The final Goblin Barbarian fell with an ear-piercing shriek.
“… We won,” whispered Kasim, after making sure that the enemy was no longer moving and that there were no more enemies.
“Yeah, we won. With just us,” said Fester.
“Against four of them at once, too,” Zeno added.
The three adventurers inhaled, full of emotion. And then they screamed.
“WEEEEEE DID IIIIIIIT!”
“WE DID IIIIIT! WE DID IT WITH JUST THE THREE OF UUUUS!”
“Alright… but let’s be quiet. We’re still in a Dungeon, after all.”
“Zeno, you’re always calm, huh.”
“What would you do with a Scout that isn’t calm?”
The three of them calmed down and quickly checked whether the Goblin Barbarian corpses had any Magic Stones or not before proceeding.
After returning from Garan’s Valley to the surface, Kasim and his friends looked at their thin metal plates that resembled Guild Cards while carrying the Magic Stones and materials back.
“These Dungeon Cards are pretty handy, huh.”
Vandalieu had inspected the Magic Item in the cultivation village’s branch of the Adventurers’ Guild that inputted information into Guild Cards, and reconstructed the machine left in Talosheim’s Adventurers’ Guild to issue these.
These cards, which were made of Dark Copper, Vandalieu’s blood and the blood of the owners, had the function of allowing their owners to teleport within Dungeons, with some conditions.
“Apparently Vandalieu wanted to make it so that we can teleport between Dungeons, but this is convenient enough.”
“The cards only allow teleportation to the entrance of floors that the card’s owner has reached before, but I suppose that’s normal.”
“That’s not normal. Using either the devices that were created by first-rate Alchemists that are installed in certain Dungeons or climbing all of the stairs, is the normal way to move around.”
Dungeons were nests for dangerous monsters, but at the same time, they were treasure-houses of resources. However, in order to use those resources, most Dungeons required adventurers to carry them out on their backs. Unless one had an Item Box or one of its inferior counterparts (which were still rare and valuable), had a companion capable of using space-attribute magic or the Dungeon’s layout allowed carriages or wagons to be brought inside, only what could be carried out by hand could be taken out of the Dungeon.
And considering that monsters could attack on the way, one could not carry as much as physically possible.
But these Dungeon Cards made things quite a lot easier. If one reached the target floor once, they would be able to teleport, not needing to spend any stamina getting there next time.
In addition, by reaching the stairs, one could return to the surface in an instant. Of course, at no time or stamina cost.
Depending on what needed to be done, it was even possible to simply hunt monsters near the stairs, return to the stairs when enough materials were gathered, return to the surface, leave the materials there and go back into the Dungeon.
“Dungeons are on another level after all. Strong monsters come out endlessly, so we can earn tons of Experience Points.”
“Yeah. The most we had around the cultivation village was Rank 2 monsters.”
This was the reason that the existence of Dungeons was important to amateur adventurers like Kasim and his friends. They could encounter monsters more frequently than in ordinary Devil’s Nests; the Dungeons were treasure troves of Experience Points as long as they had the ability to defeat the monsters.
“We would have found it difficult to reach the bottom floor of Garan’s Valley if we were just as we’d been when we lived in the cultivation village, though,” said Zeno.
They had defeated a group of Goblin Barbarians without suffering any injuries. Though their abilities had indeed grown, the main reasons were because their Attribute Values had increased explosively under the effects of Vandalieu’s Strengthen Followers skill and because their equipment had improved significantly.
Because they were Vandalieu’s friends, Kasim and his party had… not received any special, high-power equipment. Their weapons and armor had started showing their age in the battle against the Red Wolves Knights’ Order, so they had simply borrowed the cheapest of the commonly-used beginner’s equipment in Talosheim.
… That cheap beginner’s equipment was still far more powerful than the poor-quality items they had equipped themselves with before, however.
“That’s true,” Kasim agreed, looking at the Adamantite shield and armor he was equipped with now. “I might have been injured if I was using my old shield and armor.”
His new equipment was far superior in defensive ability to the cast-bronze shield and armor that had been made by pouring molten metal into molds, and even slightly lighter
“Yeah, that jii-san would have been really mad if we told him we wanted cast-metal items,” said Fester. “He’d say, ‘I only make forged arms!’”
