its head, sending it back into smoke.

“That was a good one, Chloe,” he said. “These might be the best ones yet.” Satisfied, he set his phone in his lap next to its charging bag. He sat up on the locked Infinity Chest and rolled his shoulders. “I had hoped to take some good pictures today, but I hadn’t expected the time for that here.”

Rika glanced up to check the digital timer drilled into the ceiling, a cord leading down to a button next to the door. A minute remained of the ten they had started with when they pressed the button at the beginning of the spawn. “I am glad you’ve gotten pictures of how amazing Chloe and I are, but if I know my video games, when that timer runs out, even the two of us might not be able to deal with what spawns.”

“I’ll join after I get some video of the two of you fighting.” Den lifted his phone and opened the Guild App. The Guild Badges he and Rika carried were Enchanted Items-- albeit something every adventurer carried-- and while Den dreamed of getting his hands on a combat capable Enchanted Item, the magic contained in the tool he held now still amazed Den. He’d checked their party stats. The Badges magically scanned their bodies and the adaptor on the back sent the information to the Guild app. The information gained was no small matter either.

At a glance at his own profile, Den found basic information like his height, weight, and muscle mass displayed alongside a skill diagram. After somehow gauging his personal potential, Den regrettably understood why it labeled his stats like attack, defense, speed, and stamina all as low single digits on a scale of one-hundred. More perplexing though, it claimed to know one’s mental fortitude, intelligence, and strategic skill as well. It was infuriating that even his strategy stat was only considered a twenty, landing at ‘average’. Compared to Rika’s, his abilities were all roundly lower except for that. He even had a glance at her screen back at the Guild and saw the gods of magic, in all their wisdom, even labeled her three sizes. It appeared her physical maturity matched her childlike attitude.

While the magically divined base player data was impressive enough, the Guild Badges recorded their adventurer growth as well. Through battle with monsters, Sekaijin slowly were able to gain levels through absorbing trace amounts of magic. These increased the individual’s physical abilities-- though any small benefit gained now wouldn’t overcome Den’s current terrible base stats. Rika on the other hand had already reached level two by the time they’d entered the chamber. It was exciting to Den to see a small level bar at the bottom of the screen increase a small sliver with each monster she ended.

He returned to his profile and snapped a selfie to upload for his avatar. It was nearly uploaded when a buzzer went off overhead. Come on! I don’t have time for this to be freezing up. A hissing of smoke sounded behind.

Rika swung around to look. “Den! Stop playing on your phone!”

A rock slammed into his back, knocking the air from his lungs and throwing him face first in the dirt. His phone landed next to his head. The ninety-nine percent complete bar flipped to a disrupted connection alert. Great, Den thought. Then the phone-- jerked free from its lifeline-- went black as the battery gave out. Just perfect.

Cursing, Den pushed himself to a sitting position as Rika ran past him. He turned to find a six foot tall skeleton lifting its boney fists to meet Rika’s and Chloe’s offensive. Den’s heart hammered with a mixture of unease and excitement. He scrambled to his feet and whipped out his screwdriver and the cosplay blade. He took one step forward before faltering. The other two had managed to beat the monster back, their strikes knocking away bones, but the hard white constructs flew only a few moments before they lit with green magic and paused midair then flew back into place.

Den looked down to his weapons. “Screw that.” He threw them away and ran to the edge of the chamber to grab two baseball sized rocks. “I’m coming!” he shouted, helfing his rocks overhead. The skeleton turned in his direction, the hollows of its eyes glowing softly with a green fire. As Den slid in, it lifted a bony knee into his stomach. He grit his teeth and laughed. His layer of fat had actually absorbed some of the impact. I don’t care how ugly it has to be, I will become an adventurer! He brought his rocks down on the lifted leg, shattering the bone, the falling shards fizzling into smoke.

Even reduced to hoping on one leg, it took several more minutes of wild slashing and bashing, until Den finally thought they had gained the advantage over the skeleton. It’s slapping arms and kicking leg came relentlessly and each smack left Den stinging and reeling. He coughed as he found himself taking most of the hits while the other two used him as a distraction to land their own attacks. Rika had followed Den’s lead and abandoned her pointy stick for stones, while Chloe made the most damage of the three of them, landing home run after home run with the hammer.

Wheezing and feeling thoroughly battered himself, Den finally ended the battle with a wild roar as he brought down a stone on the skull. The monster gave a wispy screech before breaking into dark mist. Den let out a trembling heave, falling onto his knees. “Shit,” he said, his arms and legs trembling from exhaustion. “That hurt.”

“Good work, Den,” Rika said, dropping her stones and crossing her arms with a proud nod. “I knew there was a reason I accepted you as the team’s strategizer! I’ve never heard of fighting a skeleton with rocks! You saved my Pointy Stick of Destruction. On top of that, to use yourself as a sacrificial beating sack? Genius.”

“Chloe gives praise. Your soft layer is effective armor.” She patted his head as he barely managed to keep himself up on all fours. I guess it works out alright if they think that was all planned.

