Completed ― The Fat Aristocrat Waltz in the Labyrinth

Completed ― The Fat Aristocrat Waltz in the Labyrinth

Chapter 1: The fat aristocrat is kicked out of his home

“Mitrof. I want you to leave this house.”

Count Vansankai declared with determination. Today, he could not bear it any longer and raised his voice in front of his foolish son.

It was soon after they finished dinner at the table.

Mitrof was alone, still eating as usual. Mitrof’s voracious appetite was coarser than that of commoners. No matter how much he ate, his insatiable desire for more was never satisfied. No matter how many times he was warned, Mitrof continued to overeat.

“Are you listening, Mitrof?”

With a fork and knife in hand, Mitrof was soaking mashed potatoes in meat sauce. Beside him, a pile of finished dishes had accumulated. Yet the table was clean, and Mitrof’s eating habits were neat.

The dull blonde hair was similar to his own. The soft eyes resembled those of his deceased ex-wife.

However, his clothes could not hide his overweight figure!

a bloated face!

Whose blood runs through his veins?!

“Ah, just looking at you makes my chest burn!”

Count Vansankai turned away, unable to bear it, and covered his mouth with his hand.

“Food, food, food… Mitrof, you have no taste. No matter how much education you receive, how much knowledge you learn, or how skilled you become with a sword, your desire for food never disappears. At the recent standing banquet, what do you think Marquis Oddble said about you? He laughed and said you were like a wise troll! You’re a damn troll!”

“Hmm.”

Mitrof nodded calmly and continued to eat his mashed potatoes, taking one bite after another.

After finishing his plate, he wiped his mouth with a napkin and placed it on the table.

“So, Father, you are disowning me now?”

“That depends on how you behave from now on.”

Count Vansankai replied while stroking his mustache.

The truth was, he wanted to disown Mitrof. His anger had built up that much. However, disowning one’s biological child in noble society was a scandal. There was no plausible reason to do so, and the process of revoking inheritance rights was also cumbersome to handle while the child was alive.

Fortunately, Mitrof was the third son.

The eldest son was hardworking and talented. Although Count Vansankai was concerned about his lack of ambition, he could easily pass on the family’s legacy without any problems.

The second son belonged to the imperial capital as a clerk. Although his womanizing ways were troublesome, he could make connections in the center with some skill.

As for Mitrof, who turned 15 this year, he was useless. No matter what he did, he was mediocre. He was only interested in eating, and the food expenses were piling up.

For a noble family, other than the eldest son, everyone else was only a backup. And the Vansankai family cannot afford to keep useless spares idle.

“Mitrof, you should go to the labyrinth. Fulfill the old duty of a noble. I’ve already applied for you.”

Count Vansankai put a silver plate on the table from his pocket. It slid and hit the base of Mitrof’s wine glass, making a thud.

“That is a permit for passage to the labyrinth. It is also a certificate of membership in the labyrinth guild. Take it and show that you can stand on your own. You are already 15 years old. ”

“Okay.”

Mitrof took the silver card, looked at it front and back, then put it in his chest pocket.

Watching Mitrof’s slow reaction, Count Vansankai grew frustrated once again. Mitrof had always been like this. When he thought about it, even his own son’s face seemed unpleasant to him.

“Receive the luggage from Arzo and leave the house. Come back if you have accomplished something noteworthy in the labyrinth.”

Count Vansankai said this with irritation.

“Understood.”

Mitrof stood up and bowed to Count Vansankai. Despite his rounded and bloated figure, his mannerisms were just like those of a nobleman.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Father. I will go to the labyrinth now.”

Thud, thud. Mitrof’s heavy footsteps echoed as he left the dining room.

Chapter 2: The fat aristocrat weeps alone

Arzo the butler handed him a bit of pocket money and a bag full of clothes, but considering the noble standard of living, it was not enough. Being given only a small amount of money and being forced out was almost like being told to go and die in the labyrinth.

Mitrof knew it well, and so did the servants.

“Young master, this is from the servants. Please take care and stay safe.”

With those words, Arzo gave him the money the servants had collected out of their own pockets. The servants’ salaries were not high at all. Everyone should be short on funds. Mitrof knew that. The money collected for him by the servants was precious.

Mitrof said his goodbyes to everyone and left the house.

From today on, Mitrof was no longer a noble’s child; he was just Mitrof.

All he had with him was a bag of clothes, enough money to last for a few days, and a rapier sent by his fencing instructor to weather the rain and wind.

He had to keep on living.

He had to eat.

And for that, he needed money.

So he had to work.

If he was going to work and didn’t know how to work like a commoner, there was only one choice: the labyrinth.

Mitrof nodded and made his way to the labyrinth, breathing heavily.

On the way, he got hungry and ate three servings of set meals at the cafeteria. The food had a strong salty taste, perhaps for the hardworking laborers who sweated over their work. It wasn’t bad. He paid for it with contributions from the servants.

He went to the labyrinth guild and completed the registration easily with just a signature. Mitrof took the training for labyrinth exploration, and the day ended with dusk.

He was referred to a cheap inn that was partnered with the Labyrinth Guild. The room was small, with only a cheap bed and chair. Mitrof put his bag on the chair and leaned his sword against it before sitting on the bed.

From the thin walls, he could hear coarse male voices and a woman’s moaning. The bed’s cloth was rough, worn out, and yellowed. It was harder to find a white area on it.

Mitrof was raised as a noble, but he often heard about the lives of commoners from his caretaker, an old woman who served as his wet nurse. She taught him about budgeting, the lifestyle of the commoners… He thought of it as nothing more than a fairy tale, but now he sees it as something practical.

He spread out his money on the bed and calculated the remaining amount.

He nodded in agreement, took out his meal from his bag.

It was something he bought from a street vendor on the way to his lodging.

A large round bread, grilled chicken with sauce, and an assortment of fruits. In addition, wine is placed in a thin pottery vessel.

He broke the bread with his knife and put the chicken inside. When he bit into it, the meat was tough and had a strong, unpleasant taste. The sauce was spicy to mask the unpleasant taste, but it had a stimulating effect that stung his nose.

“It’s not very good.”

He nodded in agreement. He had expected as much. He needs to get used to this taste.

But this strong spice and excessive stench are not good.

He opened the bread, scraped off the dark red sauce with his knife, and picked out a fragrant citrus fruit from the cut fruits. He squeezed the juice and sprinkled it on top.

He took another bite. The refreshing acidity improved the taste somewhat. He couldn’t complain anymore.

Mitrof sat on a shoddy bed, grabbing food with both hands with no table to eat from. He wiped the sauce, which was smeared on his mouth, with his thumb. Unable to find anything to clean it off, he hesitated for a moment before licking it off with his tongue. The voice of a woman in the next room continued, and the walls rumbled with “gon, gon” sounds.

While nibbling on fruit that had no sweetness but only sourness, Mitrof thought about what to do starting tomorrow.

Labyrinth. Death. Yes, he might die.

The moment he thought that, the sour taste in his mouth changed into a sharp reality.

His life of idleness as a nobleman was over. Placed as his older brother’s replacement, Mitrof was finally abandoned, just like an apple core. nothing more than that.

While chewing on the fruit, Mitrof cried at its overwhelming sourness.

Ugu, ugu, buhi, fugo

Tears were flowing endlessly, but he continued to eat the fruit.

As long as his older brother existed, he knew that his life had no future. As the third son of the poor Count family, he had no purpose. Some went on journeys or became peasants somewhere. He knew this day would come eventually.

All he could do was eat. Only while eating did he feel satisfied.

Now, the taste of reality is sour.

Dirty room. no one to rely on. No money. He was alone, and he might die tomorrow.

Sobs leaked through gritted teeth.

The wall was hit with a thud.

“Hey, shut up! Are you a pig or something?!”

Despite the muffled, angry voice, Mitrof cried. He had decided to cry just for today.

Chapter 3: The fat aristocrat goes to the labyrinth

The true identity of the labyrinth is unknown to anyone.

The general consensus is that it was a ruin that an ancient civilization constructed for some purpose. No one knows what lies at the end, and for decades, those called adventurers have continued to challenge it.

The labyrinth has its own ecosystem. The monsters that exist within it are more ferocious, stronger, and hostile compared to the creatures on the surface. They are called “monsters”. Their materials are extremely useful, and the labyrinth guild will eagerly buy them off.

So, anyone who is struggling to make a living will undoubtedly challenge the labyrinth. They enter it with whatever money they can earn and for the sake of surviving the day.

And then they die.

Even so, no one cares. If someone dies today, someone else will come tomorrow. And so, the labyrinth continues.

Mitrof changed into his training clothes, took only his rapier, and entered the labyrinth to earn enough gold for today’s meal.

The labyrinth deepens underground layer by layer, but the shallower depths have already been fully explored.

People’s hands were everywhere on the stone floor and walls, and the passage had lanterns and graffiti. In a small plaza, vendors had taken up space, and bright bonfires illuminated the ceiling. It had become a night market.

Without encountering any monsters, he descended to the second basement floor.

Monsters could pop up from anywhere. Mitrof thought back to what the instructor had said during the training.

“Beginners die on the second basement floor. That’s where——”

A cry rang out. Mitrof instinctively took a half-step back and drew his rapier from his waist.

The lantern hanging on the wall was illuminating the creature.

Its dense green body was thin, and it appeared to be dwarf-sized. However, its eyes were bulging, and its pupils were slit vertically. Its nose was crushed, and drool dripped from the gaps between its yellowed teeth. Swinging a rusty short sword in its hand, it approached.

“…A goblin, huh?”

Mitrof swallowed hard. The liquid he expected to go down smoothly felt like hard pebbles in his throat.

The hand holding the hilt was sweaty. The back of his neck was cold.

This creature was trying to kill him.

The truth was terrifying.

The goblin rushed towards him while emitting a wheezing cry.

“Ah!”

Instinctively, he stepped back, but reason told him it was useless. Yet his instincts were fearful.

The goblin leapt up, swinging its short sword overhead.

There are gaps, reason said.

Terrifying! cried his instincts.

He couldn’t move; he just watched. Mitrof realized that this is how beginners die.

——Thunk.

An arrow pierced the goblin’s forehead. The next moment, the goblin was thrown back and rolled across the stone pavement, the sound of the short sword clattering echoed. Mitrof was standing there, dumbfounded.

“Are you alright?”

A voice came from behind.

Mitrof slowly turned around.

There stood a girl with blue eyes. She had a beautiful, jewel-like radiance.

She held a short bow in her hand and had a quiver on her back. Her fur clothing was more akin to that of a forest hunter than an adventurer. Silver earrings dangled from her long, pointed ears, for she was a member of the elven race, known as the folk of the forest.

“…T-Thank you—you were a great help.”

“No problem—we help each other in the labyrinth, don’t we?”

Though she looked young, her voice was light, like the sound of a rolling bell.

However, her way of speaking was oddly old-fashioned, which made Mitrof somewhat confused.

“There aren’t many people who would really help like you did—you’re a good person.”

“That’s right. I’m a good elf—it’s boring to die in a place like this, so be careful.”

The girl approached the goblin with ease, retrieved her arrow, and used a knife to cut off its left ear. Goblin materials were worthless, so the only reward for defeating one was the bounty for the left ear.

As he watched the girl’s departing back, Mitrof sheathed his rapier, which was trembling in his hand.

A rusty, short sword lay on the ground. It belonged to that goblin.

He picked it up, stared at it, then threw it at the wall.

It would be boring to die here.

Mitrof thought the girl was right.

Chapter 4: The fat aristocrat fights a goblin

He had learned swordsmanship since childhood.

This was a story from the time when his father still had expectations for Mitrof. His two older brothers were more suited for civil service, so his father might have wanted Mitrof to become a military official and join the knights’ corps.

The hired tutor was a rough man, but he trained Mitrof well.

There weren’t many memories of praise. The man was strict.

However, there was one time during a practice match where Mitrof’s sword skimmed the man’s clothes. At that moment, the man said, “Not bad,” and laughed. Looking back, that might have been the only time someone had praised Mitrof.

He went to a teatime gathering with his father and the Marquis family. It was also an exchange meeting for aristocratic children, like a practice for socializing. There, he was to have a mock match with the heir of the Marquis family, who was known for his talent in swordsmanship.

Mitrof easily won.

He thought that his father would be pleased and compliment him.

However, when they got home, Mitrof’s father severely reprimanded him and slapped him across the face.

“Never embarrass me again,” his father said. “Why can’t you lose a match?”

On that day, Mitrof stopped practicing his sword skills. He spent his time eating, sleeping, and being lazy, and eventually, the meat weighed heavily on his cheeks and stomach.

Now, that excess weight was endangering Mitrof’s life.

Breathing hard through his throat, his hot breath rubbed against the air. Sweat trickled down his body. He was hot all over.

This was not just an exercise; this was a battle. They weren’t using sticks wrapped in cloth, but real swords. This was a fight to the death.

The tension made his body feel heavier. He wanted to rest right away.

If he gave himself up to laziness, he would die. He knew that. That would be such a boring end.

Suddenly, a goblin cried out with a “Gya!” and charged straight ahead.

Mitrof lifted his rapier in front of his body in a noble duel ceremony. It was a gesture that he learned when he was young and was the starting point of his swordsmanship.

The goblin raised its club.

Mitrof accurately judged the distance, took a step back, and avoided the incoming strike.

The club missed its target, and the goblin’s body was exposed due to the weight of its weapon.

1, 2, 3.

He pulled the handle of his sword towards his chest and aimed for the right moment.

He stepped forward and pierced

With a sharp sound of wind cutting through, slower and less elegant than in Mitrof’s memory, the tip of the sword accurately pierced the goblin’s throat.

The goblin immediately recoiled, swinging its club but missing. The inertia of its own movement caused the goblin’s body to spin around completely, and it fell to the ground. Dead.

“——Phew.”

Exhaling a hot breath, he swung his sword to remove the blood and raised it before resheathing it. He took a life, and he couldn’t forget that.

He looked around to make sure there were no noises. It was safe.

He then cut off the goblin’s ear and put it in a small bag hanging from his waist. This was the fourth one.

“It’s okay,” he told himself. He was used to it. He could fight.

Despite the accumulation of fat, his body remembered his trained movements, though they were far from ideal.

He drank from a leather bag. The water was incredibly lukewarm, but it tasted so good that it penetrated his body. He had never had such delicious water before.

He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. He had done it so many times that his sleeve had already changed color and was soaking wet.

Checking left and right, he leaned his back against the wall. His arms and legs were numb from the intense exercise after a long time. His body was as hot as if he had put firewood inside. His head was excited, shaken by the place called the labyrinth and the act of fighting.

“I am calm,” he muttered.

No, he shouldn’t be calm. It would be strange if he remained calm.

So, he should not push himself too hard. It was about time to go home.

But Mitrof was not tired.

He felt like he could fight goblins over and over again now.

However, he knew it was inappropriate because of the experience he had gained from being harshly trained when he was young. His intense awareness and whole-body exercise make him forget fatigue or pain for a while. But it accumulates, so the moment his consciousness relaxed, everything would come rushing in at once.

