Suffice it to say, I didn’t want to bring Raissa any unnecessary trauma. I sent her to the Widow’s Dungeon on her own and then went the rest of the way to the Lord’s Manor. Incidentally, in this city, the Count conducted all of his business within his own manor. There was nothing like a palace, a keep, or a governor’s building. I couldn’t complain, that’s probably how I’d run Chalm too. The thought of having to go to another office building every day sounded tedious.
“Halt, what are you doing here?” a guard demanded.
“I am Viscount Deekson. Lord Reign should have gotten some notification I was coming?”
I wasn’t sure how long-distance communication worked in this world, but there was probably magic involved. Either way, Lord Reign should have known I was coming. That was one more reason I had to greet him. It was important for juniors to pay their respects to seniors, even if that senior was a suspected traitor. Well, he was innocent until proven guilty. I was hoping that he didn’t cause too many troubles. I just wanted to enter the dungeon and complete my mission.
I was brought to the waiting room along with my five girls. I instructed them to stay back and remain silent. I typically wouldn’t say things like that, but this Lord Reign seemed like the type to look down on slaves. Raissa showed some fear in her eyes when she heard the name Lord Reign, so it was better if the girls didn’t catch his attention or act too showy. After all the difficulty Lord Tibult gave me, I was a little cautious around nobles and my slaves.
I probably wouldn’t have brought them into the mansion at all, except that it was a show of my strength. Well, none of the women behind me looked particularly strong, but since they were slaves it at least showed I was wealthy, and that’s a type of strength too. The point was, if I showed up without a retinue, it would give the impression I was weak and powerless, and the Count would look down on me as a result. Being a noble was a complicated business.
“Lord Deekson, I only just received word you were coming today, how prompt,” a voice came from the doorway, causing me to look up.
The man standing there was tall with a wiry mustache and gaunt cheeks. He had black hair slicked back and wore gold and black clothing. He actually looked like a villain. I really couldn’t conceive a character that looked more guilty than this guy.
“Lord Reign, I presume?” I guessed instantly.
Instead of answering, he let out a soft chuckle. “You know, I was planning on sending an expedition into Widow’s Dungeon just when the Prince sent his message here. You’re really not necessary.”
“Well, all the same, I must follow the orders of the nation,” I shot back, feeling like his slimy way of talking was already distasteful.
“I’ve looked into you. The rumors have it that you have personally defeated two dungeons and also felled a demon lord. Is that true?”
“Three dungeons, actually.” I’m sure he knew but deliberately omitted one on purpose.
Technically, it would be four dungeons, but the Demon Lord’s appearance, although technically a temporary dungeon, was typically counted as a different thing entirely. From what I understood, had the Capital fallen, a Demon Lord Castle would have formed around the Demon Lord, and that would have been a permanent dungeon. Demon Lord Dungeons were destroyed on sight and only existed in the northern demonic lands. Like the unstable Mina’s Dungeon, Demon Lord Dungeons would spawn enemies and then send them out to attack the neighboring land. Where most dungeon curses were passive and grew slowly, eventually bottoming out, Demon Lord Dungeons were malignant and truly a dangerous curse on the land.
“Three… huh?” Lord Reign sneered. “Well, if you want to use those experiences to handle Widow’s Dungeon, you’ll fail! I must tell you, Widow’s Dungeon is unlike any other dungeon. If a young man like you enters, he will surely die!”
“Even if you say that…” I responded after a moment of silence, scratching my cheek awkwardly.
Lord Reign let out a dark chuckle. “I mean no offense. It isn’t about your ability as a fighter. Rather, it’s more about your age and disposition. I had given King Aberis a similar warning, but he ignored me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked cautiously, but there was a flash in my eyes.
It appeared like Lord Reign did know about the King’s disappearance. That also meant he knew exactly why I was here. I was slightly surprised he decided to give that information away. Originally, the Prince only presented me as a noble set to check on the results of the raid on Widow’s Dungeon, and, if necessary, to defeat the dungeon so that the mine can resume.
