Chapter 146:

Vol. 9 Chapter 4: The Crystal Dungeon Part 3

Hour Empty Child

The party continued going down through the dungeons, passing through the floors with mercy to those who stood in their way. With Kudo as the lead, their way was blessed with good luck as this dungeon was mostly using traps and so forth relying on the adventurers’ luck, such as trick doors and treasure chests.Bookmark here

Each time they went down, they increased in experience and loot. However, they also had to face high-rising tides, breaking floors, and blazing rooms that would otherwise make every other party give up at this point.Bookmark here

It was a horrid time for the party members during their travel, but thanks to going over them, they were able to get more loot for sale when they come back to the guild. In other words, it was a winning situation.Bookmark here

Eventually, they got to the 50th floor. It was a feat that was lower than when Kudo and Hinota went through on their dungeon trip back in Peranim, but considering that it was Lerabelum of all places, it was a forgivable feat.Bookmark here

When they reached the 50th floor, they were met with a darkened sky blanketed in dazzling stars. Underneath the starry sky was a vast green field that seemed to extend as far as the horizon, leaving them to gaze in awe at the sight.Bookmark here

“Wow…” Raika let out an awed greeting to the sky. “It’s so beautiful…”Bookmark here

“Kinda reminds me of the field back near Triun,” Kuki said, craning his neck up to the sky with widened eyes. “But it feels like a lot bigger than that for some reason.”Bookmark here

“Mmh…” Kudo looked up above with a smile, then he turned back to Saka who also looked up with a wandering expression.Bookmark here

The party was able to pass through the floors with no issue concerning their new party member. Saka would demonstrate her extreme power when they would face the bosses from every ten floors they go through with such prowess and precision, they’d believed that she was a much higher level than they were.Bookmark here

However, there was an issue regarding something else—the loot. When an adventurer would make the most contribution, the party would usually give the loot to the person who did the most. Though each one contributed equally, Saka did so much work that they felt inclined to give the loot to her.Bookmark here

However, when Kudo would try to give the loot to her as appreciation for her hard work, Saka would refuse, speaking in her old tongue that she does not need such things.Bookmark here

When Kudo would ask again and again, Saka would refuse each time. When Hinota would ask, Saka would say that she does not need such spoils of war for her own sake as she is already strong enough.Bookmark here

Kudo crossed his arms—he knew that Saka must be doing this to be kind, but in the end, it felt as if she doesn’t want anything to do with them. Even though she got close to Kudo and Hinota, she would still refuse to talk as much with the party. Kudo thought he understood her plight, but it turned out to be more complicated than he imagined.Bookmark here

“No need to think so hard on it, Kudo,” Hinota said to him, noticing his gripe from the way he crossed his arms.Bookmark here

“I know, but…” Kudo said. “But there’s gotta be a way for her to get close to us…”Bookmark here

“But it’s not like we have to force her. Remember, you took a while to get used to both Tsuchi and Mizuri, right?”Bookmark here

“R-Right…” Kudo gazed downwards, remembering the time when he would feel awkward around them.Bookmark here

“So, don’t worry about it—time will tell. Eventually, Saka will get used to us.”Bookmark here

“Yeah…”Bookmark here

Kudo smiled at Hinota, but that smile was tinged in worry. Hinota knew that but she lets it go as she also had worries of her own.Bookmark here

(In the end, I can’t seem to trust her… unless there’s something that she’s after, I have no clue on what she wants… it’s as if she wants us to be away from her as much as possible. But then, why did she wanted to come with us to the dungeon, then?)Bookmark here

Hinota thought this through many times, but in the end, she had no clue herself unless Saka shows exactly what she wants. She looked over to Saka who was currently walking forward with a steady gait.Bookmark here

The party continued forward, but each member was quiet as they walked. They were too entranced with the room’s atmosphere, the stars taking away their attention mostly.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“Saka?”Bookmark here

Kudo noticed Saka’s long stare into the sky, looking up every so often to possibly enjoy the stars brimming with so much light.Bookmark here

“I-It’s nothing…” Saka immediately looked forward the moment she was called out and returned to her walking.Bookmark here

“Hey, no need to stop,” Kudo said with a smile. “The stars are really pretty, aren’t they?”Bookmark here