It would be too late to realize the tiredness then.

He had to get out of the labyrinth. He needed to save some strength for the return journey.

With a decision, Mitrof stood up.

At that moment, he heard hurried voices coming from the end of the passage. He instinctively grasped his sword’s hilt and crouched down.

As he listened intently, it became clear that the sounds were from people. They were running, and their figures, illuminated by a lantern, appeared as they came around the corner of the hallway.

There were three young men, all of them older than Mitrof.

While they continued to run, they noticed Mitrof and waved with no hostility.

“Hey! You better run too! —It’s a stray kobold!” says the man in the lead.

“The elf girl is facing it, but she won’t last long,” said the leader of the group as they passed by and disappeared from view.

Mitrof watched their backs as they went away, before running towards the end of the passage. As he turned the corner where the men had come from, he found himself in a small square.

As expected, the elf girl was there—the blue-eyed girl who had saved his life earlier. In her left hand was a bow, and she wielded a short sword with her right hand against the kobold’s attack.

She was being pushed back.

Mitrof pulled out his rapier and rushed in between them.

Chapter 5: The fat aristocrat joins forces with an elf girl

“Shh!”

The kobold dodged the attack coming from the side with agility. Lightly stepping back, it looked at Mitrof. Mitrof also looked at the kobold.

It was a size bigger than a goblin. Its distinctive feature would be its face. It was that of a dog or wolf. An animal that stood on two legs and held a blunted hatchet in its hand, possessing both the agility of an animal and the intelligence to handle tools.

“…You’re that man from before! Quickly, run!”

The elf girl spoke from behind.

“We should help each other in the labyrinth.”

“That’s a kobold; they usually live on the fourth floor; we cannot beat them.”

“So you should just give up, then?”

“I’m telling you so! —It’s targeting me, so you should run away now!”

“What kind of self-sacrifice is that?”

He turns around involuntarily. However, the girl looked back at Mitrof calmly without changing her expression.

“The two of us can win—we should try before giving up.”

It surprised Mitrof that such words came out of his mouth. He hadn’t thought about such things for years.

The girl widened her blue eyes and was in shock.

“…You’re a good person.”

The girl said

“Yeah, I am a good person—it’s boring to die here, don’t you agree?”

A chuckle spilled out of the corner of her mouth.

“Then, shall we go together?”

At the same moment the girl spoke, an arrow passed by Mitrof’s side. It was aimed squarely for the kobold’s face but was avoided easily. The kobold could see it.

and he had excellent agility.

The kobold flew towards Mitrof in one fell swoop. His movements were not comparable to the goblin’s.

Mitrof raised his rapier before him.

‘Concentrate,’ he told himself.

One false move, and he would die.

But that’s why he couldn’t back down. He had to move forward.

He couldn’t win if he dragged it out. He knew that. His own body was a lump of laziness. It was too heavy to move.

The kobold lifted his axe from a low position on the ground.

Mitrof dodged to the side at half-body length. Death passed before his eyes. The cold wind chilled his spine.

It was aiming for his face.

No, it’s wrong.

He had to avoid it.

That was his intuition.

In a split second, Mitrof changed targets and sliced with his rapier.

It tore through the right knee of the kobold that stepped forward.

Immediately after, Mitrof leaped aside.

There was a sharp breeze.

A young elf girl who had taken aim with her bow behind Mitrof fired her arrow as soon as she found an opening.

The kobold saw the arrow. In the split second when he attempted to jump aside, his body sank.

His right leg.

When he realized it, the arrow had pierced through the kobold’s chest.

Still moving.

Mitrof took a stance with his sword. His graceful movements were reminiscent of a nobleman’s duel.

His slender sword pierced the kobold’s neck accurately and sharply.

At the same moment, the girl fired her second shot into the kobold’s right eye.

Life quickly faded from the one remaining left eye.

Mitrof watched it. His sword slipped out from under the weight of the crumpling body.

The encounter was brief.

but he might have died.

He realized that he was alive. Burning with life, he desperately clung to it.

Like molten iron flowing into his mind, Mitrof clenched his teeth tightly. A sudden numbness ran through his entire body, making him shudder with heat.

Looking around, the elf girl also curled up with a pained expression on her face, as if she were enduring something.

“…So, this is sublimation, I suppose—it’s quite something,” she said.

Sublimation is a phenomenon that occurs only in the labyrinth. Mitrof only knew it through books.

“Does this mean we have ascended to a higher level as organisms? I don’t feel it,” he said, clenching his fists. He didn’t feel any stronger than before.

“It takes time to get used to the body after sublimation—for a kobold, a night’s sleep is enough.”

“So we’ll feel it tomorrow—I’m looking forward to it,” Mitrof said as he sheathed his sword.

The passion and tension, the feeling of risking his life—they had all faded away. The square was silent.

The only memory of the battle lay before them as the kobold lay motionless on the ground.

“I’d like to thank you again—thanks to you, I was saved.”

The elf girl approaches Mitrof. Her blue eyes are soft and narrow.

“It’s okay—you helped defeat the kobold too.”

“Did you know what I was aiming for when you opened fire so quickly?”

“Somehow I had a feeling.”

‘Why did I know?’ Mitrof also wonders about himself.

Could it be eye contact?

Since childhood, Mitrof has been aware of other people’s gaze. How his father looked at him, what he thought. Or his brother, or the maids.

Gazes have a unique presence. He learned that he could tell where they were directed.

During the fight with the kobold, Mitrof felt the elf girl’s gaze on his back. It was sharp and piercing.

“Maybe we have good compatibility,” the elf girl murmured. “Are you exploring alone?”

“I’m alone and inexperienced—I just entered the labyrinth for the first time today.”

“That’s a bold move—it took me four days to finally get used to it.”

“Are you alone too?”

“Indeed. I can’t bring myself to find a trustworthy partner through taverns or introductions from strangers—but I have found one now,” the girl said, looking directly at Mitrof.

“I am Grace Switz, a huntress who resides in the forest—I desperately want to delve deep into the fifth floor of this labyrinth—If you are also seeking a reliable companion, how about teaming up with me? — You can trust me.”

Mitrof read her blue eyes’ gaze, which shone with a straight and beautiful light.

Strangely, Mitrof could agree with what she said.

“…I’m Mitrof. I am the former third son of a noble family who was disowned as of yesterday. I also feel like I can trust you.”

“Then, does that mean you accept my proposal?” Grace asked, tilting her head slightly with a hint of unease. Her platinum hair slid off her shoulders.

Mitrof nodded.

“Please take care of me—I was afraid to explore the labyrinth alone. It’s reassuring to have Grace with me.”

“Glad to be of help.”

Grace replied with a sweet smile.

Chapter 6: The fat aristocrat knows good food

After discussing it, the two agreed to leave the labyrinth for now.

Mitrof was exhausted from his first exploration, and he was unaware of how sublimation would affect his body. Fortunately, they both shared the mindset of not pushing themselves too hard.

On the way back, they encountered the goblins three times. Grace shot and killed two from a distance, and Mitrof cut down one.

Mitrof was inwardly surprised at how reassuring it was to have Grace by his side. He knew he could rely on her if anything happened. It removed any unnecessary tension and anxiety, even during battles with the goblins. Mitrof felt that his movements became smoother under Grace’s protection.

Finally, they returned to the surface of the labyrinth. It felt like they had been underground for hours, but in reality, it was only a few hours.

“Let’s go through the procedures at the guild first.”

Grace said. Mitrof, of course, agreed.

However, it was already the labyrinth guild that stood like a cover over the labyrinth leading underground.

They lined up at the reception in front of them, to perform the procedure for returning from the labyrinth, as well as to have their hunting items appraised and sold. Each person received a bounty for goblin ears, and kobold materials were divided in half.

As a nobleman, Mitrof received such a paltry sum that it was almost insulting.

But this was the first money Mitrof had earned with his own hands in his life. Just that fact alone made him feel special.

Even if the amount was so small that it would disappear after a single night’s lodging and meal, it was worth more to Mitrof than anything else.

While Mitrof chewed on those thoughts, Grace worked on completing the party formation procedures.

Generally speaking, parties have a lower death rate than solo players.

The guild also recommends forming a party, as it is beneficial for them. There are also tax incentives, and the benefits of registering with even a little effort are substantial.

“Mitrof, your guild card.”

Grace spoke, and Mitrof handed over his silver card.

The guild employee inserted the card into a metal plate. When they opened the drawer, there were rows and rows of molds with engraved letters on the thin tips.

With practiced hands, the employee quickly picked out a mold and lined it up with the top of the plate, securing it in place. Then they pressed it down with a gun-like device. They repeated the process for any additional letters on the card.

Mitrof looked at his returned card. The bottom had been engraved with ‘Party: Grace and his name.’

“We can also register a party name, but I left it blank for now—we’ll have to think of something good in the future.”

Mitrof nodded. Even cards with names other than his own felt like important possessions.

“Now let’s have a meal for the time being—I owe you my life, so allow me to treat you.”

“A meal!”

Suddenly, Mitrof remembered his hunger. He was starving. Yes, he was very hungry!

“Guuu, my stomach is growling!”

Grace put a hand to her mouth and chuckled elegantly.

“That’s right, I’m hungry too—let’s indulge ourselves.”

Within the guild building, there were various facilities available. Of course, there was a cafeteria where the meat of monsters deemed edible and ingredients found in the labyrinth were cooked.

The two entered the cafeteria on the first floor and raised a modest toast. It would only yield a small profit for goblins and kobolds.

Nevertheless, they ordered a sweet-and-savory stir-fry of chicken, a bottle of red wine, and a colorful salad with nuts, which would be enough to cover their expenses for one night at a cheap inn.

As they raised their glasses, Mitrof drank the wine. It was a cheap wine that tasted sour and bitter and lacked the full flavor of grapes, but it was delicious. It soaked through his tired body and healed his tense spirit.

Mitrof finished his meal in no time. As a nobleman, he had been drilled in table manners, so his eating habits were always refined. In the cafeteria of the guild, where most adventurers were uncouth, he stood out.

Mitrof rubbed his belly.

He was still hungry, not satisfied at all. However, he realized that he needed to change his life and not give in to his desires, especially when he thought about the future.

“Mitrof, don’t hesitate to order more—I’m sure you eat a lot.”

“Thank you, but I’m good—I need to lose this excess fat—it’s just a burden when I need to fight.”

He grabbed his protruding belly, which symbolized his decadent lifestyle. The cumbersome mass was of no benefit, hindering his movements, adding to his food costs, and causing him to wear larger sized clothes.

“I think I’ll try to lose weight during this time.”

“That’s a good mindset.” Grace nodded in agreement.

Just as Grace nodded, Mitrof’s stomach growled loudly. He kept a straight face while Grace stared back at him with a serious expression.

Then he raised his hand, called over a waiter, and ordered another meat dish.

Mitrof reluctantly, but yes, devoured everything with a heavy heart to not waste Grace’s kindness.

‘After work meals are the best,’ Mitrof thought to himself.

Chapter 7: The fat aristocrat holds up his rapier

As Mitrof descended the stairs to the third basement floor, he ran his finger over the hilt of his rapier to check if it was still secure.

Last night, after disbanding with Grace, Mitrof quickly fell asleep upon returning to his room. His fatigue seemed to have accumulated deeper than he thought, as he slept soundly without any dreams.

When he woke up, it was almost noon, which meant it was time to meet with Grace.

He filled his stomach with light snacks from the food stalls along the way and dove into the labyrinth.

The only difference today was that he had a companion.

With the two of them, the goblins they encountered were easily dealt with.

Grace, being a skilled hunter, was excellent with a bow. Despite the darkness, she had sharp eyes and would silently shoot the goblin in the head without being noticed.

Until now, Mitrof had not unsheathed his sword. Without much time to prepare his body, he felt a little uneasy about descending into the unknown third basement floor.

“I wonder what kind of monsters are on the third floor—do you know?”

He called out to Grace from behind without catching up to her. Grace didn’t turn around but responded.

“I heard there are wolves called fangs—they generally act alone, but sometimes there are exceptional individuals that lead a pack.”

“A pack? — That’s a bit scary.”

“In that case, it would be better to run away as much as possible—the two of us wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

No matter how small they may be, they are still wolves, and it depends on how big the pack is. They cannot be taken lightly.

“By the way, how about the effect of sublimation? — Do you feel any pain or discomfort?”

“I forgot.”

Yesterday, the two of them gained a growth called sublimation when they defeated the kobold. He confirmed it by clenching his fists and rotating his arms, but there seemed to be no significant change.

“I wonder if anything has changed.”

“I feel slightly stronger, and my body feels more energetic.”

He nodded in understanding.

If Grace says so, then there is no doubt that the influence of sublimation exists. Perhaps Mitrof himself hasn’t noticed it yet.

When they reached the top of the stairs, there was a square room about the size of one room.

There were passages extending to the left and right. The area around the staircase seemed to have been thoroughly fortified by the past adventurers, as it was easily targeted by monsters.

Merchants spread out their goods, such as healing potions and food, on the cloth. Adventurers resting on the walls can also be seen.

It was neither bustling nor eerily quiet. It didn’t seem like a place where people would risk their lives fighting just outside.

As they delve deeper, they may come to rely on trading with the merchants on the square and other adventurers.

Mitrof and Grace both pass by, stepping into the passage.

It looks the same as the underground second floor. stone walls and floors. Lamps placed later continue to illuminate the corridor.

The absence of monsters might indicate that the adventurers who came before them have already hunted them down.

“Monsters don’t have limits, do they?” Mitrof asked Grace, who was walking ahead.

“No matter how many times we exterminate them, they seem to come from somewhere—it’s a place full of mysteries that scholars have yet to unravel.”

“Thanks to that, we can get today’s food.”

“Monster is coming out already—that must be a fang.”

Grace stooped down and pulled an arrow from her quiver at her back, attaching it to his bow.

Her sharp blue eyes seemed to see the wolf lurking in the darkness at the end of the hallway.

Mitrof also stared hard but couldn’t see anything.

The sound of the arrow flying through the air echoed.

The arrow bounced off the lantern hanging on the wall and was sucked into the dark corner.

As a low, moan-like scream was heard, the wolf appeared in the light.

It turned its face away and tried to bite the arrow stuck in its neck, but it couldn’t reach it. Frustrated, it began to run towards them.

Mitrof drew his rapier and stepped forward.

Grace also uses a short sword, but her main profession is that of a hunter. She scouts the area and strikes first with her bow, while Mitrof takes on the front line.

This was the strategy discussed while having dinner last night.

Until now, due to Grace’s exceptional archery skills, Mitrof has not had a role to play. However, the time has come for him to wield his sword.

The wolf runs as if crawling on the ground. “It’s fast!” Mitrof exclaimed.

There is a certain calmness due to the distance, but if it were approached at close range, they might be overwhelmed by that speed. especially since Mitrof’s heavy physique is not well-suited for close combat.

With determination, Mitrof thrusts his sword forward. He shifts his weight to his right foot and bends slightly, placing his left hand in front of his stomach.

It is one of the styles of piercing swords that nobles use in duels.

