“Ridiculous…” Carmine shook her head after hearing the dungeon’s conditions.
“I will not allow you to so easily take m-my dungeon’s stuff!” She said, pushing her fingers together while shooting me a stubborn stare from behind the pillar.
I didn’t know why I was getting the look at all since it was Carmine who was talking to her. Maybe she had decided that I was the head of the group or something. Honestly, I didn’t really like the attention at all. I’d much rather Carmine handle this, but ever since she had seen the Bandit King, she had become quite demure. I tried to put on a reassuring smile and equipped my charm up as backup.
“Of course, please, let us know the riddle.”
For some reason, when I leaned toward her and smiled, the girl, or whatever she was, became even more flustered, hiding the rest of her face behind the pillar. I couldn’t even really say what she was. Was she the lore itself given sentience? Was she a spirit connected to the lore strongly? She seemed to have much more of her mind than the previous times. Karr had been quite crazy, as was the Necromancer. Even Astria who was technically a living creature entrapped by the curse as opposed to a broken soul had very little of her mind left until we forced her to face the truth.
“V-very well!” she finally looked back out, straightening her dirty dress. “Then, I will give my question. I fly when I’m born. Lie down when I’m alive, and run when I’m gone. What am I?”
“I like riddles!” Celeste said excitedly, fluttering around. “Can I answer it? Can I answer it?”
“I don’t know!” Celeste declares proudly.
“You brat. It’s a snowflake!” I bonk her on the head.
“Geh!” Celeste rubs her head. “Master, what’s a snowflake?
I wanted to be angry at her, but it was spoken from a girl who had been locked in a dungeon for twenty years, so you couldn’t become too angry. Rather, I felt really sad that she had never even seen the snow before. Come this winter, I would definitely show her snowflakes.
“So! The answer ‘I don’t know!’ is incorrect!” Terra announces.
“The answer is a snowflake! I don’t know isn’t even an answer!”
Terra shook her fists. “You… f-fine! In that case, best two out of three!”
“Hey… that’s not what we agreed to!”
“Then don’t be so confusing the next time you answer!” She sniffed, acting a bit like a spoiled child.
“Fine…” I sighed. “Give us another one.”
“Very well…” She recovered from her tantrum and put on another mysterious look. “Voiceless I cry and wingless I soar; toothless I bite and mouthless I whisper. What am I?”
“Ooo… ooo… I know!” Celeste raises her hand excitedly.
I shook my head and chuckled. “Of course, you’d know. The answer is the wind! As a Sylph, it’d be embarrassing if you didn’t catch this one.”
Celeste froze, and then put her hand back down. “Oh… that answer is way better…”
“Ah, Master, please, not the head. That’s where my thoughts keep disappearing at!”
“So, you admit it!”
“Grrrr….” Terra hit the ground and it shook slightly. “Best three out of five!”
“Many have heard me, yet nobody has seen me. I won’t speak back unless spoke-“
“An echo…” I sighed.
“Grrrr… Best…. of… 16 out of 30!”
“This is enough! We’re in a hurry and you’ve already wasted fifteen minutes. Those men on the other side of that door are not nice. They’re probably already trying to find some way to blast through the door.”
I had initially catered to her, but it was starting to become ridiculous. She seemed extremely stubborn, so putting my foot down sternly seemed like the best course of action here.
Terra gasped. “B-but, the rules!”
“People like them don’t care about the rules. Now, I’ve clearly shown that I was able to answer your riddles, please hold up your side of the bargain.”
“Why are you so good at riddles anyway!’ She demanded.
“Ah… I read a lot of riddle books when I was in primary during recess.” I admitted. “I wasn’t particularly popular.”
“Eh! Now you’re speaking in riddles!” She shook her fists. “Fine, go, but don’t think the level 20 boss will be so simple! He has protected me for hundreds of years, and he won’t allow some filthy person like you to take me!”
As she said this, she waved her hands, and the stone door leading down to the eleventh floor opened up for us. As she had agreed upon, the door behind us remained closed, and it would continue to do so for another hour as long as they didn’t cast any spell to break it.
“Actually, it’s the guardian that we want?” I said.
“Eh?” She blinked. “The guardian, you say…”
“I have a spell in my journal,” Carmine admitted. “As long as you four can distract it long enough, I’ll be able to take control of it.”
