Gufadgarn, the evil god of labyrinths, sat in the deepest part of the Trial of Zakkart, simply watching Vandalieu’s actions in silence.
Secluded inside the Dungeon that he had created himself, he was unaware that Rodcorte had tried and failed to cast this world away.
But his body was trembling.
“All of the trials that I put in place are being cleared in ways that I never intended. The monsters created by the Dungeon are slaughtered helplessly, and all of the traps are being crushed underfoot…!”
Vandalieu was restraining himself, but it seemed that he was making plenty of noise from Gufadgarn’s point of view.
Because Gufadgarn had allowed challengers from within the Boundary Mountain Range to return from the Dungeon alive, from a very early stage, all of the challengers that followed knew all the perfect answers to the riddles of the upper floors.
Several decades ago, challengers started getting past the harsh environments of the middle floors and the beach floor that was peaceful upon first entering it but contained a timed trap.
But there were none who cleared the floors with methods like taming the Bone Walls that were supposed to be labyrinths in the upper floors or destroying nature to the point that the monsters had no work to do.
Even the harsh middle floors were being cleared at a pace of over one floor per day. On an average year, even a party from within the Boundary Mountain Range would have some members dropping out around this point, but that hadn’t happened either.
What made this possible was likely the effects of Skills and Jobs that even Gufadgarn didn’t know of, the Demon King’s fragments and the Undead carriage.
The availability of pleasant conditions that took no notice of the harsh environments and the incredible acts of using not only monster materials but materials generated by the Demon King’s fragments. The extraordinary ability to tame Undead.
Above all, a seemingly unlimited, powerful fighting force.
Unless the use of all of these things was prevented, it would be impossible to clear the Dungeon like an ordinary challenger. To begin with, Vandalieu was not a suitable target for the trial.
It was like trying to trap a shark swimming in the ocean with a trap on the shore. He was simply far too different.
Though Gufadgarn could not help but admit this, he was stirred by Vandalieu’s actions.
“Masterful! This is Zakkart, the one who made fools of even the gods with his actions that went beyond the limits of the imagination!” he shouted.
If Gufadgarn possessed a body, his cheeks would be flushed and tears of joy would be flowing from his eyes. That was how much he was moved by Vandalieu’s actions, the actions that were so much like those of Zakkart.
It wasn’t that he had always expected someone who would clear each floor of the Trial of Zakkart with secret answers.
The one who could overcome this trial was worthy of being Zakkart’s successor. It was with this thought that he had created the Dungeon. Thus, he had always intended to acknowledge the one who made it to the deepest part of the Dungeon as Zakkart’s successor, even if they used the intended correct answers.
This was true even if that person was a servant of Alda, the one who called himself the god of law and fate, and the gods who served him. Gufadgarn had intended to tell them the truth and persuade them to change sides. If he didn’t do this, he would not be worthy of calling himself a disciple of Zakkart, the champion who had called out to those in the Demon King’s army and given them a chance.
… Though Gufadgarn would have been left with no choice but to eliminate such a challenger if they tried to harm Gufadgarn or, more importantly, Zakkart’s precious relics.
But a hundred years had passed since he created the Trial of Zakkart. Many challengers were defeated on the upper floors, and even challengers from within the Boundary Mountain Range had not overcome the lower floors.
Gufadgarn had received a Divine Message from Ricklent that he had interpreted as a prophecy saying, “Zakkart’s successor will appear.” But he had often thought that this was some kind of mistake.
During that time, there had been two groups that he saw potential in. One of them was a group of four that had faced the trial recently, just a short while ago to a god. It was the group known as the ‘Five-colored Blades.’
At first, Gufadgarn had simply thought that they were yet another group of challengers that misunderstood the purpose of the trial and offered their prayers to Alda. But seeing them making mistakes in every trial and overcoming them with strength alone was surprising in a way.
Even including challengers from within the Boundary Mountain Range who possessed exceptional fighting strength, there had been none who had continued through the trial without using their heads at all or using incorrect methods like the Five-colored Blades had. Among the challengers from outside the Boundary Mountain Range that believed in Alda, they were the ones who had made it the furthest into the Dungeon; they were worthy of admiration.
Their fighting strength… only their fighting strength, was certain.
But in the end, they had turned back in the middle floors and fled the Dungeon after losing one member on the snowy mountain floor. But as they were the first challengers from outside the Boundary Mountain Range who had made it back out alive from the trial, Gufadgarn remembered them vividly.
But Gufadgarn had more hope in the second group – Vandalieu’s group – than in the Five-colored Blades.