The sharp and slender rapier can also be used for parrying and sweeping, but it’s true strength lies in piercing. The technique of aiming for the shortest point and striking with precision is a technology that pursues a one-hit kill.

The fang approaches.

Mitrof pulls back the hilt, bringing it closer to his chest. The tip of the sword remains steady and aims straight at the fang.

At a distance of three meters, the fang jumped.

Lined with bloodied, sharp teeth, it aimed to sink into Mitrof’s neck, mouth wide open. Mitrof stared into the fang’s yellow, cloudy eyes, which showed no signs of reason.

Chapter 8: The fat aristocrat fights the boss-fang

I’m fine. I’m calm.

Mitrof was surprised at how strangely calm he was.

Ton-ton.

He stepped forward, using footwork to change his and his opponent’s positioning.

Mitrof adjusted his position to be beside the fang in the air, and slightly bent his knees. He applied force to his center of gravity and straightened his knees. His arms stretched out, and his sword pierced through the point and thrust forward.

There was a feeling of resistance.

Mitrof’s rapier had pierced through the fang’s head.

Mitrof quickly withdrew his rapier.

The fang, carried by its momentum, jumped over the spot where Mitrof had been standing and rolled on the ground.

Grace, with an arrow still drawn on her bow, watched the fang’s condition.

In the case of a wounded wild animal, that is when they are most dangerous. Even if they were confident that they had taken it down, it was the hunter’s rule not to approach carelessly.

The passage was silent.

Then Grace slowly approached and confirmed the fang.

It was dead.

“Was it a single blow? — Impressive skill, Mitrof.”

“I was surprised too—even when facing goblins yesterday, I felt more panic and fear—but now I am very calm.”

“Is it different from yesterday? — Or have you become more accustomed?”

“Yeah. It’s like I’ve become a completely different person from yesterday…Oh.”

Then it dawned on him.

“Is this the influence of sublimation?”

“It means not physical power but mental growth.”

Grace nodded in agreement.

“I don’t know much about sublimation, but if Mitrof feels that way, it could be possible.”

Mitrof didn’t feel any concrete increase in his power.

He had thought that sublimation would only cause such small changes. However, Mitrof’s current calmness represents significant growth with a tangible impact on him.

The two of them stripped the corpse of the fang. The fur, tusks, and some internal organs can be sold.

However, it is time-consuming to skin them, and disassembling is necessary to obtain the internal organs.

“For larger parties, they would hire specialized dismantlers and carriers, or even bring in carts to take everything away—but for us now, it would only become a burden—we can only take the fangs with us.”

“Dismantling would take only time and effort, and the rewards don’t seem to be worth it.”

After that, they experienced several attacks from fangs.

In most cases, Grace would spot them first and take the initiative with an arrow. Sometimes she would take them down with just one shot, and if they were at a distance, she would take away their movement with two arrows and then finish them with one.

At the end of the passage, there was a small room where three fangs had formed a pack.

If you see a pack, run away.

The two of them had made that agreement beforehand, but the situation was bad this time. They had accidentally stumbled upon the pack.

Running away was not an option, as they were too close. It was a bad move to run away from the beast that had already locked onto them.

“Mitrof, there’s no escaping! — Let’s fight!”

Grace quickly made the decision. Based on her experience as a hunter, she realized that they had no choice but to fight. If so, they should take the initiative.

Taking two arrows in swift motion, Grace fired them in succession. One hit the head, the other struck a leg. One of the beasts fell, and the other backed away cautiously, as if on guard.

The remaining beast, the boss of the pack, was a full body size bigger. Its movements were quick and imposing, coming at them in attack.

Grace fired another arrow, but the boss-fang avoided it.

With bared fangs, the boss-fang aimed for Mitrof’s arm as it glided low.

Mitrof watched its movements calmly, with enough composure to think about how to move his body.

To deal with the fang, moving to its side was the easiest option.

Using the battle movements he had acquired so far, Mitrof took a step and moved toward the fang’s face with a thrust.

but it was avoided. The boss-fang jumped backward as if bouncing with its front leg.

“Mitrof, be careful!”

With his body leaning forward, Mitrof was caught in a lateral move, with the fang’s hind legs lunging toward him.

They were coordinated!

‘Got caught,’ Mitrof clicked his tongue.

The boss-fang never intended to kill Mitrof from the beginning. Therefore, he easily avoided the attack and retreated. While luring this side with an attack, the other fang pounced.

It was precisely like a pack hunting.

The fang opened its jaws and aimed at Mitrof’s arm holding the sword.

At that moment, when Mitrof resolved himself to be unable to dodge,

“Don’t move!”

Grace’s sharp voice

Thanks to the enhanced spirit through sublimation, Mitrof was able to obey Grace’s words.

The arrow grazed by.

The wind passed by Mitrof’s face. The arrow that passed just above his arm, stabbed into the fang’s bloodied mouth that was about to bite him. The fang spun around like his head had been knocked off and fell to the ground.

Thank God…!

Mitrof pulled his arm back and rearranged his posture.

The boss-fang was already dashing towards him for a counter-attack.

Would the boss-fang’s instinct as a monster living in the labyrinth be to choose fighting over running away?

Mitrof confronted the boss-fang head-on.

Swinging the rapier diagonally to the front right, Mitrof raised it before him, adhering to the aristocratic ritual of a duel.

aiming the tip towards the boss-fang, who had already leaped forward by that time.

Mitrof moved his legs. His body remembered the movements taught to him when he was a child. He dodged the attack and took a side position.

The boss-fang landed in the place where Mitrof had been standing a moment before. As the claws of the front leg bit into the ground, Mitrof thrust his rapier.

——One stab.

It penetrated the boss-fang’s neck with the heavy sensation of penetrating through thick skin and tough muscles.

Mitrof was about to be pushed back. If the boss-fang thrashed around, the thin blade of the rapier would break.

Therefore, the sword had to be pulled out with the same speed as it was thrust.

Mitrof pulled back his elbow.

The rapier returned from the boss-fang’s neck, spurting red blood.

Mitrof had cut the artery. It was what he had targeted.

However, the boss-fang was still alive.

Gripping the ground with all fours and shaking its head, the boss-fang launched itself at Mitrof like a giant arrow or a cannonball.

Mitrof had no intention of avoiding it. He realized that his own heavy body would make it impossible.

Digging his feet in and preparing himself, Mitrof thrust out his rapier.

The sword pierced the boss-fang’s mouth, its momentum unstoppable. Even while impaled by the sword, the boss-fang tried to bite down Mitrof.

The fangs thrashed about, and the rapier shook violently. Mitrof tightened his grip on the hilt in an instant.

A deep impact followed.

Mitrof stood his ground against the boss-fang’s charge, his right foot lifted off the ground. He endured being thrown off, then stepped down hard on his right foot with a loud thud.

Due to the sword being pressed in, his right elbow was pulled into his chest.

A bright red mouth opened before his eyes.

Sharp fangs were piercing Mitrof’s shoulder.

That huge face, those eyes. Mitrof stared at them intently.

Finally, with only a rough breath left, the boss-fang collapsed limply.

Chapter 9: The fat aristocrat sees a little of the reality of labyrinth

Mitrof drew his rapier and took a deep breath, as if remembering something. His heart rapidly increased its beating. Sweat was pouring from his forehead and back.

“Mitrof!—are you alright?”

Grace ran towards him.

Mitrof nodded.

Grace pushed Mitrof back and, holding a knife, checked on the condition of the boss-fang. After confirming that it was not breathing, she turned back to Mitrof.

“No injuries—my shoulder is just ripped through the fabric.”

“Yeah, that was close—you showed a great deal of determination.”

“Beasts are most terrifying in their dying moments—but still, why didn’t you let go of your sword?”

Indeed, Mitrof thought so too.

After thrusting the rapier into the boss-fang’s mouth, he could have let go of it. But instinctively, faster than thought, his hand gripped the handle.

“I told you yesterday, I am a noble. Nobles duel. If I let go of the sword, the duel is lost. As a noble, the first thing you learn is never to let go of your sword even if you die—it’s a race where honor is more important than life.”

Grace frowned deeply, seemingly finding it difficult to understand. She appeared exasperated.

“I understand that you value your honor; however, monsters don’t care about your honor. If you keep that up, no matter how many lives you have, it won’t be enough.”

“I know—I’ll be careful.”

Mitrof nodded obediently, his nose heavily exhaling with sweat pouring down.

“Also, you should lose some more weight to move more easily.”

Grace said it seriously.

She wasn’t making fun of him by saying he needed to lose weight; it was a logical judgment that being overweight would hinder him in battle.

That is why Mitrof can honestly nod his head.

The abundance of excess fat around his belly made it impossible for him to even see his own feet. He was slow to step and had a delay in his movements.

The rapier was a weapon that was terribly incompatible with this heavyweight body.

“… But, you see, thanks to this weight, I didn’t lose to the boss-fang’s tackle either.”

Mitrof tried to justify himself.

Weight is strength. If it weren’t for this excess fat, Mitrof would have easily been knocked back and maybe even more seriously injured.

Grace acknowledged that but said, “That’s the job of a shield tank—do you want to become one?”

“…I’m considering it.”

Indeed, this physique is suitable for serving as the shield tank that blocks the monster’s attacks during the party’s battles. The problem is that Mitrof has no knowledge or mentality for it.

For Mitrof, who learned aristocratic swordsmanship, attacking means avoiding it. He just couldn’t avoid it because of his excess fat.

Lose weight or change your fighting style.

If he continues to challenge the labyrinth like this, he will have to consider that direction.

After Mitrof’s breathing returned to normal, the two of them retrieved the fangs from the two fangs. The boss-fang had especially fine fur.

While it seemed like taking it home could lead to a good price, due to its massive size, it would also be quite a hassle to skin the fur.

After weighing the purchase price against the effort and time, they reluctantly decided to only collect the fangs.

“Even though it’s a boss-fang, it might be more efficient to use the time spent skinning the fur to take down other small games.”

Grace says.

“You seem a bit disappointed,” Mitrof observed.

“No…well, maybe, just like how you refused to give up your sword out of pride as a noble, I, too, may have pride as a hunter. Just taking the fangs from the hunted animal and abandoning the rest doesn’t sit well with me. It’s bothersome. I want to dismantle it.”

The extremely serious expression on her face surprised Mitrof a little, but he remained silent.

Maybe it was not something he expected to hear from a beautiful girl with such a refined face.

Leaving the boss-fang behind, Grace gazed intently at the area where it was.

“Are you thinking of going back?”

“…No, it’s fine—this way, we leave prey for other living beings to survive.”

“What do you mean?”

“Can’t you see it?”

Saying that, Mitrof strained his eyes, but the darkness of the corridor was deep, and he could not tell where boss-fang’s corpse was.

“People called ‘scavengers.’ —adventurers who are injured or people who have lost their jobs and can’t fight monsters anymore survive by using the remains left behind as food.”

‘I see,’ Mitrof said, nodding and continuing to look. Soon, he thought he saw a human shape in the light of a lantern hanging on the wall.

There is still value in dead bodies. Fur, bones, and sometimes internal organs.

Many cannot carry them with them and leave them in place.

There are people who collect and live off of these items.

Mitrof understood that this was also one of the gears that make up the labyrinth.

“Let’s go.”

Grace led the way, and Mitrof followed.

The assumption that he would become a scavenger chilled Mitrof’s heart with cold realism.

Chapter 10: The fat aristocrat thinks about what he needs

Once again, they encountered a boss-fang. However, the group consisted of six individuals, and all of them were larger than the fang they had defeated before.

Luckily, Grace spotted them first using her superior eyesight, so they were able to avoid a battle.

The pack blocked the path that led downstairs, so the two decided to turn back. Although they still had some energy left, it was dangerous to follow the same path back without any margin for error.

Grace emphasized that safety and a margin for error should be prioritized above all else during labyrinth exploration.

Mitrof concurred with her.

During their battles with the fangs, they were always in peril. Each time was a life-threatening situation, and they never knew what injuries they would suffer if they let their guard down even for an instant.

They had managed to avoid any injuries today, but they couldn’t guarantee that they would be as lucky tomorrow.

“I think we should buy some more equipment soon,” Grace commented, turning back to Mitrof.

“Equipment?—do you mean armor?” Mitrof asked.

“You’re fighting on the front lines, Mitrof. That means you’re at a higher risk of getting injured.”

Mitrof looked down at his clothes. It was a gardener’s workwear gifted to him as a parting gift when he was kicked out of the house. It was made of durable, thick hemp. It was uncomfortable to wear, but it could get dirty or torn without concern.

“It would be better to travel light, but armor is out of the question.”

“Finding armor that fits Mitrof’s figure would be difficult—a leather armor to protect vital spots or even a shield might be good.”

‘Indeed,’ Mitrof nodded.

Fangs and goblins were quick, and their sharp blows were a threat. Mitrof could deflect or dodge with his sword, but it was reassuring to have the option of protection just in case.

“We’re going to be spending a lot of time in the labyrinth—we need rest equipment.”

“Do adventurers sleep in the labyrinth?”

“If they dive deep enough, they do—parties with extra funds use vertical holes (pit).”

“Vertical hole?”

“It’s like a shortcut that the guild manages—it can take you down to the deeper floors all at once.”

“It’s very convenient.”

“But, in order to use it, not only do you have to meet the qualifications set by the guild, but you also have to pay a fee—it’s a privilege of the higher parties.”

It seems that even within the framework of adventurers, a hierarchical structure has been established. They’re like nobles with money and power, allowing privileges.

“Someday, I want to use it.”

“Yeah, someday—until then, we have no choice but to walk on these two legs.”

The two of them successfully completed several battles and left the labyrinth.

They had their captured items assessed at the reception desk, just like yesterday.

The boss-fang’s fang, as expected, was worth something. Even though they had fought hard against it, the appraisal amount was just “okay.” It was a bit of a disappointing amount, and he couldn’t help but feel a little down. When compared to the appraisal value of the kobold’s items, even boss-fang’s item didn’t seem as impressive.

The time was dusk.

The two of them had dinner in the cafeteria while reflecting on today’s events and planning for tomorrow.

They were tired, and there was a need to reorganize their equipment. They decided to rest tomorrow and gather equipment and other things.

“Do we have enough funds?”

Grace asked.

Mitrof nodded.

He couldn’t afford to spend recklessly, but he had received some money from his family. It was a hand-to-mouth payment given in the name of preparation money.

“We’re a party now—I’m thinking of paying for half of Mitrof’s equipment.”

“I’m not sure about that—is it a rule among adventurers?”

Mitrof asked with hesitation.

He thought he should decline the offer. However, it may have been a natural way of doing things for those who were adventurers.

“I don’t know about other adventurers, but that’s how parties help each other.”

“Who taught you that?”

“My father. He used to be an adventurer. According to him, party members pool together a certain amount of money as a reserve and use it to purchase shared materials and equipment.”

“I see. That’s reasonable.”

“It’s not much of a harvest yet, but from now on, I think it would be better to do it this way—what do you think, Mitrof?”