“…The stars do shine as bright as they were before…”Bookmark here

Kudo picked up on her mumbling, catching everyone by surprise.Bookmark here

“You’ve seen these kinds of stars before, Saka?” Hinota asked.Bookmark here

“Yes… Twas’ a time before everything started…” Saka mumbled, the group not knowing if she was truly answering. “Along with my precious comrade and family.”Bookmark here

“Heh,” Kudo said in awe. “Must have been nice. How are they now?”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

Saka remained silent as she walked further along. Kudo knew instantly what he did, and wanted to kick himself for asking that. The atmosphere turned heavy once again, getting Hinota to put a hand on top of Kudo’s shoulder.Bookmark here

“Probably best not to mention that.”Bookmark here

“Y-Yeah…”Bookmark here

They eventually made their way to the center of the floor. They were able to know—because they saw something at the center.Bookmark here

They walked over to a giant hillside where Kudo immediately stopped them. He felt something with his [Sixth Sense], getting him to be silent and motioned the party to come forward with him. Once they peered over at the hillside, they noticed something deep below the hill.Bookmark here

Ruins entered their sight. A giant circle made out of white stone covering the grass field. An arch that seemed to reach for the sky stood at the edge of the circle. There were some insignias and strange letters that dressed the circle all around it, overflowing with knowledge that would make a historian drool. Since it was at a high floor, nobody would be able to go there so easily other than the usual Alpha Heart.Bookmark here

Along with the stars and the night sky, it made an impressive image. However, there was something standing in the center of the circle.Bookmark here

That something was a creature—the boss of the 50th floor.Bookmark here

A snake-humanoid creature, having the body of a man but the head of a long snake head. It turned its head, its forked tongue slithering about from its mouth. What the humanoid snake wore fluttered, showing the magnificent looking robe with a purple color and golden seams. It held a staff within its sharp and scaly hands which had an azure orb at the center between four rectangle-shaped poles at the top.Bookmark here

“T-That’s the boss?” Raika whispered.Bookmark here

“It’s a boss with equipment,” Kudo said, his tone slightly wavering. “If I can make a guess, those are probably about as dangerous as Extreme Quests bosses.”Bookmark here

“Whoa, we just got our asses pounded from that!” Kuki whispered loudly for Kudo to hear. “You think we can handle that?”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, we can handle it,” Kudo said, easing Kuki’s worries. “It’s not that tough since it shouldn’t have any skills. It might know some spells, but if we can work around it—”Bookmark here

“Ridiculous.”Bookmark here

Saka intervened, interrupting Kudo. She stood up from the hill and jumped out of hiding, landing right near the white ruins with her scythe, the Nightingale, brandished by her side.Bookmark here

Her cloak fluttered, and her silver hair flowed with such grace as she landed with precision, taking the snake mage’ attention as it reared its head at her.Bookmark here

The snake mage hissed, putting its staff into position by aiming it at her.Bookmark here

“Four creature from the netherworld,” Saka spoke with a grandiose tone. “You shall not muck about in this world any longer. For I, the Emissary of Darkness, shall reap you!”Bookmark here

Saka posed with her scythe facing forward, bending her knees as she prepared herself to attack the boss.Bookmark here

“W-What is she doing? She didn’t even listen to the plan!”Bookmark here

Kudo complained as he stood up, having no choice but to pull out his bastard sword out of his inventory screen.Bookmark here

The other party members followed, and soon after they jumped from their own place and landed near Saka.Bookmark here

“Saka!” Kudo shouted. “You can’t just jump out without warning!”Bookmark here

“Awaiting for the formulation of a plan is meaningless,” Saka said without facing Kudo. “My Nightingale is well enough for this creature.”Bookmark here

Saka’s scythe gleamed under the dazzling starlight as she rushed forward with her scythe poised, aiming directly at the snake’s long neck as she swung diagonally down.Bookmark here

It created a large arc of silver as it swung. The snake mage raised its scaly hand and hissed. A wall of purple energy formed in front of it. The energy wall resembled that of the night sky above as the scythe landed on it, causing small sparks to fly out in retaliation of the hit.Bookmark here

“Kkh, cheating creature!”Bookmark here

Saka hissed herself as she jumped away from the retaliation, landing right near the party as the snake mage lowered the energy shield.Bookmark here

The snake hissed once again as it raised its staff high into the air. At the sky above, the stars that were glistening with such brightness gleamed once before they began to move, and fell right from the sky onto the earth.Bookmark here