From the mural, I had the distinct feeling that the guardian was controlled by some kind of control rod which we’d need to find. I was wondering how we were going to get through it. It seemed kind of like an issue to me. You had to defeat the protector to access the treasure room, but the treasure room contained the control rod needed to control the protector. I had hoped it was something like the other bosses. The boss was only defeated to an extent and then would reappear after healing.
However, none of that mattered anymore. It seemed like Carmine had already thought about this and came up with a solution not unlike my slave taking ability. I shook my head and urged everyone to go out the door. We couldn’t really afford to dally. Carmine had a few notes she referred to, but it wasn’t like she had a map of the place. Even if she did, it would have been distorted over time from the dungeon shriveling up and dying.
In that respect, the levels were small and the bandits had more numbers. He could spread them out to quickly scour the place. He also had no concern for registering at the kiosks or looking at the murals. This was how he was able to catch up to the five of us. Twenty-five men could search a level five times as fast as five people.
As we headed down, I noticed a short shape running with us and I lost my step for a second.
“Terra? What are you doing here?”
“Hmph! Even though it’s impossible for you to take m-my dungeon’s guardian, if that is what you plan to do, then I will head down there to see it!”
“Seriously… you’re already tired?” I said.
“My legs are short! And I don’t walk a lot!” Terra whined.
“We don’t have time for this!” Carmine said, “Leave the brat. She’ll only try to get in the way as we take the guardian!”
“Y-you! Who says you can have the guardian! I won’t allow it!” Terra shook her fists.
I moved up to Terra, who raised her arms defensively in front of her. Turning around, I fell to one knee and put my hands behind my back.
“Wh-what is this?” She demanded.
“Get on, I’ll carry you!” I said, looking back at her. “Hurry, or I will leave you behind.”
I didn’t know why, but I didn’t want to leave her for the bandits to find. If she was just a spirit of this dungeon, she technically could just disappear and reappear somewhere else. That should be the case, but she walked alongside us. There was no floating or appearing and disappearing. She walked with heavy steps, thumping along next to the other girls. Strangely enough, I wasn’t receiving nearly as many angry looks from my girls when I dealt with Terra compared to Carmine.
In fact, the girls seemed to like Terra, offering her a few words and even complimenting her hair. The treatment difference between the two women was truly outstanding. I couldn’t even imagine why the girls were so particular when it came to these two women. I guess Carmine was a little rough around the edges. However, Terra didn’t come off as trustworthy either. Still, after looking around awkwardly, she received a nod of encouragement from Lydia and then climbed on my back.
Damn, she was heavy! I almost fell back. She was a small girl, even shorter than Miki. She had no chest to speak of. It wouldn’t be fair to call her a loli, but she definitely was a short, flat-chested girl in her late teens. So, where did all of the weight come from? I just imagined I was training. Before gaining all these levels, I definitely couldn’t have lifted this girl. I supposed I should focus on how much fitter I was now, rather than anything about her.
Lifting Terra up, I began to run to catch up to Carmine, who hadn’t slowed her pace for that. We soon found ourselves on the 15th floor. We did it a bit faster than the last five floors. I would have skipped the kiosk room, but we ended up walking right past it. I didn’t have the girls register, but I glanced at it and found the mural instantly. Only one image appeared. It was a picture of a couple. The looked to be magicians. In their arms was a baby girl.
“Mother… Father…” Terra’s gentle voice came from behind me.
“The baby… That’s you, Terra?”
“…” My question was met with silence.
Perhaps, given that she was some kind of being of the dungeon, she didn’t even have those memories. I could only see very small scattered parts of the whole story, so it was kind of frustrating. It seemed like there was a powerful magician couple. Some horrific event happened and something they created destroyed a lot of villages. They ended up having a child, Terra. Then, they built Terra some kind of powerful guardian. Or perhaps… it was the guardian who ended up attacking and killing Terra. Given what I knew about these dungeons, that sounded about right. The magician’s created the guardian to protect their daughter, but one day it went out of control and killed the one it was supposed to protect.
Didn’t that mean that the guardian wasn’t safe? Furthermore… what would happen if I brought Terra, the guardian’s true owner, into the same room as the guardian that once killed her? The only way to find out the truth was to reach the last floor. I abandoned the mural and ran to catch up with the group. The six of us continued down into the darkness while the Bandit King followed in close pursuit.