“I think that’s a good idea—so if Grace is buying equipment, I’ll pay for half of it too, and I’ll pay for more than my share of food. That’s absolute.”

Grace chuckled at Mitrof’s joke.

Chapter 11: The fat aristocrat goes shopping

After sleeping soundly until after noon, Mitrof joined Grace.

As they walked through the city, Mitrof observed his surroundings with great interest. The crowds of people made him feel like he was constantly on the verge of colliding with someone.

“Isn’t this the city where you live?—Is it really that exciting?”

“I haven’t really been outside much—I couldn’t leave the noble district.”

The city, built on top of the labyrinth, was divided into several districts. The area furthest from the labyrinth, also known as the noble district, was where the wealthy lived.

Having lived in the noble district, and in fact, lackedmostly within a mansion, Mitrof was taken aback by the bustling energy of the commercial district and the crowded streets.

“Don’t get lost now.”

Grace chuckled at Mitrof, who was unsteady on his feet.

“Grace, you came from the forest, right?—you seem quite accustomed to the city.”

“I’ve been coming in and out of here for a long time—I was in charge of selling the game and buying the goods.”

Grace walked with confidence, seamlessly weaving through the crowd.

Mitrof struggled to keep up, following closely behind her.

“We can stock up on consumables for the labyrinth at the guild—today, let’s get your armor and my arrows—oh, and speaking of which, what about your sword maintenance?”

“Ah, yes, that’s necessary too.”

Until now, the rapier had not been used much. Even maintenance simply involves oiling and polishing.

However, over the past few days, it has been used to cut and stab monsters and deflect iron weapons wielded by goblins. There was a sense of unease regarding any chips or loose fittings. It would be best to have a skilled craftsman take care of it.

“In that case, let’s head to the blacksmith district—there are many dwarves in that area.”

“Is it true that dwarves are the best when it comes to iron?”

“Well, they may be rough, silent, and stubborn, but they have great skill in forging iron.”

There was a rumor in the books that elves and dwarves were not on good terms.

Mitrof was tempted to ask how this was really the case but kept quiet.

As they got further away from the main street, the number of people gradually decreased.

When they entered the blacksmith district, they could easily tell who were adventurers just by walking along the streets, and Mitrof finally felt relieved.

There were sword and weapon shops lining the street, and although they could just enter any of them to look at the merchandise, deciding which one to enter was a dilemma.

He decided to go to the nearest shop. Grace called out, “Hey, this one!” from behind, but Mitrof didn’t pay attention.

The shop looked more splendid than those around it. A doorman stood at the entrance, and as Mitrof approached, he opened the door.

As soon as he entered, a man approached him.

“How can I help you today?”

“I want to see armor and also have my sword taken care of.”

“Understood—then you’ve come to the right place—as for the armor, would your servant be the one to take care of it?”

“No, I will.”

“…Huh?”

With a dumbfounded expression, Mitrof returned the same look.

The employee quickly looked Mitrof up and down. Mitrof understood the meaning and movement of the employee’s gaze.

That’s right, he had come in his work clothes today.

This shop was more for nobles buying eye-catching armor. Mitrof’s appearance as an adventurer, but his behavior like a seasoned noble, seemed to confuse people.

Mitrof scratched his nose, realizing his mistake.

“…Actually, I just remembered something—I’ll come back later.”

He said this and quickly left the store.

Grace was waiting nearby.

“Habits are scary—I still felt like a noble.”

“Well, I suppose it couldn’t be helped—I was scared because you went into such a shop without hesitation.”

“From now on, I have to remember to live on my own money.”

Nobles don’t care much about money. Their focus is more on personal appearance, dressing up, and increasing their value.

Being the third son, Mitrof did not have the freedom to spend money as he pleased according to those values.

However, as a nobleman, he still had a lack of financial resources, and compared to the commoners, he undoubtedly consumed expensive things without hesitation—especially when it came to food.

“Grace, can you choose a shop for me?—I don’t know the market price.”

“Very well.”

Nodding, Grace selected a certain shop.

Chapter 12: The fat aristocrat is turned away

A sign with the words “Grand Workshop” hung over the entrance.

Upon entering, it was a small but well-organized shop.

The store was mostly bare earth, with sword samples and small blades displayed on the walls. From the back, the sound of metal being hammered echoed forth, as if iron was currently being forged.

“Oh, welcome!”

A boy carrying firewood noticed the two and approached them after laying down the wood.

“How can I help you?”

“We’re looking for sword maintenance and light armor.”

“Is the maintenance for decorative purposes?”

The boy’s gaze towards Mitrof was sharp, suggesting that he noticed that he was a noble.

“No, we’re going into the labyrinth—we need practical equipment.”

“I see… then let me call the master—please wait a moment.”

The boy went into the back of the shop.

After waiting for a while, the boy returned with a man who was about Mitrof’s height.

The man had a plump figure just like Mitrof, but his body was thick and wide, consisting of muscles forged through daily forging work, rather than just being fat.

Standing in front of him, Mitrof felt a sense of oppression, as if he were facing a wall.

The man before him was a dwarf. His beard and eyebrows were bushy, and his sharp gaze looked at Mitrof from under thick eyelids.

“… Let me see.”

With a nod, the man motioned for Mitrof to show him his sword.

Mitrof drew his rapier from his waist and handed it to the man.

The man held the scabbard tightly with his plump and thick hands and drew the sword with precise movements.

“A thrusting sword—it’s heavy for personal use. You’re not fighting a duel, but lurking in a labyrinth, right?”

Mitrof nodded.

The man entrusted the scabbard to the boy and examined the blade of the rapier.

“You’re using good iron—it’s clearly a sword for slaying monsters.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Hey, don’t you even know about the sword that you’re using as your weapon?”

“It was a gift—the person who taught me how to use the sword was probably an adventurer.”

The man was the one who had taught Mitrof the basics of swordsmanship when he was young. Mitrof never asked about the man’s background, but the rapier that he left as a farewell gift when he left the mansion didn’t seem to be a nobleman’s sword.

“If you have to classify it, it’s a heavy thrusting sword—it’s a rapier for personal use, made sturdy—that’s the kind of sword suitable for fighting humanoid monsters.”

The master put the sword back into its scabbard and turned to Mitrof.

“There are no nicks, warps, or looseness. It’s a good sword. You can cut or thrust through the small fries around here without any problem. Bring it back when my work is done.”

With no further attention paid to Mitrof, the master returned to the forge in the back.

“Wow, he’s really unfriendly.”

“I’m sorry. The master is like a grumpy person in human form, but he really is a top-class craftsman!”

The boy proudly said it with a wry smile.

“Dwarves are naturally like that—they talk eloquently about iron but have no interest in others.”

Grace’ tone was indifferent.

“I’ve heard that elves and dwarves don’t get along—is that really true?”

“We just don’t fit each other—we are forest and water people; they are iron and fire people—it’s just not compatible.”

“I see.” Mitrof nodded as he returned the sword to his waist.

Looking around the store, Grace asked the boy, “I’m looking for something like a small shield or gauntlet—do you know where I might find one?”

“In that case, I recommend Meln Workshop across the street—they make really good armor! —oh, but…” the boy hesitated.

“But what?”

“The shop owner is a bit difficult.”

The boy showed a troubled smile.

“It seems that all craftsmen are difficult to deal with.”

Grace sighed.

Mitrof said goodbye to the boy and left the store, saying he would go check out Meln Workshop.

Chapter 13: The fat aristocrat tries to buy a gauntlet

“Oh my, is there really armor that could fit a half-orc like you?!”

The owner of Meln Workshop said this.

As soon as Mitrof entered the store, an old woman who was adjusting a leather armor on a wooden mannequin noticed him and looked him up and down with a piercing gaze.

“Isn’t it rude to refer to customers as Orcs?!”

Grace pushed aside a surprised Mitrof and stepped forward.

“Customers! A customer is someone who pays money! You haven’t even paid a single copper coin! Where are the customers?—And it’s a fact that this kid is fat!”

“Mitrof can still move around well and can fight with fangs!—Don’t put him in the same category as orcs! Besides, we came to this shop with the intention of paying money!—You may treat us as potential customers!”

“Hmph! You’re quite articulate, young lady!—Alright then, tell me what you want!”

“Mitrof, tell them!”

Suddenly, the two of them turned their gazes towards Mitrof, causing him to open his mouth in surprise.

“What a ridiculous face he’s making!—Those ballooned cheeks look like those of a young orc!”

“Mitrof, pull yourself together!”

“Y-Yeah. Okay,” Mitrof nodded.

Mitrof was taken aback by how loud she became, as if she were an old woman who was losing her marbles.

“I want a small shield or gauntlet to defend against the monster’s attacks.”

“A shield, you say?”

The old woman looked at Mitrof’s body again, then walked over and started tapping his body like a drum.

“Ow, ow, hey!”

“You’re making too much noise!—A man should endure without complaining!”

The old woman scoffed and hit Mitrof’s left arm.

“There’s no way you can handle a shield when you’ve never even trained properly—you’ve never learned how to use a shield, have you?”

“Well, no…but using a shield is just about defending from attacks, right?”

She hit him on the head with a “pan!”

“Ouch!”

“Do you want to die?! A small shield may be lighter than a large shield, but it’s more difficult to handle!—It’s something you have to receive and deflect, not just block!”

“Th-then, what about a larger shield?”

“Are you stupid?! Holding something that heavy will only kill your advantage in dodging and fighting!—Your excess fat is already in the way!”

Mitrof watched the old woman swear, feeling a little impressed. After hitting various places, she seemed to have assessed Mitrof’s muscle development and judged his fighting style.

Although she had a foul mouth, she was saying something useful for Mitrof.

“Certainly, this boy’s habits were quite strong, but his arms were undoubtedly strong.”

“Then, um, what do you recommend?”

One of Mitrof’s strengths was being able to leave certain matters to those who knew better than him.

That was undoubtedly a way of thinking that he had learned from his life as a noble.

He throws complicated things at someone capable. If he wants good wine, he commands someone knowledgeable about wine, if he wants to wear fashionable clothes in the capital, he commands the tailor to investigate and make them.

He does not bother studying wine or researching fashion trends in the capital himself.

Such efforts would be nothing but a waste.

What he wants at that moment is not knowledge but wine and clothes.

Now, what Mitrof seeks is armor and a small shield or gauntlets made of thick cloth to protect him from monster attacks in case of emergency.

The old woman in front of him has a foul mouth and even calls Mitrof a half-orc, making her seem difficult to please. Even so, she has the knowledge to choose suitable armor for Mitrof. Then Mitrof has nothing to complain about.

Mitrof does not want to be respected as a noble or have pleasant interactions to make shopping more enjoyable. He only wants good armor to protect his life.

“Hmph.”

The old woman scratched the side of her nose and pointed to something on the mannequin’s arm.

“Well, this is probably it. It’s a gauntlet with thick, overlapping scales. The leather is held together with studs, so it doesn’t hinder arm movements. It’s softer compared to iron, but it can handle the attacks of low-level monsters without any problem. However, you shouldn’t try to catch edged weapons such as clubs or axes. The impact would kill you—your bones would snap.”

“Okay, I’ll take it.”

“Are you sure?!”

Grace was surprised.

“Huh? But it’s a good item, isn’t it?—It’s perfect for what I was looking for.”

“Well, that’s true, but… there are procedures like trying it on, negotiating the price, and taking your time to think.”

“But isn’t it the customer’s job to pay money?—Buy it first—we can sort out the details later.”

“…Hmph—for a kid, you seem to understand the reasoning.”

The price of leather gauntlets was not cheap.

For Mitrof, a fledgling adventurer, it was a heavy burden to determine how many days he would need to spend in the labyrinth to save enough money.

As long as craftsmen make each piece by hand, there is no reason for weapons and armor to become cheaper. Mitrof hesitated, but Grace offered to pay half, saying, “We made a promise.” Mitrof felt sorry for this and made a resolution to return the same amount to Grace.

Having purchased the gauntlet, Mitrof was now a customer, but the old woman’s attitude did not change. However, there was no hint of laziness in her workmanship.

She adjusted the belt of the gauntlet to fit Mitrof’s thick arm, asked about its comfort and any discomfort he felt, and made fine adjustments accordingly.

She taught him how to care for it, despite her rough manner of speaking.

She would always remind him to bring it in if it broke or received a major scratch. Surprisingly, she seemed like a caring and anxious old woman.

Mitrof left the shop with a leather gauntlet on his arm.

The old woman told him that it would take some time for the leather to fit his arm. Therefore, he planned to leave it on for a while to make it fit.

At the same time, as he made excuses, his childish heart was tickled by the fact that he had his own set of armor on his arms. Putting it on, the dark, oiled gauntlets looked very cool.

“Mitrof, it looks like you’re enjoying it.”

“… You caught me. I really like it—thank you, Grace.”

“That’s good to hear.”

Grace nodded, looking somewhat satisfied.

The two of them moved to the side street between the shops and looked out onto the street.

Chapter 14: The fat aristocrat heads to the public bath

There are both humans and beastmen, but everyone looks like an adventurer.

“Thank you for coming with me to do my shopping first; I’m very satisfied. Let’s go shopping with Grace next.”

“As a matter of fact, I finished my shopping this morning.”

“Why?!”

“Well, even if you ask why, I’ve been active since the sun rose, so I had plenty of time until the rendezvous with Mitrof.”

“What a healthy lifestyle… I struggle just to wake up in the afternoon…”

“Well, that’s what hunters do—I have already made it a habit to go into the forest at dawn.”

“Then please tell me how much Grace’s shopping cost; I want to pay half of it.”

“That’s not necessary, we are a party after all.”

Grace’s lips trembled slightly. She seemed to be holding back a grin despite saying it herself.

Grace had a slightly special feeling towards Mitrof, as she had never had someone her age to have an equal relationship with since she was young.

In short, a party is a group of equal comrades. Help is given and received, joys and sorrows are shared, and the harvests and losses are divided.

Grace emerged from the forest alone to explore the labyrinth, feeling lonely.

There was no one to rely on and no one to care for Grace’s existence.

Days of risking her life to hunt monsters in the labyrinth and hide in the sunless underground had exhausted Grace.

It was a chance encounter that saved Mitrof’s life. At the same time, Grace’s dwindling spirit seemed to have been saved as well.

Yes, the two of them were a party. Grace was no longer alone.

It was so gratifying.

“Did you buy arrows?—Was there anything else?”

Mitrof asked, and Grace shook her head.

“I just replaced a few damaged shafts—it wasn’t much of an expense this time.”

“…I’m sorry—you just ended up buying me all these great things.”

“It’s more dangerous for Mitrof to be on the front lines—equipping oneself is natural, but that’s not it… Now, shall I ask for a bath?”

“Bath! Oh, right, there’s a public bath in the city!”

“Weren’t there any in the Mitrof household?”

“We had a steam bath at home—only the wealthier nobles have bathtubs at their homes.”

“Then wouldn’t it be better for commoners?”

“Are public baths really that good?”

Mitrof leaned in closer.

He knew that the commoners living in the town preferred to use the enormous bathing facilities called public baths.