Fester’s sword was another item forged by Datara. It was a cheap item, so it was far less sharp and solid than the products that Datara put all of his effort into.
However, if Fester were to call it a “cheap item” in the Adventurers’ Guild in the city of Niarki, the adventurers of the same age would disagree, simply assuming that Fester was a rich person.
“Ah, Tarea-san and the others… They’re good people, but everyone’s sense is a little off,” said Zeno.
His equipment had been plainly upgraded as well. He had been handed down “leftover” items that intermediate-level adventurers would use habitually.
Talosheim was isolated from the outside world, so external economics and information had no influence here. One step outside the city would expose one to Rank 3 monsters… Ferocious Raptors with sharp fangs and claws, and monsters more powerful than them. Being able to survive in such an environment was considered a minimum requirement.
Thus, there was no point in creating the kind of cheap items that were commonly used in normal cities.
“Well, it’s not all good things.”
The three adventurers entered the former ruins of the Adventurers’ Guild, which had been completely renovated into a trading post with a sign hanging down.
The inside was exactly the same as a real Adventurers’ Guild.
“A purchase, is it? That’s five thousand Lunas.”
“An exchange for a mayonnaise, ketchup and Ent syrup set?”
“Excuse me, we’re sold out of cream.”
The only difference was, perhaps, that rewards could be paid in products other than money.
“They’re sold out of cream?” said Kasim.
“The wasabi mayonnaise hasn’t come in yet?” asked Fester.
The two of them seemed sad.
“You guys… We decided that we’d be paid in money today, didn’t we?” said Zeno, lightly poking them in the back of their heads.
The currency known as the Luna circulated in Talosheim, but there were still not many different kinds of stores. Thus, there were still many who traded in goods rather than money.
“Oh yeah,” said Fester, cheering up again. He gave a bright smile as he got in line and called out to the girl at the counter. “Lina, we’re back!”
“Welcome to the trading post,” said Lina. “Are you here to be paid? Or for a trade?”
“Oi, Lina, it’s me,” said Fester.
“Are you here to be paid? Or for a trade?” Lina repeated.
The receptionist at the counter, Lina, who had been an irregular employee at the Seventh Cultivation Village’s Adventurers’ Guild, gave a businesslike smile to her lover, Fester. But her smile was gradually growing stiffer and stiffer.
“I’m trying to tell you, I’m working now!” she shouted. “I’m glad you’re not injured, I was worried, I love you! If you’re satisfied with that, hurry and hand over your materials and choose whether you want money or goods in payment!”
“O-okay!” Fester hastily put the materials he was carrying onto the counter. Kasim and Zeno gestured to Lina in apology behind him.
Incidentally, this was how things normally went for Fester and Lina. She already had a firm control over him, but that was probably perfectly fine for Fester.
“Only Magic Stones other than the proof of extermination, huh? Ah, you did it, didn’t you? You achieved your goal of defeating Goblin Barbarians with just the three of you,” said Lina. “Okay, this comes out to five hundred Lunas in total.”
“Five hundred Lunas, huh…” Fester murmured.
“Eh, it’s not like I appraised it for lower because I’m angry, but… Those are the market prices,” said Lina.
The extermination rewards and Magic Stones of the monsters that Kasim’s party had hunted would have been worth over two thousand Baums at an Adventurers’ Guild in the Hartner Duchy.
However, they were only worth five hundred Lunas in Talosheim.
This was because there were quality Undead Titan and Ghoul explorers (They were not registered at the Adventurers’ Guild but were doing essentially the same thing, so this term suddenly started to be used), and because the frequency of encountering monsters in Talosheim’s surroundings and Dungeons was high. And Vandalieu’s existence was the reason for those.
Rank 4 monsters appeared frequently, and over two thousand explorers hunted them habitually. Thus, it was only inevitable that the reward for exterminating monsters was lower than the outside world.
In addition, the entire city’s Magic Items were powered by Vandalieu’s strange Mana, so the demand for Magic Stones was lower than in the outside world as well.