The Prince wasn’t sure if Lord Reign knew that the King was part of that party. Given the distance, it was understandable that some facts were hard to ascertain. The King could have very well slipped into the dungeon raid unnoticed by the local lord. Considering Lord Reign knew, but hadn’t mounted an immediate rescue, it already made the likelihood he was a traitor even greater.
Of course, I wasn’t in a position to denounce him as such. Instead, I could only hide my expressions and continue to listen to him talk.
“Since you’ve been in a couple of dungeons, you probably are aware that most dungeons follow a theme. Depending on who the master of the dungeon is, and how the curse came to be, dungeons can spiral off in all kinds of new directions.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen a ghost and an undead themed one so far,” I responded simply.
“Of course…” Lord Reign smiled, but it held a slightly condescending feel to it. “Well, this dungeon’s theme is temptation.”
“Yes, temptation. It is a dungeon full of traps, mimics, succubae, and desire demons. It traps a man’s mind and heart, not allowing him to leave. That is why it is so dangerous.”
“Ah… we have a guide who is familiar with the dungeon, so…”
“A guide, is it?” He raised an eyebrow, looking slightly amused. “A guide can help, but for a man to not succumb, he must have a body and mind that can resist… temptation.”
“Are you saying that the king fell to temptation?” I asked.
“I believe that would be likely.”
“Then, there is a chance he’s alive!?” My eyes brightened.
Lord Reign blinked, taken aback by my comment. He probably intended to intimidate me, but I actually couldn’t have heard better news. Knowing that this dungeon wasn’t simply mobs, but temptations, there was a chance the King was still down there.
“Tcht…” He made a displeased noise. “Even if the King is still alive, he’s likely no longer fit to rule the country.”
“Even so…” I shook my head. “The Prince has entrusted me to try. Thank you, my Lord, you’ve given me a bit of hope in this endeavor.”
I said that last part mostly to catch him up. If he was smart, he’d know that I was suspicious of him. Perhaps it wasn’t wise to tease him like this, but I wasn’t skilled enough at diplomacy to do much more than that. I could see his mind working through, trying to understand what my ploy was. The one thing I understood about Lord Reign the most was that he was a schemer. He took every action to mean something and constantly obsessed about words to the point of paranoia.
In that case, the person he couldn’t handle the most was someone like me. I met him with genuine words and a slight smile. I wasn’t hiding anything.
“Ah, my Lord, before I forget, a gift…” I pulled out a magic artifact from my storage ring and handed it to him.
It was actually something none of the girls wanted and I wasn’t interested in it. It didn’t sell well in the stores either, so I figured I’d give it away. I heard it was custom to give a gift when visiting another noble’s land. This was just a small necklace that resisted illusions. Actually, given the Widow’s Dungeon, it was probably a really important magic piece, but with Miki in our party as a Spiritualist, illusions weren’t that big of a problem for us.
When Lord Reign looked at the object, his body shuddered for a second. I had turned to leave, but suddenly his hand jutted out and he grabbed my arm, stopping me.
“Y-you…” He said, his eyes suddenly changing, and the previous condescension leaving his expression, “You’re playing a dangerous game.”
“I always do.”
I shrugged off his arm and left with my girls, leaving the man with a stunned expression on his face. Yeah, I had no clue what that was about. He definitely thought I knew something I didn’t. Actually, it was kind of scary. However, the girls were all looking at me like I was cool, so it’s probably fine. If I needed answers, I had a feeling I’d obtain them in the dungeon.
Leaving the mansion, I was glad to find Lord Reign didn’t impede my movements. Part of the reason I had acted so bold was to put him off balance. He didn’t know what I knew, so now he was being cautious. Actually, if he knew the truth about what I knew, it’d be troublesome, because I really didn’t know anything. As I said, politics was confusing.