However, in the Mitrof household, they would create steam by pouring hot water over heated stones in a closed chamber and using the steam to lift dirt from their skin and scrub themselves every day.

Although Mitrof was curious to try it, he didn’t have the chance to leave the house and go to a public bath.

In being kicked out of the house, he realized that he had gained that freedom and opportunity.

For the past few days, Mitrof had only been wiping his body with a wet towel. Dirt remained on his scalp and all over his body, and tiredness clung to his core.

“It’s not good if you’ve never taken a bath, Mitrof—a bath is like washing your life.”

Grace proudly said

“Washing your life?!”

Mitrof exclaimed.

“That’s right. Especially for adventurers, if they don’t clean away the dirt and mental exhaustion, it could be fatal. A bath and an adventurer are like two sides of the same coin.”

“Wow…”

Mitrof exclaimed in admiration.

He clenched his fist, determined to go to the public bath that he had only heard rumors about.

Chapter 15: The fat aristocrat is frightened of baths

It looked like a small temple or a detached palace.

The stone structure was meticulously crafted, and the front entrance was adorned with sculptures inspired by myths and divine creatures.

It was said that the current king commissioned its construction to turn the naturally occurring hot spring into a public bathing facility for the people.

After five years since its completion, the grand public bathhouse had become a beloved feature of the people’s daily lives.

People constantly passed by Mitrof as he stood there, stunned.

Families and men taking a break from work could be seen going in and out, while groups of women laughed and chatted as they entered the baths with up to ten others.

Now, it had become the liveliest and most popular spot in the city.

“This is… amazing.”

“It sure is—I don’t know of any other place as lively and cheerful as this—Every day feels like a festival.”

Grace pointed toward the square in front of the public bathhouse.

The square was bustling with people, not just for meeting up or taking a break, but also because of the various stalls and vendors lining up around the perimeter.

It seemed that it was not just food and drinks but also a flea market.

It was a fresh sight for Mitrof.

He sniffed around with his nose.

The smell of meat and bread cooking is mixed with the stimulating scent of spices.

However, there was also a strange bitterness that couldn’t be described drifting in the air.

“…What is this weird smell?—I’ve never smelled it before.”

“That’s the scent of boiling water coming from the underground—at first, you might want to hold your nose, but you’ll get used to it soon enough.”

Without hesitation, Grace pushed through the crowds of people, and Mitrof hurriedly followed.

Everything was interesting. As he looked around, he was afraid he might lose sight of Grace.

The exterior was made of stone, but the interior was made mostly of wood.

There were several reception counters stretching out.

Grace paid the bathing fee with ease and received a cloth and a small wooden cup for wiping the body. There were two of each, and one was handed to Mitrof.

Inside the cup was something like yellow butter.

“Is this soap?”

“Yeah, it is—it’s what we use to wash our bodies in the bathhouse.”

Mitrof brought his nose close to the sticky soap. It had a refreshing scent, like citrus. On closer inspection, chopped peels seemed to be mixed into it.

As they walked further into the back from the reception area, there was a place to take off their shoes. From there, they had to walk on bare feet on wooden boards.

Soon, the path split into left and right, divided into male and female areas.

“Well then, Mitrof—let’s end it here for today.”

“Huh, here?”

“I want to take a leisurely bath—besides…” Grace grinned. “If you take a bath, you’ll understand—making an appointment is bothersome; it’s easier to just come and go on time.”

Mitrof bid farewell to Grace as she walked toward the women’s bath.

Feeling a little nervous, Mitrof followed the backs of the other men walking along the hallway.

The space soon widened again, and there were several shelves lined up. It was the changing room.

A strange smell, a mix of the scent of new wood and the odor of the hot springs that Grace had explained earlier, wafted through the thick steam.

The bathhouse was immediately visible from the changing room.

Men strolled around naked, and the sound of water rippling like a flowing river echoed throughout the space. Conversations could be heard here and there.

Mitrof followed suit, taking cues from others in the room and claiming a spot on one of the wooden shelves before stripping down to his birthday suit. He also removed his gauntlets with care.

Once fully exposed, he felt more like a regular cityfolk and strode into the bathhouse with his head held high.

The floor was covered in chill-inducing tiles.

“Wow, this is amazing.”

The bathhouse was spacious, and the ceiling was high. Steam rose all the way to the ceiling, making it difficult to see.

There were secluded areas to the left and right, and a particularly splendid bathtub stood in front of Mitrof.

It was like a large circular fountain that one could find in the middle of a city, with multiple men soaking in it.

Mitrof thought he might join them but realized that he had a cup of soap in his hand.

Upon closer inspection, he saw that there were several wooden stools lined up along the wall, which the men were using to wash themselves.

Mitrof slowly sat down facing the bath, where a groove had been made at chest height and hot water was continuously flowing out of it. Mitrof took a bucket, scooped some water, and poured it over his head.

“Hot!”

An elderly man nearby laughed at him.

“Hey, young man! You don’t rush into the bath like that!—You need to slowly warm up your hands and feet first!”

“…I see.”

Mitrof realized that everything was different in steam baths.

He took another scoop of water, washed his hands, and poured it over his feet as he gradually got used to the hot temperature. The hot water actually felt good.

He rubbed his body with a towel and soap, and the dirt fell off in flakes. The dirty skin that had covered his body was also peeled away, leaving him feeling refreshed and renewed.

He then used the soap to wash his hair. He had just finished the soap in the cup.

He poured hot water over his head and washed away all the dirt from his body. Then Mitrof stood up, and he noticed a box placed against the wall. It seemed that the cup he had just used should be returned there.

He put the cup away and placed a cloth over his shoulder, imitating other men.

Finally, Mitrof headed towards the central bathtub in the bathhouse.

Chapter 16: The fat aristocrat knows the bath best

The bath pool made of polished marble appears luxurious even to Mitrof, who was raised as a noble. Hot water gushes like a fountain in the center, and it flows endlessly from the edges.

In a noble’s house, not filling the bathtub with water is a matter of hygiene and effort. Transporting a large amount of water to the bathtub and boiling it is a great burden. It is impossible to leave the bathwater once a person’s body has polluted it.

But what about this bathhouse?

By continuously flowing the water from underground, the bathtub is always filled with clean, hot water. Regardless of how many people use it, it doesn’t become unsanitary.

Mitrof slowly dipped his feet into the bathtub. It was warmer than the shower, but his feet still tingled.

He gritted his teeth and slowly sank into the water up to his waist.

The inside of the bathtub was sloping like a mortar. It seemed that there were places to sit on the edge, and many people were soaking only the lower half of their body.

In the center, he noticed men standing and chatting. There were young men laughing, while letting the flowing water massage their shoulders from the center.

It seemed that there was no right way to enter the bath, as Mitrof observed.

He slowly descended into the water as if scooping it up with his hands, and soon the water was up to his shoulders.

“Ah, Aahh…”

He was speechless.

It was like a pig’s cry squeezed out of his throat, but Mitrof trembled with the pleasant sensation that ran up his spine.

It is as if his whole body is wrapped in hot cotton.

His limbs seemed to dissolve and disappear, and the hot water soaked into his bare spirit.

Melting away. The weariness.

Lanterns were hung here and there, but because steam rose up thickly, the bath was dimly lit no matter where one looked. But that dimness was also good.

The steam seemed to create a thin film between the people around him.

Within the group, he was an individual. And yet, there was a sense of unity.

He was alone, but not lonely.

The strange sensation was not just from the warmth and comfort of the water.

This space, this place called a bath, was good.

The pleasant sensation of soaking in the hot water almost made Mitrof slip down in the tub. He hurried back to the edge and sat in the available seat.

The water warmed Mitrof’s stomach.

The steam enveloped his upper body, and countless droplets had condensed into tiny beads.

Mitrof soaked in the spacious bathtub, and as people came and went, he vaguely watched them exchange places.

Mitrof was in a daze.

His thoughts, worries, loneliness, and anxiety had all vanished like steam.

His mind was now empty, and Mitrof was glad for it.

“…I could stay here forever.”

He muttered softly.

“That’s true—there’s no better place than this comfortable spot.”

An unexpected response was returned.

Surprised, Mitrof turned to face the man who was entering the bath.

“Is it okay if I sit next to you?”

“Y-Yes, of course.”

The man who sat next to Mitrof had a huge build that made Mitrof look up at him.

And above all, that face was that of a fierce beast. The mane around his face extended, and sharp eyes looked down on Mitrof.

“What, is this your first time seeing a beastman?”

“I, I am sorry—it’s my first time seeing someone from the Lionhead tribe.”

“I see—our tribe doesn’t settle in cities so often—I’m a bit of an oddball.”

His throat rumbled like thunder. It was an intimidating presence, but the man with the beast’s head seemed to be laughing.

“This is the first time I’ve taken a bath in this city, and I loved it so much that my friends got fed up and went home, but I decided to stay in this city.”

“You stayed because you wanted to take a bath?!”

“That’s right! I love taking baths!”

His throat gurgled and growled.

“If it feels this good, I’d want to take one every day…”

“That’s right. There’s no place like this in the whole country, and it’s cheap. There’s even a labyrinth. Earn some money, eat some food, and enjoy the baths here—It’s full of the joy of living.”

“The joy of living…?”

“Isn’t that right? Just moving, eating, and sleeping like a beast will keep you one. Enjoying the hot springs is a form of entertainment. It’s also interesting to be able to enjoy a conversation with strangers like this—being naked in the hot springs makes one’s speech more casual.”

‘I see,’ Mitrof nodded.

It seems that the people enjoy the bathhouse not only to keep their bodies clean and calm their minds but also as a place for social interaction.

“I’d live here, too.”

“If you can appreciate the charm of this place, then you are a real man.”

If he had continued to live as a noble, he would never have met Grace. He would not have been brought to the bathhouse and would not have been sitting naked in the hot springs next to this huge male with a beast’s head.

In just a few days, Mitrof’s life had changed dramatically. It was a strange and perhaps unfortunate thing. The noble position he held was in an environment surrounded by luxury, with no danger to life and no trouble eating. The excess fat on Mitrof’s body is a symbol of the wealth of the nobility.

Living a life of only accumulating excess fat, Mitrof must have missed out on experiencing this scenery and moment.

Sitting in the hot spring at this moment, Mitrof thought that it wasn’t so bad.

Being shoulder to shoulder with a total stranger with a beast’s head was an interesting experience.

Mitrof repeated the phrase ‘the joy of living.’

“Ah, this feels good.”

“Exactly—hot springs are truly amazing.”

Mitrof and the man with the beast’s head sometimes exchanged conversation as if they’d suddenly remembered. When the conversation ebbed, they’d fall silent and stare thoughtfully at the scenery.

Occasionally, someone who seemed familiar with the man with the beast’s head would pass by. They would wave and exchange a few words before moving on.

“Being in a hot spring means being liberated—not forced, not rushed.”

The man with the beast head said as he rumbled his throat.

Looking up at the ceiling, Mitrof nodded vigorously.

“Baths are the best.”

The two of them remained in the hot spring, listless, for a while.

Amazingly, the public bath is never closed for 24 hours. Regardless of whether it is late at night or early in the morning, one can always soak in the tub.

Because it is run by the government, it is there as a paradise for people, disregarding profits and relieving their fatigue.

For adventurers returning from the labyrinth, there is neither morning nor night, and those who work with adventurers have irregular lives. Bakers start working from late at night, and lower-ranking officials and soldiers working in the royal castle also have changing work hours from morning to night.

Tired people exist at any time. There are people who want to take a bath.

Mitrof and the beast-headed man got out of the bath at the same time. Mitrof was a little dizzy.

“You’ll feel that way when you’re not used to the hot water—the body gets too hot. It’s essential to drink plenty of fluids before entering.”

“I see—so that’s how it is.”

They left the bathhouse under the beast-headed man’s direction.

He thought it was only a dressing room, but there was a resting area beyond the shelves. There were wooden benches, and naked men were sitting and chatting. Menial workers were blowing wind with large fans.

The beast-headed man ordered something at the reception by the wall and came back with a wooden jug in both hands.

“Here, drink this.”

“What is this…?”

Looking closely, it was a white liquid with foaming bubbles.

“It’s Milk Ale—try it—It will make you fly.”

Saying that, the beast-headed man swung the jug and gulped it down.

Mitrof stared fixedly at the contents of the jug.

It seemed to be some kind of milk. But isn’t ale beer?

Perhaps the two were mixed together. Would it be delicious?

Normally, he might not have drunk it. The values and common sense he had learned as a nobleman could sometimes lead to strong aversion.

Especially, nobles do not drink milk or ale. Only wine.

Nobles drinking ale at the table is a symbol of decline, poverty, and shabbiness.

Drinking milk is for peasants, and the nobles who manage their land should not drink the same thing. An old custom still remains.

Mitrof had only heard about both and had never drunk them before.

‘However, I am already an adventurer.’ Mitrof thought to himself.

Both milk and ale were unknown to him. He had a strong curiosity to taste them.

Mitrof took a sip and quickly gulped it down.

The liquid flowed into his mouth, and he was surprised by its coldness. He swallowed it down.

It’s delicious!

It’s so cold and easy to drink!

And yet, it’s like alcohol! The slightly fermented carbonation tingled his throat. It was a liquid, yet it had a certain presence.

Gulp, gulp. His throat made a sound on its own.

Mitrof closed his eyes tightly, and the bubbles popping in his throat were irresistible!

There was a slight bitterness, yet a sweetness and a rich flavor that could be felt through the nose. Perhaps the chill is what made it so delicious.

Despite there being a lot of ale in the tankard, Mitrof gulped it all down at once.

“Burp!”

He exhaled and took in the forgotten oxygen.

The cold milk-ale spread throughout his overheated body. His whole body felt weightless, and he felt comfortable as if he were floating.

“I can’t believe this is legal.”

“You drink well—you’ll become a good man.”

The beast-headed man laughed and slapped Mitrof’s back, spinning around.

“I’ve made up my mind—I’ll come here every day and drink this—and I’m grateful for showing me something wonderful.”

The beast-head grinned, showing his fangs while his mouth was wide open.

“Let’s both survive and meet again tomorrow, little adventurer.”

Chapter 17: The fat aristocrat meets a powerful enemy

Once the leather gauntlets had become accustomed to Mitrof’s arms, the two of them descended to the fourth basement floor.

They had become skilled enough to defeat fangs, even the ones that formed packs on the third basement floor.

It was due to the experience gained and the knowledge of how to handle fangs before they were completely sublimated.

Grace, for example, was able to make excellent achievements in hunting fangs based on her hunter experience, which Mitrof could not match. She even found a pack led by a boss-fang from the trace left on the labyrinth path and wiped them out by shooting arrows from a distance.

Mitrof also stepped further forward by equipping a gauntlet on his left arm. If necessary, he could hold out the gauntlet to protect himself from the fangs’ bites, unharmed.

It took them three days to conquer the third floor, and today they finally descended the stairs.

The open space where they descended the stairs on the fourth floor became a safe base. Tents were set up, and merchants sold consumables. Blacksmiths with rotating whetstones were seen sharpening adventurers’ weapons.