The rest of the layer passed with Den’s head spinning. The two King Rats that formed as the final boss fell far easier than the skeleton, and while Den was still the only one on the ground at the end of the battle, he hurt far less. Chloe said she didn’t care about her portion of the pull so it was simple enough to pack up the Essence Ore into Rika’s and Den’s bags. They exited the Hollows, and the cool air on Den’s bruised body did wonders to bring him back to life.

The sun had set and the city sparkled in the half light of a brownout. Den was exhausted and his legs barely held him up while weighed down with a backpack of Essence Ore. The other two looked out over the sunset. Rika smiled with a full backpack like him and Chloe carried two full pillowcases over her shoulders as if their contents truly were pillows instead of crystal.

They met his eyes and he couldn’t help but smile too. “That was awesome,” he said, slapping his cheeks. Facing the suburb, he realized the only thing waiting for him now was GrandPre. He didn’t want to have to explain why he was now covered in bruises. It took him only a moment to decide what he would prefer. “I’m hurting, but I could go again.”

Rika laughed. “I like that determination, Den. I want to move on to the Second Layer now too, but if we do, you’ll actually die… A leader needs to keep her team alive.” She hefted her backpack. “Let’s run down to the Guild to turn in this Ore.”

“It’s already closed,” Den said, shoving his hands in his pockets. His blood flowed restlessly. “It’s a poorly funded government building. Of course it closes early. We’ll have to hold onto this all until tomorrow.”

Rika humphed. “That’s dumb. Any sane adventurers would hunt in the evening when the spawns are bigger. I’ll make the Guildmaster change the rules next time we see him to sign Chloe onto our team.” She crossed her arms and pursed her lips in equal frustration. “I don’t want to go home yet either...”

A loud stomach grumble sounded. Rika and Den turned to Chloe. She put her hands on her stomach. “Chloe had fun today. She also doesn’t want to leave her new friends. But she hungers. She desires food and alcohol.”

Rika’s face lit up. “Nice thinking Chloe! I can always eat. We’re adventures! Let’s celebrate!”

Right. Going out to eat together is something people do. Den had once or twice gone out in his first week of college, but it’d been so long. The thought of wild Guild parties Grandpapi had shared from his days as an adventurer came to mind. The golden tinted image of a warm, rough, and routy party of adventurers was something he’d always admired but thought impossible. A wide smile spread across Den’s face. “That’s the adventurer thing to do! I’m in.”


Chloe and Rika guided Den down the hill straight through the dim hillside residential area, and into Suburb 23’s downtown. It was nothing like the loud, busy streets Den was used to in Starter Town. The city hub surrounded the train station where only three train lines ran out to Starter Town and the two neighboring suburbs. While the businesses around the station stood upwards of four stories and sparkled with electric signs and glass, Den still could only think of it as countryside compared to his streets lined in skyscrapers in Starter Town.

For the first time since arriving in the suburb however, he was thankful for the small scale. He’d almost never walked around Starter Town since he didn’t like the always crowded streets. He imagined that if the brownouts ever came to Starter Town too, the endless city streets and soaring buildings would be as intimidating as walking through dark canyons. In comparison to that, the sky was wide and blue with early night over the dark buildings of the suburb brownout. Den appreciated that the streets were not busy despite being early evening. He supposed he still needed more time to get used to being with people after his last years spent alone.

He followed the other two off the Hollows-road onto a main street facing the station. While most of the wide plaza was dark with restaurants using minimal lighting or even candles and flames, a single convenience store shone brilliantly on the first level of a five story business ahead. He grinned. You can always depend on convenience stores even in times like this.

Without a word between them, like moths to a flame, Den and his friends were drawn into the light. They paused at the doors. Rika looked between them with an apologetic look. “I came here on instinct. I guess it’s not really a good place to celebrate. We should find some pub to get big glasses of beer and live it up.” She rubbed the back of her head. “It might take me a bit to find a place like that. I can’t say I ever really go out to pubs.”

While the picture Rika painted of a lively bar experience fit with Den’s own mental image, the thought of squeezing into such a tight, loud, and busy place made his stomach twist with insecurity. “I eat at convenience stores all the time,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t have a good time here.”

Chloe gave a thumbs up. “How cute. Chloe has long observed that these general stores are frequented by the masses. She is intrigued by the quaint idea of sharing a meal at such a location with comrades.”

Rika’s embarrassment slipped away. “Yeah, convenience stores are the best! I love the pre-made meals at this one especially.”

Den didn’t think Chloe’s statement was praise of convenience stores, but he was thankful for even a little familiarity. They made their way inside and Den was pleased to find that the bright aisles of food and common household goods mirrored those of his local store. The relief he felt brought a smile to his lips. If only in this place, he could forget that he was in Suburb 23 during a brownout.