“Compared to this group, the Five-colored Blades are nothing but a pebble. Ah… Zakkart,” Gufadgarn murmured.
To him, the fact that Vandalieu commanded Undead and made free use of the Demon King’s fragments was not a problem.
It was possible that he was Zakkart. That fact alone rendered everything else insignificant.
Gufadgarn wanted to go to him right this instant. But it was still too early. In Zakkart’s words, “You must test your creation carefully until the very end.” As Gufadgarn had created the Trial of Zakkart, he had to test its challengers fully and carefully.
But Vandalieu and his companions would soon reach the lower floors. The floors containing challenges regarding Zakkart and the other champions’ abilities that they had received from the gods, their thoughts and their achievements.
Perhaps the supply area before the lower floors was unnecessary for Vandalieu’s party, but if he truly was Zakkart’s successor, he would certainly make some use of the things there.
“O Zakkart, please grant this foolish disciple everything…”
At what was assumed to be the entrance to the lower floors, Vandalieu was groaning to himself with his arms folded.
“Hmm, according to our information, this was supposed to be a ‘supply area,’ wasn’t it?” he said.
“That should be right, but… what is this?” said Iris.
She was holding the written documents of the information that they had heard from previous challengers, but her head and her tail were tilted in puzzlement now. She couldn’t make the connection between the sight in front of her and the words, ‘supply area.’
“It’s just like a market city with no shopkeepers, isn’t it?” said Eleanora.
“And it’s like all the good bargains have already been sold,” said Kimberley.
Indeed, the things available in the supply area were disappointing.
At first glance, the supply area looked like a marketplace with no shopkeepers, displaying damaged armor and Magic Items that clearly looked like secondhand goods.
There were also things like partially-filled water flasks, half-eaten strips of dried meat and bread stained with blood, though it wasn’t clear whose blood it was.
“It seems that this is the equipment and materials that were lost by previous challengers and possessed by challengers who died here,” said Sam, looking around the marketplace.
Dungeons generated all kinds of materials in addition to monsters and traps. This included natural resources needed for Dungeons to take the form of mountains, forests and lakes, as well as equipment and treasures inside treasure chests.
But even though items held by the monsters guarding the Dungeon would become secondhand goods in the end when the challengers acquired them, the Dungeons did not generate secondhand items themselves.
Thus, secondhand goods obtained in Dungeons were always the belongings of previous challengers.
“The Trial of Zakkart has moved from place to place around the world for a hundred years, and those from outside the Boundary Mountain Range generally die, so I guess that means that there are a lot of items left behind. But it seems that there is almost nothing that would be of any use,” said Bellmond, taking one of the swords laid out in rows and inspecting it.
It was a thick, visibly heavy blade, but it was apparently made of Damascus steel, which had exceptional flexibility. It was as heavy as it looked, but it was possible that it was a magic sword that extended when it was swung.
… About half of the blade was missing, so it didn’t seem like it would be able to demonstrate this ability. And since the missing half of the blade was nowhere to be seen, even Vandalieu wouldn’t be able to repair it.
The previous owners of these secondhand goods were those who had fought fiercely against the challenges of the Trial of Zakkart and lost their lives while trying to achieve their dreams. The damaged state of the equipment and goods reflected that.
The sword in Bellmond’s hand that had half of its blade missing was still one of the items in better condition; there were other items like daggers with no blade at all, spearheads with no handles and the ruined fragments of shields and suits of armor.
“And perhaps previous challengers took other things with them; there is almost nothing of any value,” said Tarea, looking around at the secondhand items and junk.
This was the equipment worn by challengers who had faced the Trial of Zakkart that was renowned to be a dangerous, difficult challenge, even if they had fallen in the Dungeon. There was no small number of high-class Magic Items made using precious materials and exceptional techniques.
But such valuable items had been taken by the numerous previous challengers that had reached this point. There were few even from within the Boundary Mountain Range that were capable of passing the middle floors, but there were no valuable items left.
“Come to think of it, I think that several people told me that even though they were damaged, there were some Magic Items in the supply area that had been made with techniques they’d never seen before, so they decided to bring them out…” Iris murmured.
It seemed that this supply area had been useful for learning techniques from outside the Boundary Mountain Range, though it was unclear whether this was Gufadgarn’s deliberate intention.
“Then won’t there be some things that we can take with us?” said Darcia.
“Let’s see, we don’t need makeshift equipment and we have enough of the other materials. As for the food… it doesn’t seem to be particularly tasty,” said Basdia.
The bread, which had been baked to be hard so that it would stay preserved, tasted exactly like hard bread would taste.
“Y-you ate some? We don’t know how old it is; it might be decades old!” said Tarea.