The appearance of the forward base was gradually taking on a different feel, and the atmosphere among the adventurers was also changing. On the upper floors, there were some who showed a sense of naiveté or a lack of confidence, but there were also intermediate-level adventurers who exuded a steady sense of composure.

The two passed through the square and entered the corridor. It was the same dimly-lit stone passageway as up to the third floor, but somehow it felt heavy and carried a cold atmosphere.

Stains and marks left behind by adventurers who perished here, or perhaps from the blood of monsters, could be seen scattered about.

“…The ones here are kobolds.”

“Yes. They could be considered my mortal enemies—I almost lost my life to them.”

The ones that hold the fourth floor as their stronghold are kobolds, a hybrid of goblins and fangs. They possess the ferocity of fangs and the agility and resourcefulness of goblins.

Because of their territorial awareness, it is known that defeated individuals would come up to the upper floors. They were called “novice killers” because encountering them unexpectedly was a desperate situation for beginners.

“Don’t be nervous—that one was a tough adversary.”

Mitrof was fighting against a kobold. He defeated it with one strike to help Grace, but the tension during the battle made his spine tremble.

Many people underestimated kobolds due to their twisted and poor appearance, but Mitrof thought they were terrifying. Both fangs and goblins come at you with their natural instincts, but kobolds have rationality combined with their killing intent.

Until now, they were only consciously hunting monsters. However, fighting with an opponent who had rationality was a mutual killing. There was always tension, like having a blade stuck in your throat.

“I, too, am stiff—I have no idea I’m being so hard—Until we get used to it, we must not do anything too strenuous…”

The moment Grace said that

Suddenly, the wall on the side collapsed.

“Huh…?!”

Rubble flew into the passage in front of them, spreading smoke. The lantern rolled over, and oil splattered. The spreading fire lit up the passage, revealing a presence.

“Wh-who is this?!”

Grace took a step back.

It was a massive body, round and bloated, with a grayish complexion. In its thick, short arms, it held a club made from a carved stone. A small head sat atop a neck buried in layers of fat. And yet, its eyes were large, roving over the two of them, looking down.

“A troll…”

Mitrof muttered in shock.

It was a creature that the man had told Mitrof about when he was young, teaching him how to wield a sword.

——An ugly, oversized form with short arms and legs and a small head with big eyes. Armed with a weapon, stupid and will eat anything.

The troll swung something it held in its left arm and hurled it at them.

Mitrof and Grace dodged it reflexively.

What rolled down the passage like a bouncing ball was a kobold, half-eaten by the troll.

“Is it… preying on kobolds?!”

“Does a troll appear on the fourth floor?”

“I haven’t heard of that before!”

“Then maybe it got lost and wandered up here—there are some hidden routes in the labyrinth that only monsters know about.”

“Aren’t you calm?!”

While shouting in a panic, Grace observed the troll’s movements while preparing her bow.

As a hunter, she had learned what to do when confronted with dangerous creatures in the forest. Running with her back turned would be the worst decision because most animals are faster than humans. Once she became the prey, there was no escaping.

However, is it possible to survive without running away from this creature?

Grace looked up at the troll, which filled more than half of the ceiling.

She doubted how much of a threat her arrows would pose to its body. It was very unsettling.

The troll neither shouted nor threatened. It ran heavily, causing the ground to shake, and swung its club.

The target was Mitrof.

Despite the attack, Mitrof dodged the strike with a step. The club slammed into the ground, scattering debris around.

Mitrof felt the fragments hitting his body and drew his rapier.

Chapter 18: The fat aristocrat feels alive

The opponent was strong.

Their lives were at stake.

However, Mitrof remained calm. Was it due to the growth of his spirit through sublimation?

He did not feel the shiver down his spine that he felt when facing the kobold.

He stepped forward and pierced the wrist of the thick, short arm that held the club.

Surely, the fat was thick, but it did not accumulate around the joints.

The rapier pierced sharply, like a point.

No matter how round and fat you are, with the right location, everything will work out.

Mitrof and the troll were similar—both round and fat, storing fat, and ugly. Therefore, Mitrof knew exactly how to fight.

The troll groaned in frustration.

Mitrof pulled out his rapier.

The troll tried to knock Mitrof down with his club.

But Mitrof was no longer there.

After the club passed, he stepped back in and hit the heavy and defenseless troll.

“That’s right—fat people move slowly.”

Mitrof stepped forward and stabbed the troll’s right elbow.

Pull.

and strikes again.

The stance is fixed.

With a two-hit combo, he aims for the troll’s elbow tendon.

The troll roared and swung his arm. Mitrof moved, dodged, and distanced himself.

“You and I are both fat, but I’m faster.”

wrist, elbow, wrist, wrist, elbow.

In the interlude of the movements, Mitrof accurately aimed at Troll’s arm.

Only a small point penetrated the thick layer of fat.

There was no flashy blood flow or crushing of the troll, but Mitrof’s heavy thrusting sword attack broke the troll’s right arm.

a loud sound.

A stone club fell to the floor.

The troll’s right arm hung limply.

The troll squealed in discontent.

Thump, thump, thump!

He stomps his feet like a spoiled child.

A scream was echoing in the corridor.

Mitrof jumped away, covering his ears. The sound was so close that it could have burst his eardrums.

The troll breathed heavily and glared at Mitrof. He clenched his teeth, drooled, and sobbed.

He was in a position as if he were about to charge and collide.

Mitrof lowered his hips, preparing to dodge immediately by jumping sideways.

The troll’s right arm was crushed, but with that huge body, his entire body was a weapon.

If he collided, he would be thrown and crushed, and if the arm swung, his bones would shatter.

Dodging was pointless if he didn’t hit back, but it felt as if he was wearing down his life force with each dodge.

Mitrof did not deliver a decisive blow.

Although he managed to crush the troll’s right arm, he had to avoid fatal attacks and strike repeatedly.

He couldn’t aim at his head or neck, which were located high up.

If Mitrof wanted to take down the troll, he had no choice but to pile up a ground game and deal with the immense pressure of dying from even one hit.

Despite being in a seemingly advantageous position against the troll, the reality was only a tightrope walk, and the rope Mitrof was trying to cross was extremely thin.

Due to the short, intense exercise, Mitrof felt his heart pounding painfully. Blood was circulating throughout his body. His whole body was hot, and sweat was flowing down his face.

The tightrope walk, risking his life, had thrilled Mitrof’s mind, and his excitement had taken over his brain.

Mitrof’s body was floating, feeling light as a feather.

‘Come at me,’ he thought.

He was willing to fight as much as it took, always ready to dodge.

He was surprised to find that he had such a combative side within him. At the same time, his usual cowardly and nervous self told him that it was impossible.

He couldn’t catch his breath.

“Buhi, buhi,” His clogged nose made an odd sound.

The piglet was facing a giant pig, hesitating whether to fight or flee.

Mitrof knew he wouldn’t be able to win against the troll if it attacked. While he stacked up attacks with the aim of 100, the troll kept repeating 100 incessantly. Who would be brave enough to bet their life on that gamble?

‘Please, just run away,’ Mitrof hoped.

But the troll dropped its hips with a “Zuzu,”

‘Damn, I get it—I’ll do it.’

The moment Mitrof grasped his rapier again, a line shot through.

It was Grace’ arrow.

A scream. The troll jerked its head back.

“Be gone!”

The arrow had pierced the troll’s right eye accurately.

Thrashing and struggling, the troll collided with the wall and fled into the darkness of the passage.

Silence followed.

Mitrof and Grace stared into the darkness, motionless.

Once they confirmed that the troll was not returning, they collapsed on the spot.

They faced each other.

Their faces were twisted with tension. The seriousness of the situation was absurdly funny.

Without any particular reason, they burst into laughter almost simultaneously.

“Giggle, giggle, giggle.”

“Bwah, hihi, hihi.”

They kept repeating their laughter as they laughed from the bottom of their stomachs.

They had survived.

For some reason, the feeling of that realization was funny.

Chapter 19: The fat aristocrat discovers treasure

“I wonder what was so funny.”

“I don’t know—maybe we were a little strange.”

The two of them shook their heads, then regained their composure and resumed their conversation.

“A troll being here is probably an abnormal situation, right?”

“That’s right. It’s different from a kobold straying in—that’s dangerous; besides, it’s injured.”

Grace flicked her hair on her shoulder with a troubled expression. She seemed to be somewhat irritated.

“Since we inflicted wounds, won’t it be easier for the next person who fights it?”

“A wounded beast is the most terrifying—if it’s cornered, it cannot decide to retreat. It will come at you with all its might, risking its own life.”

“…It’s scary just to think of it coming at us with full force.”

Just recalling it sent a cold sweat down their spines.

“There will be many beginners like us on the 4th floor—it would be better if it didn’t become a big deal.”

“In times like these, what do people usually do?—Even though it’s unusual, strong monsters have come to shallow places before, right?”

“Hmm, I’ve heard that it’s customary for someone with the ability to take them down—the guild also sometimes requests quests to patrol shallow floors.”

“In that case, should we report to the guild?”

“A quest to defeat trolls will be posted, and someone will accept it.”

Mitrof hesitated a little and said, “It’s frustrating.”

“It’s frustrating that someone I can’t beat will be defeated by someone else.”

“Fufu… Mitrof is also a great hunter. I understand your feelings. However, the opponent is a monster—right now, preserving life is more important than settling scores with trolls.”

With a sigh, Mitrof buried his head in his double chin and told himself that there was nothing he could do.

It’s frustrating, but he doesn’t have the confidence to win. If he loses, he’ll die. He understood that.

Grace, seeing Mitrof’s feelings still unresolved, offered a different topic to change the mood.

“Where does this side hole lead to?—It’s not on the map…”

The map with no gaps has already been completed on the shallow floors. Beginners, especially, purchase and collect these maps sold cheaply in guilds to venture into the labyrinth.

Grace peered into a side tunnel where trolls had appeared, comparing it to a map she had pulled out of her luggage.

“…Let’s move forward a bit.”

“We’ll turn around as soon as we sense any danger, okay?”

“Of course.”

Each of them took out a lantern from their luggage and lit it.

They stepped into the side tunnel, stepping over debris.

There was no lantern on the walls, evidence that it was disconnected from guild management.

The air was damp and heavy, without any circulation.

With night vision, Grace led the way, sharpening her senses as a hunter and slowly advancing.

Mitrof had already drawn his sword, ready for an ambush.

Although it was the fourth basement level, an unusual troll had appeared. They didn’t know what kind of monster they might encounter.

It wouldn’t have taken even five minutes. Suddenly, in the middle of the corridor, a side tunnel opened up.

The two timidly extended their necks and peered into the side tunnel. Even with a lantern, the darkness stretched beyond. It seemed as though the path was gently sloping downwards.

“It looks like this path leads down—shall we go down?”

Grace turned her face and asked, but her eyebrows were furrowed. Her expression clearly conveyed that she did not want to proceed.

Mitrof agreed with her eyebrows.

“… Going underground through a hidden passage seems a little scary.”

“… Should we turn back?”

“Let’s do that—we’ll leave it to someone braver to take on unknown paths.”

The two looked back at the tunnel. The path still continued straight ahead. That direction seemed safer than the side tunnel.

Both nodded at each other and started walking in that direction.

Soon, the path came to a dead end. At the bottom of the wall, there was a small box.

They cautiously approached and looked down at the box together.

“It’s a box.”

“It’s not a box.”

“A box in the labyrinth?”

“This might be…”

Grace fell silent.

The box was made of very old and worn wood and was the size that could be held in one arm.

“It definitely looks artificial…someone left it here, didn’t they?”

Mitrof looked around. There was no light, and the air was stagnant with the smell of humidity.

It seemed unlikely that anyone had gone in or out of here for several years, if not longer.

“Perhaps it’s a relic.”

Grace murmured.

“Like the cursed sword?”

“The cursed sword is the most famous relic; however, there are various other relics as well—my father had one too.”

The cursed sword, which was said to wield ancient miracles, was impossible to create with modern technology. It was discovered in the depths of the labyrinth, and it was speculated to be a relic used by ancient adventurers. However, not only swords but also a wide range of relics, from armor to cursed objects and dishes.

As Grace explained these things, Mitrof looked at the box with impressed eyes.

The old, suspicious box suddenly looked like a treasure box.

“Come to think of it, I’ve heard that there are nobles who collect items from the labyrinth—they collect relics, right?”

“I hear there are many hobbyists—anything, no matter how trivial, has value in the labyrinth relics.”

The two slowly looked down at the box.

Perhaps, there was something worth a fortune hidden inside.

“…Shall we open it?”

“…Let’s check it out.”

They both crouched down, and Mitrof extended his hand towards the lid of the box. The front clasp was rusted, but with force, it broke open with a snap. He exerted all his strength and lifted the lid.

Then…

“A book…?”

It was a book decorated with silver embroidery on a black background, snugly embedded in a red silk cover.

“It looks expensive, but… it’s a book.”

“It seems to have value, but… it’s a book.”

When it’s a sword or a decoration, you can roughly estimate its value. However, when it comes to a book, it’s difficult for both Mitrof and Grace to distinguish its value.

The cover was dyed black with leather that seemed to suck you in and had no title or even a single character.

Mitrof reached out to flip the cover, but just before he could, Grace tightly gripped his wrist and stopped him.

“This! Who would be stupid enough to touch a relic?

“Is it not allowed?”

“It is said that there were many powerful magicians in ancient times—some relics may still have their magic and curses cast upon them. If you touch them recklessly and get cursed, there is no magician in this world who can help you.”

“…Isn’t that scary?!—You should have told me beforehand!”

“That’s why I stopped you!”

Grace gave Mitrof a dumbfounded look.

Sometimes, it seemed that Mitrof was even more ignorant of common sense than herself. Grace realized that Mitrof, who was once a nobleman, took touching relics for granted as an adventurer.

Originally, Mitrof’s life was never supposed to involve venturing into labyrinths. The common sense of an adventurer was not necessary for a noble.

Feeling the difference in status and upbringing over such a trivial matter, Grace had a complex feeling for just a moment.

“…Anyway, it’s best to rely on the guild appraiser for the relics—see, you should be able to touch the box.”

Grace closed the lid and lifted it up with both hands.

With their exploration for today finished, the two headed back. They reported to the guild counter that they had encountered a troll, found a tunnel leading underground beyond a destroyed wall, and discovered a book inside a box. Regarding the relic, the book, they entrusted it to the guild for appraisal.

For Mitrof and Grace, fighting for their lives against the troll and finding the relic were both significant achievements, but the guild receptionist showed excitement for the tunnel leading underground.

“That must be a “mole path”! It’s a hidden path that monsters use. It’s amazing there’s one even on the fourth floor!—A new route may be established!”

The petite receptionist with her skewed round glasses says this while pushing them up, showing her excitement.

“…Well, that’s great and all, but what’s in it for us?”

Mitrof asked with little interest. There was no point in being happy if there was no benefit to himself, even if it helped a total stranger.

“Well, you see, there’s a set reward for discovering a “mole path.”—And if a route to the underground floor is constructed, we’ll give you a free pass, you see?”