Until the people of the cultivation villages came, most of Talosheim’s citizens had possessed fighting abilities on the level of C-class adventurers, but this meant that if one wanted to make a living as an explorer, they needed to be able to fight at least as well as a C-class adventurer.
“It’s quite harsh here, huh,” said Kasim.
“Well, we just need to endure until we grow stronger,” said Fester. “Let’s do our best.”
“You’re right. Our levels have actually increased, too,” said Zeno.
“Please do your best,” said Lina. “I don’t mind being a working couple, but I don’t intend to support Fester on my own.”
After receiving their payment, Kasim and his party arranged plans to eat together with Lina once her working hours were over and then left the trading post.
Having a light snack of food from the carts, they headed for a bathhouse in order to wash away the sweat they had worked up in the Dungeon.
“… A little while ago, I said it was harsh, but if you asked me to go back outside of this place, I’d refuse,” said Kasim.
“Me too,” Fester agreed immediately.
“I’d definitely refuse as well,” said Zeno.
Their half-eaten food from the cart was still in their hands.
Kasim had a hot dog, while Fester and Zeno had hamburgers.
With a single bite, their mouths would be filled with meat juice and sauce, they would feel the pleasant texture of lettuce and chopped onions against their teeth and the soft, fluffy bread absorbed all of it perfectly, not remaining inside their mouths for very long. Once all of that was swallowed, they would want a second mouthful.
These were being sold for five Lunas each. And they were not being sold by a well-known chef running a hidden food stall, but a normal stall that attracted explorers going in and out of the trading post. The one making them was a former villager of the cultivation villages, just like Kasim and his friends.
“How much would you have to pay to eat something this delicious in the city of Niarki, I wonder?” said Kasim.
“Hmm… White bread, meat, fresh vegetables and sauce… about ten Baums?”
“There was that time our instructor treated us to fried Orc meat, remember? That was about ten Baums, apparently.”
“And this bread is clearly softer than the bread they sell in the city, too.”
“So about twenty Baums?”
The three of them looked down at the snacks in their hands again.
Hot dogs, lengths of meat called sausages that had been created through unknown technology, sandwiched in fluffy bread. Hamburgers that were so full of meat juice that it was difficult to imagine they were simply made of minced meat shaped into patties, along with the onions, lettuce and ketchup to give it an incredible texture.
Such food was only five Lunas. The different currencies weren’t worth exactly the same, but… the food that could be purchased in the city of Niarki for five Baums was –
“Umm, sandwiches with brown bread and dried meat. With an unidentified sauce.”
“Dried vegetables and bean sauce. With a few pieces of meat in there, if you’re lucky.”
“A large helping of mixed rice.”
The last item that Zeno mentioned, mixed rice, was something made when the stall owner stir-fried whatever ingredients he had acquired cheaply on that day with southern rice. The ingredients could be meat or fish depending on the day, so even when buying it from the same stall, they could be a hit or a miss.
The selling point was its quantity and cheap price.
Rather than having the feasts in their hands turn into that kind of food, it was perhaps best to accept small changes with a laugh.
“By the way, why are these called hot dogs?”
“Isn’t it because they’re made of Hell Hound meat?”
“… Is Hell Hound meat edible?”
“No, isn’t it just because that was the name used for it in the other world? Just like taiyaki and Cuban sandwiches.”
Following this conversation, the three finished their snacks and entered the bathhouse. Incidentally, the number of non-Titan citizens had increased, so there were human-sized baths as well. Undead Titans sometimes decided to use them for half-body baths, however.
“We’ve come to take a dip, Father-in-law-san,” said Fester.
“I’ve told you, it’s too early to be calling me that!” shouted the former Oyaji of the jack-of-all-trades store, Lina’s father.
In Talosheim, that had no interactions with other cities and where all citizens had been provided houses, there was no need for inns. Vandalieu had offered him a civil official position, but the Oyaji had turned him down, saying that official work didn’t suit him, so he was now working in this bathhouse.
It seemed that he intended to save money and have another business up and running by the time Talosheim began doing trade with other cities.