“Yeah. It wasn’t moldy, so I’m sure it had some preservation magic on it, though it’s probably different from Van’s,” said Basdia. “Its smell and taste are normal… Hmm? This bread is the only delicious one?”
“… Basdia-dono, I believe that is the taste of the blood,” said Myuze.
In any case, the food just seemed to be ordinary preserved goods. It was unnecessary for Vandalieu and his companions, who were carrying fresh food with them.
“Well, it’s a waste but I suppose we should just move on… Hmm? Vandalieu?” said Darcia, calling out to Vandalieu as he went to pick something up.
“Mom, everyone, there are quite some lucky finds here,” said Vandalieu, holding a piece of leather armor with a large hole in the torso area.
“Vandalieu-sama, to me, that appears to be the ruins of a piece of cheap leather armor that a new adventurer might wear,” said Eleanora.
The armor simply looked like a piece of junk to her, but that wasn’t the case in Vandalieu’s eyes.
“No, Eleanora,” he said. “This leather armor contains the residual thoughts of its previous owner, in the form of a powerful hatred. I’m sure it’s because whatever is keeping the items in this supply area preserved also worked on the residual thoughts. They haven’t faded away over the years and decades; the hatred, the sadness, the resentment, the despair… there’s so much that this would become a completed cursed item if I just passed some Mana through it.”
As Vandalieu finished speaking, everyone took a step away from the items lined up around the supply area. The Undead Saria, Rita and Isla seemed unfazed, however.
“In other words, they will be useful as catalysts for creating death-attribute Magic Items, won’t they?” said Isla.
“I see. Then let’s take them with us,” said Rita.
“Yes, let’s choose the ones that have been destroyed in the most gruesome ways, especially the ones with blood on them, and take them with us,” said Vandalieu.
“Van, is this bread okay?” Basdia asked.
“It’s fine; there isn’t any mold,” Vandalieu replied.
And so, Vandalieu gathered several items that would make good materials and equipped his companions with them as best as he could before moving on… because the next trial was one that became easier the fewer the party’s numbers were.
The lower floors had riddles, similar to the ones on the upper floors. They were ones based on the powers given to Zakkart and his companions by the gods, as well as their achievements and their thoughts.
They were highly difficult, and even the powerful fighters who had made it through the middle floors had dropped out one after another on these floors.
The first trial, on the other side of the door at the back of the supply area, was known to be a particularly difficult obstacle.
In a room where everything was made of mirrors, Vandalieu faced a false image of himself.
“Nice to meet you, me.”
“Nice to meet you too, me.”
The first trial was a confrontation with oneself.
This was a trial based on Zakkart’s words of “Life is a battle against oneself” and Hillwillow’s words of “Inside every person, there is an angel form and a devil form of that person.”
Challengers had to converse with a false image of themselves and then win a battle against the image.
As the false image was something with the challengers’ copied personalities, the challengers’ minds would be mercilessly chipped down, and the more mental damage the challenger took, the stronger the images became.
If the challengers showed the mental fortitude to overcome the conversation with themselves, the false images would lose power and likely be defeated immediately in the subsequent battle. But if the challengers’ minds broke, the images would stand before them as their most powerful adversaries.
“Pardon me for getting started right away, but don’t you think that you should have a more proper plan to deal with Demon Eyes? You haven’t forgotten the time when Gubamon used his Demon Eyes of Destruction against you,” said Vandalieu’s false image.
“Hmm, I’ve been trying to gain resistance using Eleanora’s Charming Demon Eyes and the Petrifying Demon Eye I transplanted into Bellmond, but it’s not going very well. It seems that their effects are nullified by Grotesque Mind and Status Effect Resistance,” said Vandalieu. “If you’re me, you should know that.”
“Well, I do indeed know that. Also, no matter what horrible experiences it went through, you didn’t have to tame the Huge Gluttony Worm, did you? This Dungeon has become harder to clear because of that, hasn’t it?”
“Muh, do you think I could ignore the things it went through, me?”
“Well, that’s probably impossible. It’s me, after all.”
The calm conversation between Vandalieu’s false image and Vandalieu continued, as if it was taking place in a sunny area between two old acquaintances trying to deepen their bond.
In many cases, this trial would turn into a fierce verbal argument, or the challenger would continuously deny and reject the false image, or the challenger would begin crying and forgive and accept themselves. Normally, no matter how calm the challenger was, the emotions hidden within them would run rampant, but…
“By the way, don’t you feel any uneasiness about your plan after reviving Mom, me?” asked the false image.