“Well, that’s good—It turned out to be an unexpected payday.”

“We should thank the troll for that.”

The two exchanged a smile. The tension from facing the troll remained at the core of their bodies. To wash it away, it was better to turn it into a laughing matter, even if it was a bit of a stretch.

“We’ll also send investigators from the guild, and we’ll report back to you on the reward at a later date.”

“What about the troll?”

“It will be issued as a quest in the form of a request from the guild—we’ll share the information with those who enter the labyrinth so they can be cautious. But…both of you, be careful.”

The two tilted their heads as they heard the receptionist’s worrisome words.

“Monsters are said to have a good memory of anyone who harms them and don’t forget easily—there are also rare cases where they pursue their target with tenacity.”

Chapter 20: The fat aristocrat learns how to live as an adventurer

‘The bath feels good—I feel refreshed.’

As Mitrof soaked in the bath, which had become a daily ritual, he absent-mindedly gazed at the steam. His entire body felt heavily fatigued, and only now did he begin to feel the reality of his battle with the trolls. Perhaps he had injured his right arm muscle, as he was having difficulty even taking off his clothes due to wincing with pain when he bent his elbow.

Today, he crossed the brink of death. There is no doubt about it.

There were many men in the bathhouse today, laughing and chatting with each other about their jobs and families. They were clearly citizens who had regular jobs and lived their lives solidly, cultivating their fields like sowing seeds.

As Mitrof listened to the lively and light-hearted voices of the men in the distance, he sat with his half-open mouth, feeling out of place.

“What’s wrong?—You seem unusually sluggish today.”

The lion-head-man sat down next to him with a splash. Mitrof had become quite familiar with him and exchanged small talk with him every time they met.

“…I’m a little tired.”

“Did you win or lose?”

At the sudden question, Mitrof turned his face towards the speaker.

“It’s common for adventurers to become listless after fighting a formidable enemy—whether they win or lose and run away, the mental exhaustion from fighting against death is exhausting and not easily recovered.”

Laughing in his throat, he had the demeanor of a seasoned veteran accustomed to fighting—this man might be a well-known adventurer, Mitrof thought. Regardless, he was still a senior and one of the few people Mitrof could talk to without hesitation.

“Situationally, I won—but I feel like I lost.”

“Oh?”

“My power is nowhere near enough—If my opponent hadn’t run away, my allies and I would have died.”

The thick delta of vitality that Mitrof felt from the troll was its life force.

No matter how much he stabbed it with his sword, it wouldn’t go down.

‘If there were more monsters like that in the future, would I even survive?’

Mitrof challenged the labyrinth because he was seeking freedom and curiosity about the unknown. Luckily, he defeated monsters and survived. But today, Mitrof faced death. Though he managed to narrowly escape, he was still alive.

As long as Mitrof continues to explore the labyrinth, the troll may continue to chase after him.

With a splash, the lion-head-man raised his arm from the bath and roughly pointed his finger at the men in the bathhouse.

“If you were told to choose who the adventurers are in this bathhouse, could you easily point them out?”

It was a strange question.

Mitrof scanned the bathhouse.

“The person over there who looks dazed… and probably that person over there too—also, the person leaning against the wall next to them.”

“Hm, that’s right—how did you know?”

“Because of… The atmosphere, I guess.”

Although it was not written on their faces, they still looked different from ordinary citizens.

The lion-head-man let out a growl in his throat.

“That’s right, it’s the atmosphere—the appearance is stern, the glance sharp, and the face somewhat gloomy—a man like that is undoubtedly an adventurer. A man who carries anxieties and uncertainties about his own future.”

“…Aren’t there any adventurers who have hope for the future?—Who smiles with a bright face and enjoys themselves?”

“Those adventurers die off.”

It was a terribly flat voice. Mitrof opened his eyes wide.

“The reason adventurers make a fuss in the bar is because there are eyes around and comrades to rely on—they must act with confidence—If they show any signs of cowardice or weakness, they will be mocked as fools. So they drink the liquor like water, numb their anxieties and fears, and make vulgar jokes. However, when they are alone soaking in the bath, they all reflect upon their own smallness.”

Mitrof reevaluated the bathhouse again.

There were men with dark faces here and there. They were probably adventurers. They bowed their heads, placed their hands on their foreheads, held onto their own arms, and were engrossed in their own thoughts.

The image of the adventurer that Mitrof had imagined based on stories was different.

Nowhere is there a story of drinking, playing with women, and seeking freedom and wealth by challenging the labyrinth for death and honor.

They were simply people.

Human beings who lived each day carefully, laughed with their companions, and reported on the well-being of their families. They were a lonely race who suffered in solitude behind the scenes.

“…Is everyone afraid?”

“Yes, everyone is afraid; you also put on a brave face as an adventurer.”

“So, they were all gloomy and troubled inside?”

“That’s what it means to be an adventurer—how many glamorous days do you have until you die?—Only foolish people who continue to dive into the labyrinth remain—what is your purpose for going into the labyrinth?”

‘For what?

‘To survive?

‘To obtain daily meals?

‘I don’t know.’

Until now, Mitrof had never chosen his own life with his own will. He was ordered by his father, kept captive, and his life was put on hold. Then, he was driven out because he had no use left.

Even coming to the labyrinth was also his father’s instruction.

‘I was decided to die in a place that was not within their sight.

‘That’s why I entered the labyrinth, because my father told me to.

‘Do I not even have a say in my own death?’

Even Mitrof didn’t understand herself.

‘I wonder what happened to Grace.

‘She didn’t seem like an adventurer at all. In fact, she said she was a hunter.

‘Why would she be exploring the labyrinth?

‘I want to ask her about that. Before, I was concerned about her, but now, would she tell me?’

Mitrof scooped up hot water and splashed it onto his face.

Chapter 21: Fat aristocrat meets bone girl

From the public bath, Mitrof walked for a while to the cheap inn he was staying in. The inn was located in a dilapidated area near the edge of the city, while the public bath was in the center of the city. When Mitrof returned, he had to cross the main street.

The night had already fallen over the city. The main street was filled with a different kind of liveliness than during the day. The bars and cafes, closed during the day, were now lit up, and tables and chairs were spread out onto the sidewalks. Most of them were occupied by people holding glasses of alcohol.

Mitrof, who had passed the age of 15, was legally allowed to drink, but he didn’t yet understand the pleasure of drinking alcohol. He drank wine regularly with his meals, but it was like a substitute for water, rather than something to enjoy getting drunk on.

Looking at the drinks on the tables of those drinking in the bar, it seemed that recently, the popular drinks were strong, distilled liquor and black beer. Mitrof couldn’t find anyone drinking wine.

Mitrof was still not used to the crowds of people passing by. He almost collided with some, and his shoulders were bumped as he was passed.

Tired of the constant crowds, Mitrof turned off the main road. The cobblestone path was now downhill. Although there were few streetlights and it was dimly lit, he was used to the bottomless darkness of the labyrinth, so it didn’t seem like the night sky with stars and moon was bad for visibility.

He leaned against a wall a little further along the way and took a breath.

As if everyone on the main street had gathered, no one was seen on the side streets. The calmness was soothing.

This city was always noisy.

There was always someone on the street. Even when he returned to the inn, someone was always moving around, coming and going, making noise, and shouting.

Mitrof did not know that the city was so noisy.

In the noble district, there was only silence. It was impossible to tell whether anyone was there or not. Even at parties, everyone was talking in whispers, just enough to hear the music played by the orchestra. Even the sound of dishes clattering against each other was enough to make the people clamor.

In just one month, Mitrof’s life had completely changed. It was still difficult to adapt to everything—the food, the clothes, the city, the people, and even the labyrinth.

Here he is, shaken in every way possible.

Suddenly, a voice was heard. It was from the main street. Someone was shouting.

Mitrof leaned out from the side road. At that moment, a small black figure slipped quickly into the side street.

“Kyaa!”

“Hey!”

The figure was so swift that it collided with Mitrof’s unexpectedly large frame as the figure stuck out his face, causing him to lose his balance and tumble into the pathway still in motion.

“Sorry, are you okay…?”

Mitrof, as a noble, offered his hand to the fallen figure, but was astonished when he saw who it was.

The small body was covered in a black cloak, right down to the feet. Due to the fall, only the hood that had covered the head had been thrown off.

The skull of a human was visible inside.

“There was a monster! A monster was here!”

A voice was heard from behind.

Mitrof instinctively reached for his sword hilt.

“N-No! I’m not a monster!”

The skull rattled its jaw, making a sound like ringing a bell as a girlish voice spoke.

“A monster that manipulates human hearts!”

“I’m not manipulating anyone! I’m a human!”

“You look like nothing but bone!”

“I’m a human who turned into bones! I’m not a monster! There are circumstances, um… it’s a misunderstanding…!”

The figure was frantically explaining, gesturing with his hands.

The old Mitrof wouldn’t have believed such a thing. There was no such thing as a human with only a skull, and its appearance was clearly that of a monster. Such a dangerous existence must not be left alone.

However, the current Mitrof is an adventurer. He dived into the labyrinth, saw and fought against real monsters.

He did not feel the strong hostility from those monsters and the unpleasant air that made the back of his neck tingle when he saw this figure.

Hasty footsteps approached.

Mitrof reflexively turned around and went out of the corridor.

“Whoa! Hey, kid! A black-cloaked monster came this way!”

“…Oh, it ran in that direction.”

“It infiltrated the city! Be careful!”

Several men ran together, their eyes bloodshot and foam at the corners of their mouths. What would happen if they caught up to him?

When he faced those men, the back of his neck tingled.

After confirming that there were no more pursuers, Mitrof returned to the passageway.

He thought the girl would have already left, but she was waiting obediently.

“…Why are you sitting like that?”

“I just wanted to thank you… for saving me. I owe you my life.”

She straightened her black leather gloves and bowed her head. Her face was covered in a hood, and now she looked small and delicate.

“No, it’s okay.”

He wondered why he had protected her, even though she was a suspicious and unknown skeletal person. There was no benefit to protecting her. It seemed as though his body had moved on instinct or some sort of primal urge rather than rational thought.

The girl sat on the cobblestone, looking up at Mitrof without moving. Her skull face was not visible due to the darkness under the hood.

“Excuse me, are you an adventurer?”

“Yeah, so what?”

“In that case, I have a request.”

The girl lowered her head deeply as she spoke.

“Could you take me to the labyrinth as a porter, please?”

“…It’s going to be a hassle.”

Mitrof’s shoulders slumped.

Chapter 22: The fat aristocrat gets a new friend

Grace had informed Mitrof of the location of the inn where she was staying, but Mitrof had no reason to visit her and didn’t think it was appropriate for him to drop by casually. He would not have gone there himself unless there was a compelling reason.

However, at this moment, he had a reason that could be considered very compelling.

The inn, called the Silver Deer Inn, was old and gloomy despite its name. The first floor housed the reception desk and dining hall, which apparently also served as a bar at night. The backs of people drinking in the dim light could be seen, but there was no joyful chatter to be heard.

Mitrof asked the old woman who was paddling a boat (?) while sitting at the reception desk to call Grace for him.

When Grace came down the stairs, she was, of course, wearing casual clothing that was loose-fitting. Her hair, which was usually tied up in a labyrinth, was also loosely flowing, and the ends were tied up in a single ponytail.

In the labyrinth, she was a hunter with a strikingly brave appearance. But in the inn, the impression of her as a beautiful young girl was much stronger, and Mitrof had to make an effort to disguise his admiration for her.

“What’s wrong, Mitrof?—Did something happen?”

“Well, there’s someone who wants to become a porter—I couldn’t make a decision alone, so I brought her here.”

“Hmm, she wants to join our party?”

Her tangled hair cast delicate shadows as she tilted her head, and the lantern light illuminated her thin, white neck. Her deep blue eyes captured the small figure of Canule in a black coat standing behind Mitrof.

“Nice to meet you—my name is Canule—Mitrof-san here saved my life, and that’s how we became acquainted—I was hoping to ask for your help.”

“Well, fine—let’s talk about it in more detail over there.”

Led by the presumptuous Grace, the three of them gathered around a table in a corner of the dining room.

Mitrof explained about the recent encounter, although he didn’t have much to say as he had come here without knowing the details.

However, Grace seemed to have a good idea just from Mitrof’s explanation.

“…Are you a branded child?”

“Yes.”

Canule nodded and searched for the surrounding glances. After confirming that nobody was paying attention to them, she lifted her hood slightly. There was an unmistakable skull, with only a cavity in the eye socket.

“…I’ve heard that curses from relics come in various forms, but it’s hard to say.”

“I think just having survived was lucky enough.”

While listening to their conversation, Mitrof snorted through his nose.

The labyrinth has many relics. However, occasionally relics that have been cursed or retained magical influences from previous eras are found. Those affected by it are called the “branded children.”

In fairy tales, those who have been cursed sometimes exhibit abilities equivalent to those of non-human existences, but often they die or lose something from their bodies. This is because they almost always explode like a magic bomb.

Given this reality, Canule’s situation, where her appearance is just a skeleton, seems to be unique.

“So, you want to become a porter to dive into the labyrinth?”

“Yes. I thought there might be a clue to lifting the curse somewhere in the labyrinth. Besides, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be approved as an adventurer in this state…”

“As for the porter, there is no guild assessment, which is left to the discretion of the party—it might be a good idea.”

“Hmm,” Grace said, crossing her arms.

“It would certainly be helpful to have a porter; however, in reality, we cannot afford to hire anyone with our current income; we have only just reached the fourth floor of the dungeon.”

“Payment is more of a formality—since turning like this, I no longer need to eat or drink,” Canule calmly stated, shocking Mitrof with her confession.

“Not needing to eat or drink?!—It’s like losing the joy of life!”

“Huh?!”

At Mitrof’s loud voice, Canule jumped in surprise.

“I’m sorry. I got a little too excited.”

“How obsessed are you with eating?”

“Don’t praise me like that—I’ve been living frugally lately, so my emotions have been running high.”

“I’m just astonished.”

Anyway, Grace and Canule gaze at one another.

“You can delve into the labyrinth and search for clues to recover your form; we can increase our safety and rewards by hiring a porter; it might not be a bad deal; what do you think, Mitrof?”

“I agree—it’s not easy to find someone to join our party, so this is a great opportunity.”

“Then it’s decided—come back here tomorrow morning around the time of two bells.”

While Grace speaks, Canule remains silent.

“Is something the matter?”

“No, it’s nothing—I just didn’t expect to be accepted so easily… Do you two not feel any aversion toward the branded?”

“Come to think of it, you were chased after being called monsters.”

“When I bumped into someone in the crowd, my hood slipped off and my face was exposed—but I think that’s a normal reaction,” Canule lowered their head sadly.

“Certainly, there may be such prejudices among those who live in the city—If you don’t know about relics, you won’t be able to understand the difference between a curse and a monster.”

Grace nodded.

“I have been a hunter all my life, but I was brought up with the common sense of an adventurer—there is no reason to make a fuss over branded children—unless, of course, you’re a vicious person who’s plotting against us, that’s a different story, isn’t it?”