I preferred the dungeon, where I could trust in myself and my girls. I long since accepted that perhaps I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. If not for the danger of the dungeon, then definitely for the rewards. Wait, wouldn’t that mean I was exactly the type this dungeon was best at defeating? Let’s not think about it too much.
“Master was so cool!” Shao said happily, grabbing my arm.
“Mm… Master is always cool.” Lydia grabbed the other.
Somehow, Lydia was starting to become a big sister to Shao. I had thought Shao would act antagonistically to the rest of the girls, but it turned out I was worrying over nothing. Once they had accepted her as a slave by my side, she slipped into the role without question. I wish I could be as easy as the rest of them. When I got one of the girls, Terra, aside and asked her about Shao…
“If she becomes a problem, Master will handle her.”
I was given that answer. It made me want to cry just a little bit. Sometimes I wondered if the girl’s faith in me was perhaps just a bit too much? Well, as long as Shao was happy, we wouldn’t have to face any more demon lord shenanigans. Doesn’t that mean I’m responsible for always making her happy? Agh, whatever, thinking about this was headache-inducing as well.
Rather, I decided to think about Widow’s Dungeon instead. As we left the town, it was about a two-hour walk to the dungeon. Two-thirds of the way there, we came into a small village, centered around a giant cave. That must be the mine.
“Is the mine part of the temptation?” I suddenly found myself asking.
“I would think so because orichalcum doesn’t otherwise exist.” The voice didn’t come from any of my girls, but a small girl sitting on a barrel on the side of the road.
She was small, with freckles, and fiery red hair that that spiraled out of her head in a haphazard way. She was young, likely only thirteen, with a thin, dirty pair of overalls. It didn’t appear like she had a bra or a shirt under it, making it appear somewhat erotic. If she had more of a chest, it’d definitely be criminal! She was chewing on a piece of straw, and when we glanced at her, she gave a toothy smile.
Surprisingly, she was very cute and gave a mischievous appearance to herself.
“Ah? Orichalcum is fake? Isn’t this an orichalcum mine?” I asked.
She gave a shrug. “Orichalcum doesn’t exist in nature. Neither do orichalcum mines. They’re actually created… by dungeons!”
My eyes widened. “Seriously.”
She nodded. “Mmm… the cave links to the main dungeon. The orichalcum was created by the dungeon to lure people to their doom. That’s why orichalcum is so rare.”
In other words, orichalcum is a treasure drop that a dungeon can possibly make. This one made a vein of it.
“Then… wouldn’t destroying the dungeon cause the orichalcum mine to dry up?” I asked.
“Well, as is, the metal is kept in an area too difficult to reach for most miners.” The girl shrugged. “Naturally, the dungeon doesn’t want to part with the mana without inflicting a proper cost. That’s the nature of curses, right? The quickest way to harvest is to kill the dungeon. Then, all the orichalcum it has produced can be harvested without the fear of monsters or miasma.”
“So… it’s like that…” I pondered while the girl grinned. “Ah… thank you, that was useful, little girl.”
“Little!” She gave a devilish look. “Useful info costs a gold coin!”
Without hesitating, I flicked one in the air. She caught it, and when she saw the genuine gold, her eyes widened in surprise. She took a bite of it, then nodded to herself.
“You’re not bad, mister,” she said, giving me another grin. “I’ll tell you what. If you’re tackling the dungeon, come spend your nights at the inn in town. It’s half the price of the one in the city, and the alcohol is good!”
I didn’t expect a thirteen-year-old girl to comment on the alcohol, but I already felt like something was off about this girl. She stood up off of her barrel and grabbed a nearby hammer. It was as tall as she was and looked twice as heavy, but she hefted it over her shoulder with ease. As she walked away, I realized that she was also completely barefoot.
“Is that girl… a miner?” I asked.
“So… Master is interested in minors after all…” Lydia spoke sadly.
When I glanced back, the girls were all giving me strange looks. I meant was she one of the diggers! What? I don’t like loli girls, okay? I’d prefer my women of the appropriate age! I explained it to the girls, but I wasn’t sure they were convinced.