The three adventurers paid the entrance fee, took off their clothes and entered the baths. Incidentally, this bathhouse was gender-segregated. Mixed-gender bathhouses were places for meetings between men and women, so Fester wouldn’t go to those.
“Fuuh… Baths are great, huh?” said Kasim, and the other two quickly agreed.
The three of them had never had baths with hot water before coming to Talosheim. There hadn’t been any convenient hot springs in the Sauron Duchy or in the cultivation villages, and they hadn’t been able to afford to heat up large quantities of water.
In modern-day Japan on Earth, people would heat water freely, but in Lambda, one couldn’t heat water without gathering firewood, using expensive Magic Items or learning fire-attribute magic.
Even if they wanted to use firewood, wood didn’t burn easily unless it was dried first. This would take time and effort; it wasn’t something that could be done every day just to have a bath.
But hot baths could be easily had in Talosheim for a cheap price. More recently, the boilers had been powered by Flame Ghosts rather than fuel, so it was gentle on the environment as well. The Ghosts could receive a considerable salary just for remaining still, so it was apparently a popular part-time job.
“And soap is cheap, too. I once saw a bar of soap in the city of Niarki on sale for a hundred Baums, but they’re only three Lunas here.”
“They’re made from monster fat, if I recall?”
“The cheapest ones are. The ones made from fruit are more expensive, but they smell better. Girls are happy when they get them as presents.”
Suddenly, a Ghoul man called out to the three of them with a voice that sounded like a growl.
“Ah, Bodan-san. Hello,” said Fester.
It seemed that the Ghoul named Bodan was an explorer like Kasim and his friends, and they had seen each other before.
“… Fester, I’m Baden,” said the Ghoul.
“Eh? Ah, I’m sorry!”
While Fester had indeed seen him before, it seemed that he had mistaken him for another Ghoul. But this probably couldn’t be helped. Ghoul men had the faces of lions that were largely different in structure from human faces, so they were difficult to tell apart unless one was used to seeing them.
It was even more difficult in the bathhouses, where they were completely nude.
“By the way, Baden-san, please tell us more about this soap!” said Kasim.
“How much is it worth?!” asked Zeno.
Kasim and Zeno, who experienced the loneliness of being single every day, were now engrossed in the conversation, so Baden didn’t really seem to mind having been mistaken for someone else.
Around the time Kasim and Zeno came to the conclusion that the honey soap that had started being sold recently might be a good item to give as presents, despite not having anyone to give presents to, Baden got out of the bath and left.
Other than Baden, there were also Anubises, Black Goblins, Orcuses and Undead Titans washing their sweat away in this bathhouse (although one particular group among these didn’t sweat at all).
Everyone from the cultivation villages had been surprised when they first moved to Talosheim, but they soon became accustomed to it. There was a sense of unity provided by the Strengthen Followers skill, but there was also the fact that conversation with these races went surprisingly well.
There had even been an event to encourage interaction between the old inhabitants and the new ones. The biggest trouble that had occurred was a fight breaking out; there weren’t any fierce hostilities developing.
Perhaps it was a good thing that the cultivation villages had been a mish-mash of refugees of multiple races.
And there was a single line that satisfied everyone when it came to their strange neighbors: “Everyone is normal compared to Vandalieu.”
Vandalieu himself would probably have been unhappy to hear this, however.
“But there are some parts about him that are just like a normal child, right?”
“Yeah, it’s easy to tell what he’s thinking.”
If Pablo Marton had heard these words while he was still alive, he would have questioned their sanity, but Kasim and his friends were completely serious.
Vandalieu was expressionless and his voice was flat-toned, but if one looked at places other than his face, it was unexpectedly easy to tell what he was thinking. He expressed emotions such as disturbance and surprise through his arms and legs, as well as his hair that had recently become able to move freely.
He was probably using parts of his body other than his face to express his emotions because he was aware that his own expression and voice never changed.
When he was nervous, he would stop expressing any emotion at all, so that in itself was easy to understand.
Kasim and his friends had realized this since they were still living in the cultivation village, so it was likely natural for them to treat Vandalieu normally.
If Vandalieu were to hear this, he would be quite shocked upon objectively realizing that his mental age had regressed, however.