The stars resembled like meteors as they fell from the sky. The ground exploded upon impact, the wave of hot air and fire covered the entirety of the field. The party responded by jumping away at full power.Bookmark here

“Damn! It literally used a star!” Mizuri shouted, jumping away from the flying bits of flaming earth that landed near her.Bookmark here

However, it didn’t stop there. The snake mage hissed as more stars moved from the sky, and fell right to the earth.Bookmark here

“I got it!”Bookmark here

Tsuchi shouted as he ran after the mage before the stars landed. Once he got into place, he aimed the hammer at the ground and swung at it.Bookmark here

“—[Dummy Clay]!”Bookmark here

Tsuchi shouted, slamming at the ground with force. It created a crater, but once the hammer lifted, the crater formed into a small doll made out of pure earth. The doll resembled that of a scarecrow as the rocks formed into clothes, making them into overalls as it stood mightily before the snake mage.Bookmark here

The stars that were falling soon aligned themselves, moving trajectory from where they were going and headed straight towards the doll. One of the stars hit the doll, with the others hitting the area around it. The ground exploded with the doll at the center, but there were so many stars that fell that it covered a wider range, getting Tsuchi to grit his teeth.Bookmark here

“T-Too much! It’s too much for my doll to take!”Bookmark here

Tsuchi shouted before he jumped away from the explosions, but his lesser speed got him to get burnt up from the explosion, his back feeling the burn and intense heat from it.Bookmark here

“But it got enough for us to move in! Mizuri!”Bookmark here

“On it, Hino!”Bookmark here

As Tsuchi got to their side, pulling out a potion from his inventory screen, Hinota and Mizuri rushed in towards the snake mage with their weapons in hand. Hinota’s katana glimmered as Mizuri’s pole swung with precision. The sharp tip and flowing top of the pole flew at the snake mage, ready to hit it with everything they got.Bookmark here

The snake mage raised its hand once again—the starry shield showed itself once again. Their katana and pole hit the shield, once again grinding against it and causing small sparks to fly off.Bookmark here

“Damn it, its’ reaction is too quick!” Hinota cursed, both her and Mizuri jumping away from the snake mage before it could swing at them with its staff.Bookmark here

“Hold on, I’m using my support! —[Plus Pulse!]”Bookmark here

Kudo shouted, lifting his arm up into the sky and letting out small white rings from his palm. The rings enlarged and encircled the entire party, showering them in the light and making their bodies glow a bright white color.Bookmark here

“Alright,” Kudo positioned his bastard sword. “It’ll be a tough fight, but let’s get it!”Bookmark here

===Bookmark here

Much like before, the fight went on for a while, at least for themselves. If it did took a while, they would have been called to get back by the DMC by now. The fight was still going strong between the E-Plus and the snake mage. The snake mage continued to bombard them with its spells that caused the stars themselves to fall onto them and explode upon impact.Bookmark here

In response, the party did whatever they could against the snake mage, but the boss would not give an inch thanks to the barrier it put up against them. No matter how hard they try, their attacks could not land a single hit onto the mage.Bookmark here

“Damn it, this boss is too annoying!”Bookmark here

Horrible flashbacks resurfaced in Kudo’s mind as he tried to deliver an attack by swinging his sword at the mage, only to be deflected by the star barrier it put up. In response, the snake mage hissed and poised its staff, causing another star to fall onto him.Bookmark here

Kudo managed to jump away in time, but the burning sensation felt on his skin despite wearing his armor still persisted, causing him to flinch and wince in pain.Bookmark here

“Ghh!” Kudo groaned as he landed. Then, he noticed somebody rushing forward.Bookmark here

It was Saka. She positioned her scythe upwards and tried to swing down her attack once again. However, the snake mage responded quickly and put up another barrier. There wasn’t even a short interval between the shield and its attacks as it managed to block another powerful attack from Saka.Bookmark here

Saka clicked her tongue. “Why will you not surrender?!”Bookmark here

The snake mage hissed once again as it swung its staff at her, hitting her side with the orb as the powerful hit blew her body away. Saka groaned as her feet caught the ground, causing them to slide from the force and dragging the dirt.Bookmark here

Saka managed to land, but her gut felt intense pain as she held it with her hand. Her heavy breaths resounded as each of the party members tried to attack the snake mage once again but to no avail.Bookmark here

