After the battle at Enrain, it took several weeks of preparation until the dungeon expedition was ready to move out. The scouts had some difficulty locating the dungeon initially, but after the discovery, things went rather smoothly. Merchants willing to take a risk for the promise of profits signed up their caravans for the expedition and adventurers of sufficient rank were gathered to participate. In all, there were around a hundred people participating in the expedition.
I didn’t waste time during the weeks of preparation. I trained every day along with Tris, Reia, Allein and Nes. Nes and Allein weren’t official adventurers at first, but with the help of Orban we were able to register them. Together, the five of us formed the Void Walkers.
Forming a team was rocky at first because Tris wasn’t comfortable partying up with so many Demihumans. She especially had a lot of questions about Allein and Nes. I suppose to her, it seemed like they came out of nowhere. They had been keeping pretty low key for the most part, they didn’t even stay in the town and instead met us outside the town on a daily basis for training. Tris found this suspicious and she questioned me quite a bit in the beginning, but I didn’t let anything important slip about Nes and Allein.
I explained to her that they were guests of the Foxkin tribe and I had met them previously when I went into the forest. I told her that they had helped fight off the monsters that were attempting to scout through the forest while the army of monsters was on the move. She wanted to know what kind of Demihumans they were, but I told her I wasn’t sure and that it was rude to ask. She didn’t ask anything further at that point, although she looked as if she had more questions. At least things were settled and we spent over a month of consistent training while fighting monsters in Enrain’s surrounding areas.
Traveling to the dungeon was slow going. There were approximately fifty adventurers heading there, but there were also merchants and laborers bringing dozens of wagons with them. Since we traveled as a large group and had to keep pace with the entire caravan, there was only so much we could traverse in a day. Most of the supplies for the expedition were being transported by the merchants and adventurers could purchase what they needed from them. Some adventurers brought their own supplies as well, but we didn’t know how long the expedition would take, so at least there was the option of purchasing goods from merchants if necessary.
While traveling, we were able to familiarize ourselves more with the other adventuring parties and I made a few acquaintances among them. I had become a small time celebrity, so most of them already knew me. All of the adventuring parties coming on this expedition were either silver medallion or higher. They were all experienced adventurers, but none of them had ever gone into a dungeon before. The reason being that dungeons were too dangerous except in large numbers.
This was my first time heading to a dungeon as well and I was excited, but a bit nervous too. Back on Earth I had played many RPG’s and I had read plenty of Japanese Light Novels, so it wasn’t as if I was unfamiliar with dungeons. However, those were just books and games, not reality. This was a real life dungeon and I had only heard stories. Some dungeons had entire armies of monsters and the dungeons themselves were more like battlegrounds. Other dungeons were like labyrinths which dug deep into the earth. They could go down for what seemed like an eternity.
The variety and diversity of what was considered a ‘Dungeon’ was vast. You never knew what type of dungeon you were heading into until you actually went into it, or at least it was scouted. The one thing that was always a given, was that if an invasion force of monsters left a dungeon, then the dungeon population of monsters would be sparser. Since a couple thousand monsters had left this particular dungeon to invade Enrain, that meant that the majority had already left the dungeon. There could still be a few hundred monsters within, but with fifty adventurers, it should be enough to explore and conquer it.
The reasoning being that even if there were hundreds of monsters within, they would be spread out over all the floors. Orban had already met with a diviner to determine how many floors the dungeon had and there were five floors in total. So, all the monsters would need to be spread out over the five floors and with fifty of us, it shouldn’t be too difficult to clear each floor out one by one.
Keep in mind that a lot of this is still speculation and the dungeon could end up being far more dangerous than what we can handle. If that is the case, we would need to give up on the expedition and an even larger one would need to be organized. This would mean gathering all of the eligible adventurers within the entire country.
Once our caravan of wagons and people arrived at the dungeon, the adventuring parties went to work clearing out the first floor. Since it was the first floor, it would be the easiest of all the floors and it was mostly filled with Kobold parties.