Vandalieu was almost eight years old. Including the time that he had spent on Earth and in Origin, he was in his mid-forties, approaching late middle-age.
“And it seems that he gets depressed when people call him scary or ‘Monstrosity,’” said Kasim. “Let’s make sure we don’t act scared of him.”
“Kasim, weren’t you the one who screamed after unexpectedly meeting Vandalieu in a bathhouse the other day?” Zeno pointed out.
“No, that was… It can’t be helped, right?! You guys were scared as well!”
One time, while Kasim was submerged in the bath, Vandalieu, who had actually entered the bath earlier with his head submerged (having not learned from last time), had silently risen up right next to Kasim. He had apparently had his eyes closed while submerged and simply come up to breathe, but it was still surprising for Kasim nonetheless.
Kasim couldn’t be blamed for saying that his reaction couldn’t be helped.
“Well, I suppose you’re right. I didn’t notice him either, even though I have the Detect Presence skill…” Remembering this memory that hurt his pride as a Scout, Zeno began to feel depressed.
“Either way, let’s make sure we don’t say anything like, ‘scary,’ about him.”
And so the three of them decided on how they would treat their friend, who was also the king of Talosheim.
It was now dusk, and the sunlight reflected by the mercury mirrors had weakened.
The three of them, who were heading towards the place where they had agreed to meet Lina, had their interest drawn by a crowd that had gathered near where they were passing by.
Over a dozen children were playing on a playground that had been built on a space of open ground.
Kasim and his friends were accustomed to seeing this. On Earth, the sight of healthy children playing on the typical sandboxes, slides, jungle gyms and iron bars might bring a smile to one’s face.
However, the same could not be said for the sight of a group of children all with the same face playing on a playground, moving silently without letting out a single laugh, looking as empty as dolls.
“Scary…” Kasim and his friends whispered.
At the same time, Vandalieu noticed them. “Oh, what a coincidence.”
At that moment, the outlines of the countless Vandalieus faded and gathered together at the one physical Vandalieu.
Fortunately, it seemed that he hadn’t heard what Kasim and his friends had whispered.
“Umm, what were you doing?” Kasim asked.
“I built a park for people to relax and children to play at, so I was just testing whether there were any problems with the play equipment I installed,” Vandalieu replied.
Talosheim had never had a park to begin with, so it seemed that Vandalieu had said, “I’m just going to move these a little to the side,” dismantled and rebuilt the buildings in their new locations and used the newly-made space to build a park.
And he had apparently been testing the playground equipment he had made by changing the shapes of materials using Golem Transmutation himself.
“A park, huh… Are there places like this in big cities?” Zeno asked.
“Who knows? There weren’t any in Nineland. But it’s convenient to have places like this,” said Vandalieu.
“So that’s how it is.”
Kasim and the others couldn’t really understand the reason for making the effort of building a park or see its value, but Vandalieu had simply thought, “It would be nice to have one,” so he couldn’t really give a detailed explanation, either.
Parks had all kinds of benefits, being places where children could play within their parents’ sight, where the parents could interact with each other and where various recreational activities could be held.
“So, have you finished inspecting it?” Fester asked.
“Yes,” said Vandalieu.
“Then how about having an early dinner with us? We’re going to go and meet Lina now,” said Fester.
“If you don’t mind eating at the royal castle,” Vandalieu replied. “I’m planning to use my new cookware to try and make new dishes today.”
“Are you serious?! Lucky us!” Kasim exclaimed.
“So, what are you making?” Zeno asked.
“Curry and naan.”
“Eh? Curry and what?”
“I’m making naan.”
It seemed that Vandalieu had built a tandoori oven and was intending to make Indian curry before Eastern curry.
“I said I would make it when Fester and Lina got married,” Vandalieu explained. “By the way, we’ve almost finished completing the first stage of information gathering, so the Cream Expedition is going to start in earnest. What are you three planning to do?”
“Ah, that. Lizardmen, huh… We still want to train ourselves more.”
Discussing the new dish that Vandalieu was planning to make and the upcoming expedition, the four of them smiled as they headed to the place where they were meeting Lina.