“Saka! We need to work together!” Kudo shouted, trying to get her attention. “You can’t just rush in without backup!”Bookmark here

“Silence!” Saka snapped back, furrowing her brows at Kudo. “I shall take it down with my own strength!”Bookmark here

“W-What are you talking about?!” Kudo asked. “There’s no need to take it on yourself!”Bookmark here

“I…” Saka trailed. “I cannot let anyone do my work for me! I will not be a burden!Bookmark here

Her words resounded within Kudo. As she nailed down on the bosses through the rooms and even letting the party keep her loot—Kudo wondered what she was trying to do by doing that.Bookmark here

(Is she doing all this so that… she wouldn’t drag us down?)Bookmark here

Kudo managed to realize as he almost let down his sword. He witnessed Saka continuing to fight against the snake mage on her own despite that the snake mage would not let her in another inch.Bookmark here

She struggled, gritting her teeth and gripping onto her scythe more to the point of blood dripping from her hands.Bookmark here

“Saka!”Bookmark here

Kudo shouted, this time not withholding his voice any longer to the new member. Saka turned back in surprise from the sudden shout as the other party members kept the snake mage’s attention.Bookmark here

“Saka! We’re a party!” Kudo said, closing in towards Saka. “That means that we work together—there’s no such thing as solo play. We work together and we beat it together. Then, we celebrate together!”Bookmark here

Kudo’s words resounded to every party member, getting each one to turn back for a second to listen to his words as they made their way to Saka.Bookmark here

“That’s why we can’t just let one of our own go by herself. We all go in or we all go home. That’s how we work.”Bookmark here

Saka remained silent as Kudo let out a hand.Bookmark here

“Work together with us. I promise that nobody here will think of you as useless. We’ll need all the help we can get. Alright?”Bookmark here

Kudo said with a smile even though the fight was still going. However, that seemingly gentle and bright smile got Saka to purse her lips in response, then she lets them go as she turned her sight to Kudo.Bookmark here

“…Understood,” Saka said, nodding her head.Bookmark here

“Then, here’s the plan.”Bookmark here

===Bookmark here

The snake mage hissed loudly as it continued to drop stars onto the party. The party managed to dodge in time by jumping away, but the field was already becoming that of a war zone thanks to all the craters the stars created.Bookmark here

“Here I come!”Bookmark here

Hinota shouted, her hair already succumbed into flames from her [Flaming Soul] and her body powered in a bright glow with her enchantments. She rushed forward to the boss with her katana aimed high, enveloping itself with flames.Bookmark here

“—[Flaming Strike]!”Bookmark here

Hinota shouted the skill as she swung the flaming katana down to the boss. However, the boss raised its staff once again and the star shield came back. The katana hits the shield, burning sparks flew out in response along with the ember of the flames.Bookmark here

Hinota gritted her teeth at the snake mage, but then she smiled. She jumped away before the snake mage could do anything.Bookmark here

As the snake mage became confused at her sudden withdrawal, it widened its slit eyes after noticing fog that has entered inside the shield.Bookmark here

The fog developed, and through that, Saka appeared in front of the snake mage.Bookmark here

“—[Foggy Escape],” Saka said before revealing her own smile. “Have a taste of this.”Bookmark here

Saka said before throwing something at the snake mage. The boss caught it by reflex, taking a look at what it was.Bookmark here

It was an iron ingot, the rectangle-shaped metal bar that was slightly heavy in its scaly hands. However, what caught its attention was the shining bright orb that was stuck on it. The bright orb continued to flash multiple times until—Bookmark here

—Boom! The orb exploded, taking the snake mage by surprise as it roared in pain. The shield that was put up began to shatter into pieces and fell onto the ground.Bookmark here

“The shield is down!” Kudo shouted, raising his sword at the boss. “Attack it now!”Bookmark here

With Kudo’s order, the other party members unleashed their skills at a fast pace. Each one shot at the snake mage while it’s shield was down and causing it to cry out in agony.Bookmark here

Each element made a strike at it, causing even more explosions than the stars ever did. Eventually, the skills from each party member slowed down, their Mana Points lowering as a result.Bookmark here

In amidst of the smoke cloud that was generated by the skills’ explosions, the snake mage appeared from within the smoke, hissing one more time at the party members.Bookmark here