This dungeon was home to reptilian humanoid type monsters. Kobolds were at the lowest rung with lizardmen above them. There were also different types of lizardmen which we had mostly already seen. As for the Kobolds, there only seemed one type and they were unarmored spear users. Lizardmen included light infantry, heavy infantry and shamans. I began thinking of the lizardmen as an evolved form of the Kobold.
Clearing out the first floor took a couple of days because not only did we need to hunt down all the monsters, but we also needed to set up a proper camp to use as a base for our endeavors within the dungeon. It wasn’t just about killing monsters, the laborers also needed to properly loot all equipment as well as magic crystals which were found. I made sure to keep my distance from the magic crystals that other adventurers or laborers harvested. It wasn’t as if they could see me absorb the energy from the crystals, but if they all disappeared, it would definitely cause problems.
Since this whole operation was a joint effort, the adventurers were supposed to leave all spoils for the laborers to scavenge. Obviously, this worked on the honor system and not all people were necessarily the most honorable. It mostly worked well, but there was no way to know if someone slipped an item or two into their own sack. Either way, at the end of the expedition, the adventurers would all be given a percentage of the total profits earned from all of the scavenged loot and sale of magic crystals.
All the adventurers were expected to carry their weight while exploring, but of course injuries, death and other situations may arise while exploring. Those who contributed the most would earn a greater percentage of the profits so there was an incentive to work hard. They would determine who earned more merit by the proofs of vanquishing monsters as well as who continued to explore deeper into the dungeon. It was a system that had some faults but it seemed to work well enough so I kept my complaints to myself.
The first floor of the dungeon was an open plain with its own day and night cycle which worked out well for us. There was sufficient room to set up a base camp and we would have some semblance of normalcy. Adventuring parties would also take shifts, some defending the camp while others continued exploration deeper into the dungeon. No one was injured on the first floor, but I knew it was only a matter of time before there would be casualties and the number of adventurers who could continue to explore decreased. For now, the way to the second floor was clear and our party headed down along with a few others.
Though the enemies on the second floor were more difficult than the first, it was still relatively easy. With the strength of the adventurers on the expedition, we made steady progress and were nearing the entrance to the third floor. Our party was one of those tasked with heading further down in hopes of capturing the dungeon core, while other groups were tasked with cleaning up the monster stragglers that were scattered around.
“We will continue using the same formation we’ve been practicing, it has been working well for us so far and I see no reason to change it. Nes and I will take the vanguard, Reia you are the rearguard along with Allein. Tris, you need to be mobile because you are our only means of dealing with traps and scouting. Just make sure to move with caution, as you have been. The fourth floor will be the hardest one yet.”
We had practiced our formation ahead of time and it played well to our strengths. The second floor of the dungeon was more like a ruined ancient city and space was much tighter than on the first floor, so a tight formation would work best. There were still open spaces among the ruins, but at least there was a lot of cover here. Thankfully, the monsters were still relatively weak on this floor as well. Although, it wasn’t just Kobolds on this floor, but also the stronger lizardmen.
“It’s a good thing we didn’t have to bring a lot of supplies, with a base camp we can return to, it makes things easier.” Reai was in good spirits as she attempted to lighten up the tension of being in a dungeon.
Even with a base camp on the first floor, it wasn’t as if we could return to it whenever we wanted. Each floor of the dungeon was large and it was still necessary to camp out within the dungeon. We still had to carry some supplies, but it was only a few days worth.
“Let’s try to keep the noise down. Tris is scouting so there shouldn’t be a problem of running into any ambushes. We also have your enhanced senses, but we should still be careful.” Reai didn’t look happy that I had dampened the mood but she didn’t voice any complaints.
Our party was currently holding position while waiting for Tris to return. She was scouting the immediate area and we were waiting for her to return so we could determine if this spot was okay for camping. We had been exploring the second floor for some time now. Since the dungeon had its own day and night cycle, we could still figure out the time. When Tris returned, she gave us the okay to set up camp.