“Well, I intend to meet up with Schneider-san and his companions, then go to the Dark Continent and meet Zantark and voice my complaints to Farmaun Gold; is there anything missing?” said Vandalieu.
“There isn’t anything missing, but what will you do about Heinz? He believes in Alda, whom I don’t imagine will accept the resurrection of the dead. He’ll be like, ‘That’s disrupting the world’s order.’”
“You’re right. There were a lot of people like that on Earth, too. As long as I don’t accept Alda, I probably won’t accept Heinz and his companions, either; I’ll have to kill him after all. If possible, by assassination or a well-planned murder.”
“That is desirable. By the way, should we get to fighting?” the false image suggested.
“Already? I thought there would be a Zen-dialogue-like* conversation that the previous challengers had,” said Vandalieu.
“That isn’t necessary, isn’t it? Nothing will change, no matter what I say.”
The false image had abandoned its duty. It understood that there was no point in this.
Even if it asked Vandalieu whether killing people was right or wrong, Vandalieu would simply reply, “It depends on the situation and who it is.” If it asked him what justice was, he would simply reply, “It’s an ambiguous thing.” And no matter what the false image said, he would just say, “There are cases where that’s true.”
As for whether revenge was right or wrong, even the false image accepted it. By destroying those who took from Vandalieu, he reduced the chance of more being taken from him to zero. It was a productive act that was necessary to lead a happy life.
Even turning the dead into Undead, which Machida Aran, Shimada Izumi and the rest of the reincarnated individuals saw as problematic, wasn’t strange to Vandalieu. The dead were Vandalieu’s allies, and he was simply making more allies for himself.
And even Vida and the other gods he believed in had assured him that there was nothing wrong with it, so there was no need to worry.
“But, well, I suppose we should do at least one,” said the false image, seeming to have thought of a question worth asking. “What is death?”
It was a question regarding the attribute that Vandalieu himself used. It was a fitting topic for a conversation with himself.
Vandalieu thought for a moment. “It’s the change from the living to the dead. It is considered to be irreversible. It’s a phenomenon that I rule over, and one that I should overturn. In other words, I’ll do what I want with it.”
To Vandalieu, death was not an absolute or sacred thing. It was just a phenomenon.
That was why he did not question his desire to resurrect Darcia.
“So, it was pointless after all. Well then, shall we get started?” the false image said, silently emerging from within the mirrors, still looking identical to Vandalieu. “But your mind did not falter during our conversation, and there are so many things that I can’t copy… To be honest, as I am now, I’m nothing but small fry.”
“You can’t use death-attribute magic or the Demon King’s fragments?” Vandalieu asked.
“It’s impossible. To elaborate, Group Binding Technique and Dead Spirit Magic are also impossible. The only things I can copy is the me reflected in the mirror, so my companions that aren’t reflected… just like tamed monsters, they aren’t seen by the Dungeon as challengers, so I can’t copy them.”
The false image’s copying ability seemed all-powerful, but it was still something created by Gufadgarn’s power. It had its limits.
Of course, these limits weren’t normally tested, but… this showed just how abnormal Vandalieu was.
“So, please go ahead and finish me. Please do your best to resurrect Mom,” the false image said, beckoning Vandalieu towards it.
Vandalieu extended his claws towards it, but stopped. “I can’t bring myself to do it,” he said. “Maybe because it’s me? Normally, I think if I met another version of myself, we would hate each other, though.”
“I might have unexpectedly been a narcissist,” said the false image. “But what will I do? Even if I’m me, I can’t go forward as long as I exist.”
“This is problematic; me being me, I find it unpleasant to attack myself.”
Vandalieu and the false image stared at each other for a while as Vandalieu pondered the situation, but he couldn’t bring himself to attack the image and move on.
“I suppose it really is because it’s myself… I’m me. Because I have my memories and personality, I’m me,” he said.
“I also have my memories and personality. But I’m not me; I’m a false image,” said the false image.
“With my memories and personality, you can be called me. Your appearance is the same, too. Is there a meaning behind the difference between reality and falsehood?” said Vandalieu.
“Reality is a false image, and a false image is reality? It’s not impossible. I’m me, and I’m me,” said the false image.
“I’m me –” the two said in unison.
“And I’m me,” said Vandalieu, becoming one with the false image.
A door silently appeared, and Vandalieu walked through it to see the staircase to the next floor.
《The Levels of Dark Demon Creation Path Enticement, Guidance: Dark Demon Creation Path, Long-distance Control, Materialization, Parallel Thought Processing, High-speed Thought Processing, Grotesque Mind and Mental Encroachment have increased!》
“It’s over,” said Vandalieu, having left the room of mirrors and arriving at the landing of the staircase.