It dropped down onto the ground, letting go of the staff in its hand.Bookmark here

“W-We did it!”Bookmark here

Mizuri shouted, bringing her pole into the air as if it was a rallying flag for the party to celebrate. The other party members all shouted in joy, their injuries now a far cry from being hurtful as they gathered towards one another to share high-fives.Bookmark here

Eventually, they got to the boss and dismembered it for its loot. Since it was a boss, its’ skin was highly valued, and the staff and robe were particularly expensive.Bookmark here

“Saka…”Bookmark here

As the party was talking about how to share the loot, eventually leaving it into the E-Plus bank for later safekeeping, Hinota turned to Saka who was away from it all. Saka was by herself, huddling towards herself by crossing her arms over her chest as if waiting for them to finish their business.Bookmark here

“Yes?” Saka replied, her expression as stoic as she could.Bookmark here

“I heard what you were talking about with Kudo… and I have to agree with him.”Bookmark here

Hinota offered a smile, a gentle smile as if all her earlier thoughts about her eradicated. Saka noticed this as her expression softened from the look of her genuine smile.Bookmark here

“You don’t need to hold yourself back for us. Now that we’re together, we can share just about everything—because that’s what a party is.”Bookmark here

As Hinota spoke, Saka lowered her head as if in shame. Her expression turned into a frown as she tugged onto her bandaged arm.Bookmark here

“But… I am an invader—A trespasser to a group of long-time comrades. There is no need for me to go along with everyone else. I do what I am asked…”Bookmark here

“That’s not true,” Hinota intervened. “You don’t need to just do as we ask. We want your opinion. We want to know how you feel about it. We want to know what you think. That’s what we do with each other—we tell our thoughts and we converse. That’s how we know each other so well.”Bookmark here

Hinota offered her hand to Saka. “That’s why we want you to tell us what you think, just like right now.”Bookmark here

Saka pursed her lips. The only reason why she is able to tell this at all is that she didn’t want to bother them. The only time she let her feelings out is when she had to fight the boss that she couldn’t defeat the first time. It took them all together to fight the boss and end him, getting them their deserved victory.Bookmark here

Because it took them all together to defeat them, she felt as if she wasn’t needed, but Hinota offered her hand regardless of that.Bookmark here

“Saka…”Bookmark here

Kudo followed afterwards, along with everyone else who was present. Each one had a smile on their face, showing their genuine expressions towards the girl.Bookmark here

“Didn’t think you were just feeling nervous around us,” Mizuri grinned widely. “Geez, you remind me so much of Kuu, it’s eerie.”Bookmark here

“D-Don’t say it like that…” Kudo chuckled, now showing a wry smile.Bookmark here

“Well, it’s the same as usual then,” Tsuchi said. “Don’t worry about what we think. Just say and do what you want.”Bookmark here

“B-But… I am an emissary of Darkness…” Saka said, her voice stifled.Bookmark here

“You’re our friend as well.”Bookmark here

Kudo said, getting him and everyone else to nod and agree to that. Saka looked at each of their faces, brimming with smiles as if they were looking at a fond friend for many years.Bookmark here

In spite of this, tears began to brim around her eyes as Saka tried desperately to keep them in.Bookmark here

“I-I really am an Emissary of Darkness…” Saka said between sniffs. “I-I do not need any friends…”Bookmark here

The other party members all chuckled as Hinota offered a handkerchief to Saka. Saka took a moment before taking it and dried her eyes.Bookmark here

“Then, how about we talk a bit about the loot? There’s a lot of loot we want to share with you, Saka.”Bookmark here

Hinota said. Saka stopped her crying and silently nodded her head.Bookmark here

They took the time to talk about the distribution of the loot, and a lot of other things such as how they were acting in battle. Since there weren’t any actual problems with each other, they were having fun doing casual conversations instead. Eventually—Bookmark here

“The time for the E-Plus party has been expired. Please use the Dungeon Call to get back up on the surface and return.”Bookmark here

The disembodied voice from the dungeon echoed around them, catching all of their attention. The party members all groaned in disappointment as their time was over already, but each one didn’t groan for long. After all, they had their fun and didn’t regret a single bit.Bookmark here

“Well, it’s time to go home then,” Kudo said, his smile brimming with happiness. “Saka, let’s go.”Bookmark here

“…Yeah,” Saka smiled back, getting everyone at awe with it.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.