“Alright, since the area seems safe, let’s set up a temporary camp here. Reia and I will take first watch, the rest of you should get some sleep.” The others mumbled their agreements and took to their mats, we were all tired. It wasn’t easy sleeping in a monster filled dungeon, especially on mats, which provided very little comfort. Reia and I found a place to sit, it looked like part of a ruined stone wall. It might have been the wall of a room in a building at some time.
Were these really ruins, though? It certainly looked like ruins but there is no way there was once a city down here. Did the dungeons really create all of this with magic? Were they somehow sentient? Or was there some other kind of explanation for all of this? I asked myself these questions, but unfortunately there was no answer. The best I could do was speculate.
“Fayde…” I looked over at Reia who seemed to be fidgeting.
She would do this from time to time. She would get this serious expression on her face and it seemed like she would be about to ask me something, but then she would change the subject. I think I had an idea of what she wanted to talk about. Reia hadn’t had much experience socializing with others before I came along. Having met me, she had changed quite a bit from what she was before. I’m not trying to take all the credit here, but I guess interacting with me had some influence on her.
“Do you think…. I’m strange, because I am a Demihuman?”
I wasn’t really expecting her to ask me that, but I wasn’t surprised at her question. It was obvious to me that she had some lingering issues with this. I knew I needed to just be patient with her and let her sort out her feelings. I had come to like Reia a lot and she had become someone I couldn’t live without in this world. However, this was an issue that continued to hinder our relationship.
“Reia, no matter how many times you ask, my answer won’t change.”
She was lost in thought for a moment and then said, “but, you told me that Earth doesn’t have demi humans, only humans. Is it really not strange at all?”
I had always been different myself so it wasn’t as if I didn’t understand where she was coming from. People tended to avoid or even hate those who were different from them. In this world, it was even more pronounced because this world had people who went beyond just racial differences.
“Reia, on Earth, there are no demi humans, that’s true, but it doesn’t mean that things are all that different there. There are those who will find any reason to discriminate against another person and then there are those who accept anyone for who they are. It isn’t like this world has a monopoly on discrimination or anything.”
“It’s not the same. Are we even human?” Her voice was strained.
I wondered if the dungeon was getting to her. One of the effects that you might feel in a dungeon was the mental strain it could cause. The fact that you could be surrounded by monsters at any time and the unnatural atmosphere of the dungeon tugged at the corners of your mind. You had to be careful not to succumb to it.
“You look human to me and even if you weren’t, so what?” It didn’t matter to me one way or the other.
“It really doesn’t matter?”
Reia looked relieved even though this wasn’t the first time we had a conversation like this. She hesitated for a moment and then said, “What if you can never return home?”
I thought about her question and when I first came to this world, it took some time for me come to terms with everything. It didn’t take as long as I thought though. There were some things to regret, like never seeing my daughter again. Other than that, it wasn’t like there was much else, so it didn’t affect me too much. In some ways, I was even excited to be in in this world.
“Well, even if I can’t return to my world, I have the friends and connections I made here. It’s not like I’m alone. You won’t abandon me right? As long as I have you by my side, everything will be fine!” I teased her hoping to get a response.
Reia blushed slightly, “Don’t tease me like that.”
I chuckled, “but it’s true. If I hadn’t met you, then I would already be dead.”
That made her fall silent while she considered my words.
Reia’s head was tilted slightly downwards as if she didn’t want me to see what she was thinking, but I could see that this was a vulnerable moment for her.
“You won’t… suddenly disappear one day, right?”
“Heh, don’t worry about it. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll stay by your side, at least until you get sick of me.”
Reia laughed and finally smiled, “Good.”
I couldn’t help but feel something when she smiled. Reia was a wonderful woman, much better than any I had met in my life. As I became closer to her, my feelings grew and I could also tell that she was beginning to accept me as well. It was just her lack of confidence about the difference in our species which was holding her back.
The next morning came without any unexpected events and we made our way down to the third floor. Things had been going well so far and the first two floors gave us little trouble. I hoped that it would continue this way going forward.