They made their way through the store, Rika constantly talking about which were her favorite snacks, which new flavors of drinks were disgusting abominations of nature, and which pre-made plastic container meals she recommended. Den was an avid user of convenience stores himself, so he had his own input on the supremacy of sweet potato chips as the ultimate snack and the strange zinginess of durian-banana juice that was worth at least one drink. Chloe ooo’d and ahhh’d at their hot discussion, entransed by every flashily bagged snack and strangely colored drink. Rika decided on a can of raspberry chuhai highball while Chloe chose a topshelf red-wine bottle that Rika had to hand down to her. Den settled on a simple can of beer. It seemed the right choice as an adventurer.

In the refrigerated aisle, Den scanned the shelves of pre-made meals-- dishes of curry, egg-and-chicken rice bowls, and plates of spaghetti to name a few calling out to him. He pulled his coin purse from his pocket and pulled out the 400 doubloons to his name. The beer was already one-hundred. In the end, he could only afford a plastic wrapped hamburger and a piece of chicken from the counter machine. While it was not much food, he was deeply satisfied handing over the coins he’d earned himself. It was embarrassing but this was his first time purchasing a meal with his own money.

The three of them sat down at the single small tight table near the door. Rika ravenously pulled out a warmed up beef rice bowl and half a dozen snacks while Chloe set out three full premade meals, looking on with raised eyebrows and taking a picture with her phone. When they had all sat down, Chloe turned her phone camera to face them. “Chloe wishes to honor this first party meal with a photo.”

Den didn’t mind taking photos, but since he’d already gotten some of the other two for his blog, he supposed he couldn’t complain now. He leaned in and tried his best to smile. That done, Den and Rika cracked open their cans and Chloe poured her wine into the fancy cup that had come with her bottle.

“Cheers to adventuring!” Rika shouted, bringing up her can. “One layer done, ninety-nine to go!”

“Cheers!” Den said. He took a long swig from his beer and did his best not to gag. He didn’t drink at home and beer was as gross as he remembered it. “I don’t know about getting down to the Hundredth Layer, but I can’t wait to get down to the point where I can catch some good footage.” He explained his plan to blog and stream their adventures while Rika inhaled her beef bowl and Chloe downed three glasses of wine in the cup that came with the bottle. She gave a little burp and her cheeks shifted a modest pink while she waited for her cup-ramen to cook.

“I’m going to make streaming the Hollows work,” Den said, finally ripping open his bag-hamburger and taking a bite. “But I literally have no recording or uploading equipment right now besides my phone that’s on its last legs. I don’t even have the electricity funds needed to manage the plan.” He started counting on one hand. “I also need money to pay my grandmother for rent, and buy back my computer, and pay for the Guild membership. And if any one of these fails, I’ll be out on the street.” Den sighed with a laugh. “We need to get deeper to start earning money. It’s going to be a rough two weeks.”

Rika burped. “Sucks to be you man. I think the streaming idea is rad. I used to spend most of my time following streamers before this all went down. I’m all over getting rich off this plan.” Rika lifted her chin to Chloe. “Why do you want to be an adventurer?”

She gracefully used the wet napkin she draped on her lap to wipe her lips. “Chloe found the posting and knew it would be better for her health to go adventuring than continue following the news and social media. She dreams of running an adventurer inn and being surrounded by people.”

Den nodded to that. “If you just want to go out more and be surrounded by people there has to be less dangerous options than becoming an adventurer.”

Chloe didn’t say anything at first as she sucked noodles from an instant cup. She tilted her head as she chewed. “What an interesting flavor. To think that this is considered food.” She set down the cup. “Chloe’s family has a long history working with adventurers. She has always admired them and wanted to own a part of that world for herself.” She pet her own laying rabbit ear as her face turned introspective. “You may not have noticed, but Chloe comes from a family of privilege. She is a commision plastics printer and is happy with her work, but almost every aspect of her life has been given to her. She thought if she could be a party supporter, she would gain the people needed to start an inn all her own.”

Rika took a long swing of her drink and smiled in bliss as she wildly devoured her beef bowl. By the time Chloe had finished her story, Rika sat back with her plastic container empty. She bit into a snack with one hand, the other on her stomach. “I am not picky. I mean, I accepted Den and he was some kind of cave dweller. I don’t mind having a rich girl on my party either.”

Choosing to ignore Rika’s description of him, Den said, “I feel where you’re coming from, Chloe. It has felt amazing making something out of our hard work. I’m one-hundred percent into being an adventurer now, but I wish I’d been able to choose the path myself like you did.” He shrugged. “So you’re thinking of only being a supporter, not a full party member?”

Rika sat up. “That’s not allowed. We only have two weeks to gather a group of five!”

Chloe finished sucking up the rest of her noodles then shook her head. “That was Chloe’s plan, but she sees now that this group is weak enough that they will not survive without Chloe’s help.” She sat up and her single bunny ear lifted. “Chloe will join your party. She wants to build her own adventurer collection.” She put one hand to her chest. “And if members are necessary, she knows one more individual who will be at least minimally useful.”