Those equipped inside his body with Group Binding Technique emerged from within him.
“Was it alright, Vandalieu” Darcia asked.
“There were no problems, Mom,” Vandalieu replied.
“Really? Even Queen Donaneris and the others said that they struggled with that trial, so I was worried, you know?”
“But even Queen Donaneris said, ‘His Majesty will be fine,’ didn’t she?”
Queen Donaneris’s instinct had told her that Vandalieu would be able to clear this challenge with ease due to his mental structure that was different from that of ordinary people. And she had been right.
“But was it really fine for us to not face the challenge?” murmured Iris, who looked unhappy with the fact that she had cheated the trial by being infested by a parasitic insect and equipped inside Vandalieu.
It seemed that with her serious personality, she felt guilty over using such a dishonest method.
“It can’t be helped, can it? There’s no guarantee that we would be able to overcome a conversation and a battle with ourselves,” said Basdia, who had cheated the trial in the same way but seemed unfazed by it.
Incidentally, it wasn’t just these two; almost everyone had cheated the trial.
After passing through the supply area, he had equipped everyone inside his body with the exception of Legion, who couldn’t be infested by parasitic insects, and proceeded with only the Ghosts following him.
The trial was one that only those with bodies that could be reflected in the mirrors could face. Thus, those equipped inside Vandalieu did not face the trial.
“… I think you’d be able to clear it without a problem, Basdia,” said Iris.
“That’s not true; I have my own worries and insecurities. Like wondering whether Jadal is missing me,” said Basdia.
“That’s… I wonder.”
A conversation with one’s own false image about their child-raising, and then a battle with that false image. Was this really a good trial for determining the successor to a champion?
“But it’s true that it’s dangerous. During the trial, each challenger is isolated in their own space, so nobody can help them,” said Vigaro. “If we weren’t in the middle of clearing a Dungeon, I’d be interested in fighting myself, but…”
Even the battle-crazed Vigaro had taken the safe route and cheated the trial.
“We can’t face the trial to begin with, so it was easy for us, though,” said the Zombie Titan Borkus.
“Gishaaah,” hissed the centipede monster Pete.
This trial was only for races of people including those of Vida’s races, and the few races of monsters that ruled nations inside the Boundary Mountain Range, such as the Noble Orcs and High Kobolds.
Other races of monsters and Undead didn’t face the trial, even if their images were reflected in the mirrors.
Of course, there had been several previous challengers that had brought tamed monsters with them, but this Dungeon’s purpose was to find Zakkart’s successor. This was the presumed reason why this false image trial did not test such monsters.
“… I’m finished,” said Legion, rolling into view after having finished the trial. They looked to be in unusually low spirits, but they didn’t look like they had faced a difficult battle.
“Well done,” said Vandalieu. “What happened?”
“The trial was more boring than we imagined.”
“The image looked just like us, but it didn’t speak any words that meant anything. We’re not that strange.”
“It was rude. Even Pluto when she’s drunk isn’t that strange, is she?”
“You’re the one who mixed alcohol into my drink, aren’t you, Baba Yaga…!”
“Izanami, don’t bring up things from the past!”
It seemed that Legion’s appearance had caused a bug with the false image.
There was no way that a trial intended for humans could cope with a being like Legion, which had multiple souls fused together within one body. It hadn’t functioned entirely correctly with Vandalieu, either.
“Well, we defeated it easily so it was fine, though,” Legion concluded.
“I see. When we meet Gufadgarn, maybe we should tell him that it needs to be more versatile,” said Vandalieu. “Now then, let’s move on.”
And so, Vandalieu and his companions cleared the first trial of the lower floors.
By relearning the skills of Ghost, one of Legion’s personalities, Legion have changed Jobs from Flesh Manipulator to Thief and then to Assassin. Ghost’s ability had been very useful during the persuasion of the Legston family to defect to Talosheim, so it seems that they thought that these skills would be useful for similar work in the future.
They have gone through two Job changes and two Rank increases inside the Trial of Zakkart, and although they don’t shine, they have acquired a star-like race title. They think that if they did start shining, they would be more like a disco ball than a star.
Currently, all of the personalities should be obeying Vandalieu’s wishes and aiming to become a magical girl, but they are currently in an endless argument over this. To begin with, they are mistaken in thinking that Vandalieu wishes for them to become a magical girl, but nobody has noticed because their argument is occurring internally.
They acquired a mysterious divine protection after clearing the false image trial. They do not know which god it is from, however. They would be most honored if it turned out to be Vandalieu’s divine protection.