“Not at all!”

Canule shook her hands vigorously. The movement expressed her emotions as if they were her own and even conveyed a sense of innocence.

Grace smiled wryly, thinking that it was quite an impossible hypothesis, despite saying it herself.

“I know. Mitrof, you weren’t concerned about Canule’s appearance from the beginning, were you?”

“The appearance is certainly unique, but trolls and fangs are scarier,” replied Mitrof.

“Indeed, compared to a troll, there may be nothing to fear.”

The two nodded at each other.

For adventurers, it was important to consider the level of danger posed by a monster rather than getting excited about whether it was a monster or not. Compared to a troll, Canule was nothing more than a young girl.

Looking at Canule’s skeletal head, only citizens would get excited about whether she was a monster or not. Underneath the thick cloth, there was a cold, hard feeling of bones. It made Canule feel as if she was no longer human and had become a monster.

She had become accustomed to being avoided by people, being called a monster, and being pursued by them.

Canule experienced an internal welling up as a result of these two, whom she had just met, accepting her calmly. It was a strange feeling of wanting to cry, not because of pain or sadness, but because of warmth and joy.

“——Thank you very much. I will do my best.”

Canule bowed so deeply that her forehead touched the table.

Chapter 23: The fat aristocrat learns about the situation of the elf hunter

After seeing Canule off outside, Mitrof was approached by Grace, and they stood in front of the shop.

The street was lined with reasonably priced inns. Lanterns hung in front of the shop, casting a faint light. There was no brightness or noisy voices, just a quiet night settling in.

“Sorry for surprising you like that.”

Mitrof said.

“Coming to the inn, or bringing a porter applicant?”

“Both.”

“No need to worry—I’m not concerned about either.”

Grace said while leisurely crossing her arms.

“I was a bit surprised… but that’s just fate, right?”

“That’s a strange way of putting it—well, elves are known for their stargazing (star-reading) abilities.”

“You think I’m old-fashioned, don’t you?”

Grace laughed and brushed a strand of silver hair away from her cheek.

“Nowadays, they say that the movements of the stars in the night sky are already determined—everything has a reason and is nothing but a combination of movements—there’s no future or destiny there.”

“What does Grace think?—Do you believe in that celestial science(astronomy) thing?”

“Well, it’s difficult for me to understand what smart people say—they say that even the ground beneath our feet is rotating.”

“The talk of elf stargazers is also difficult for me.”

“That’s right—even the words of the elderly elf stargazers are difficult for me.”

Grace laughed brightly. It was a rare sight for her.

“But, as an elf born and living in an elf village, we must follow the destiny set by the stars—it is our mission and the norm for living a good life.”

Grace looked up at Mitrof from the corner of her eye.

Mitrof noticed her gaze and looked back.

The blue brilliance of Grace’ eyes, deeper than the darkness of the night, could be clearly seen because of the soft light of the moon and stars.

‘Sometimes people express what they want to say in a roundabout way,’ Mitrof thought.

His father told him to go to the labyrinth. It was his way of saying to go die in an unknown place; Mitrof understood it correctly.

Implying his true intention and being able to read between the lines, this was the strong suit of the nobility. For nobles, conveying things in a straightforward manner was not something they would do for everyone to understand.

They mistakenly believe that it is because they are modest—modest really means what Grace is now. There is no greed there.

“Did you come to the labyrinth because you read the stars?”

Grace widened her eyes in surprise. She did not expect her true intentions, which she had hidden in their conversation, to be revealed so quickly.

After that, her eyes softened, and she let out a soft breath from her lips.

“Truly, you are astute—perhaps a word has a different weight with you than it does with me.”

“Creatures like nobles just love to play with words—they have nothing else to do.”

Mitrof shrugged his shoulders.

“Grace, what did you come to the labyrinth for?”

“…Do you remember when we first met and I said I wanted to go to the fifth floor?” (TL:CH5)

“I haven’t forgotten—you were insistent on going no matter what.”

Grace nodded in response and looked across the street to the inn. Just as she did, the door opened, and an elderly woman added oil to a lantern.

“There’s an epidemic in the village now—I came to find medicine for it.”

“An epidemic? Then you should go to the clinic. ”

Mitrof stopped mid-sentence.

Of course, medicine can be obtained at the clinic. It was straightforward. If so, Grace wouldn’t need to dive into the labyrinth.

Grace looked at Mitrof again and nodded slightly, acknowledging that her guess was correct.

“It’s not for people—it’s a disease that affects trees.”

“What?”

Mitrof furrowed his brows involuntarily.

“Do trees and plants get sick too?”

“Of course. Like humans and animals, trees and flowers can also get sick, which usually leads to their wilting.”

“…Is there such a medicine?”

“Yes.”

‘Is it medicine made for trees?’ Mitrof groaned. ‘There are also some strange medicines.’

“Nature goes in circles—trees wither, flowers fall, and animal corpses rot and return to the soil—only we create medicine and try to overcome illness because we don’t want to die.”

Grace looked away and stared blankly at the street.

“For the elves, the forest is home, a blessing, a friend, and a designated land—we have an agreement with the royal family.”

“What does that have to do with trees?”

“There is something called a sacred tree in our forest. It is said to have received blessings from the Great Spirit; it is necessary to offer its leaves to the royal family at the beginning of the year.”

Mitrof had heard that story before, the current king favored intangible items such as divination and blessings.

That is why he has a poor relationship with scholars, led by astronomers. But he has remarkable political abilities and governs the country well.

Mitrof’s aristocratic calculations led him to believe that the king would be especially fond of the leaves of the sacred tree of the elves, blessed by the Great Spirit. And if it were not available, how would the king react?

“If you cannot manage the forest…”

“That’s right—we may be driven out of the forest—but we are the only ones who can manage the sacred tree properly, which is why we have not lost that sanctuary.”

“So, is the sacred tree infected with a disease after all?”

“…The tips of the leaves are starting to wither.”

Grace looked around the street.

Mitrof finally noticed. She had been checking to make sure no one else was around and listening in on their conversation. If anyone else knew, what would happen? It was that important of a matter.

“…Do you trust me?”

“You’re the first person I’ve ever confided in—be grateful.”

Grace joked and laughed. However, the importance of the situation did not change, and Mitrof was struck with a strange feeling. His stomach suddenly grew hot.

It was a feeling he had only experienced before when he ate something so delicious that he could not help but cheer. It was the heat of life—the only moment he could feel that he was alive.

Now, a heat that exceeded that was harbored within Mitrof.

He was trusted.

“”

Grace entrusted Mitrof with her thoughts on his existence, his personality, and his life. She trusted his way of being, “Mitrof,” and revealed it to him.

“Boo…hiii,” Mitrof breathed heavily and tried to calm himself down.

His head began to feel dizzy.

“W-What’s the matter, Mitrof?”

Taking a deep breath, Mitrof regulated his breathing. He tried to regulate his breathing. No, it seemed like it was not working. His head was floating.

“Grace, can we continue this conversation tomorrow?”

“Uh-huh? That’s all right, of course… I apologize, I shouldn’t have bothered you with all this.”

“That’s not it!”

Mitrof raised his voice.

“I’m extremely happy right now. I’m also grateful that you trusted me enough to reveal how important this matter is to Grace. It makes me happy to be someone you consider trustworthy enough to confide in, to have that value. It’s my first time in life.”

Mitrof’s cheeks were flushed to the point where it was noticeable even in the moonlight as he spoke quickly.

“To be honest, I’m getting carried away—I might not be able to concentrate on your story or respond constructively like this—let me cool down and listen again properly—goodnight for now—see you tomorrow.”

Even with his protruding belly, Mitrof bowed with refined elegance, then walked away with heavy steps.

Grace repressed a laugh and said, “Well, that was good,” as she was surprised by his urgency.

After watching Mitrof’s back disappear into the shadows of the street with soft light in her blue eyes, Grace returned to her lodging.

Chapter 24: The fat aristocrat acts in a party

The following morning, Canule arrived as promised.

As expected, she had her hood covering her face, seemingly rejecting the brightness of the sun. Unexpectedly, she carried a shield on her back.

Porters are professionals who specialize in carrying cargo. Normally, they carry loads on their backs or backpacks and transport them on sleds or wagons.

As they descended through the labyrinth, they inquired about the shield. Canule explained that it was for emergency preparedness, so it wouldn’t interfere with her duties.

“I will make sure not to get in the way of carrying your luggage… Um, is that okay?”

“I heard that porters should also be equipped—I think it’s fine.”

Though they are all called porters, their roles can vary greatly. Those without combat ability wear only armor and hide in safe places during battle. In the case of new adventurers, who also work as porters, they sometimes carry weapons and participate in combat.

As long as they can carry luggage, the form and method are not specifically designated.

“Isn’t that shield heavy?”

Mitrof asked. Canule wore a leather gauntlet on her left arm. It couldn’t be said to be light, yet the round shield on her back could hide half of her body. It was made of wood, covered in leather, and edged with brass.

“Well, actually, maybe it’s the result of taking on this appearance, but I am strong.”

“Oh, so this is the curse’s effect.”

Canule not only carried the shield but also the luggage of the two of them. Even with three people’s worth of luggage on her back, her steps are not slowing down, and she does not seem to be bothered by it.

Mitrof did not know how much of an impact porters had on labyrinth exploration. However, as soon as combat began, he quickly understood its importance.

Until now, both Mitrof and Grace had put their luggage off before combat and put it on again afterwards. Eliminating this step not only reduced time and effort, but also reduced the stress of fighting.

As soon as they found an enemy, the two of them could immediately move into battle. There was no need to take care of belongings, distance themselves, avoid paths, or make such considerations.

After the battle, they could collect rewards from the monster.

The items that could be collected from monsters on the shallow floors remained few. But there were still some small things, such as weapons that the monsters had, extra fangs or claws that had been left behind, and plants that grew along the way.

The fact that they had the luxury of collecting such things was more than gratifying for them.

While engaging in several battles, they descended to the fourth underground floor as the shortest route. Since they encountered a troll early on last time, they were not able to do much exploration.

Now, they took a deep breath to prepare and advanced down the corridor, with the guild-hired guards standing in front of the large hole where the troll had emerged. It was sealed off so that adventurers would not enter without permission.

This morning, before entering the labyrinth, the receptionist told them that the troll had not yet been spotted. Even now, adventurers who had accepted the quest were said to be patrolling regularly.

“…I hope it doesn’t suddenly jump out again.”

“Once you experience it, you become unnaturally cautious—but it’s understood that it’s unlikely to happen twice.”

They cautiously walked away from the wall. The fear of encountering the troll slowed their movements, but that fear vanished as soon as they engaged in battle with the kobolds. Kobolds were swift, fierce, and intelligent opponents not to be underestimated.

However, compared to trolls, the kobolds were two or three levels below Mitrof. No overwhelming sense of tension or intense concentration to narrow his vision was needed. He simply dodged their attacks, stepped in close, and thrust his rapier to slice through the kobolds’ onslaught.

Grace was also highly skilled with her bow. With no openings in both close and far ranges, she could easily deal with a pack of three kobolds.

While kobolds had poor quality weapons, they sometimes carried metal ones. Though they could be worth a lot of money if sold, their weight would make them cumbersome to bring back.

If it had just been the two of them, they might have left it alone reluctantly. However, with the porter known as Canule, everything could be collected.

On Canule’s back, a round shield and a bulky hemp bag were shaking. Every step made the metallic sound of clanging. Mitrof and Grace’s baggage was tied around Canule’s waist.

“…Are you sure it’s not too heavy?”

Armor and weapons are not light. It is even harder if it is made of metal. If there were many of them, it would be a burden for the frail Canule.

“I still have plenty of room.”

Canule remained calm as ever.

“Relics are truly mysterious—well, I suppose it’s not just a light word for Canule…”

In response to Mitrof’s concern, Canule chuckled and said, “No, it’s not.”

“It’s strange for me, too, because my body is now a skeleton, but I have more power—but it must be useful…it doesn’t lose to monsters either.”

“That’s reassuring.” Grace smiled, thinking it was a joke.

But she quickly saw that it was true.

Chapter 25: The fat aristocrat knows despair

While Grace and Mitrof were dealing with the kobolds, a fang snuck up behind them.

By the time the two noticed, Canule was holding a round shield with both hands.

After lowering her stance, she repelled the fang with her shield, and he hit the wall and died instantly.

Canule had literally acquired monster-like strength.

“… Isn’t it a waste to make her a porter?” Mitrof murmured.

Grace nodded in silence.

Canule quickly bowed her head and apologized for participating in the battle and defeating the fang without permission.

Mitrof and Grace didn’t mind and were actually happy that Canule needed less protection. Having the consciousness to protect non-combatants could be a hindrance in battle.

It was fortunate that Canule had the ability to defend herself.

The three of them looked at the map and continued to explore the fourth floor of the dungeon.

Since they were in a place that had already been explored, it was unlikely they would be lucky enough to find relics like they did last time. As they confirmed their whereabouts, they defeated monsters they encountered, earning money and gaining experience points simultaneously.

They felt the difference in power when they encountered a troll.

To overcome this, they must accumulate experience and undergo “sublimation,” a strengthening process that only adventurers are allowed to undergo.

Mitrof believes that he would undoubtedly have died without the improvement of his mental strength through sublimation. It is such a blessing.

As they delved deeper underground, monsters grew stronger. If they didn’t grow alongside the monsters, death would easily come.

Even if they knew the location of the stairs leading down underground and headed straight there, they couldn’t go down if they didn’t have the strength to fight.

After exploring for a while, the three of them decided to take a rest in a small room they found.

It was a room that previous adventurers had converted into a resting place, and several other adventurers were sitting inside.

The three of them spread out a cloth in an open space and sat down.

In the labyrinth, it was difficult to relax and let their guard down since they never knew when they would be attacked. Just having a small room that ensured their safety made them feel relieved.

Mitrof let out a deep breath and slumped down onto the cloth.

“Labyrinth exploration is tough work—it exhausts you to the core.”

“It’s daunting to think that we might continue to descend underground endlessly.”

Grace added as she sat down and untied her boots, pulling out her thin legs covered in black tights. She folded her long legs and stretched her back.

“Mitrof, it’s better to loosen your shoes—it’s essential to take a good rest when you can,” Grace advised.

“I’ll follow the hunter’s teachings,” Mitrof replied, taking off his boots as well.

“I do feel more liberated,” Mitrof then said.

“That’s right. Canule—sit down too—you must be tired.”

“N-No, thank you. I haven’t done anything.”

Canule shook her head while standing.

“It’s hard for me to concentrate when you’re standing like that, right, Mitrof?”

“Oh, yeah—that’s the way it is.”

“What, did you think of Canule as a servant?”

Grace frowned in disbelief.

“I’m not sure how to handle the position of porter—old habits are hard to break—but I’m used to having someone around, so I don’t worry about it.”

Servants are essential to aristocratic life. They are always around, and if necessary, they can be instructed.

If nobles were always worried about their eyes, they would not be able to do anything. For nobles, servants are like furniture.

“How to treat the porter depends on the party’s policy—Mitrof, I don’t intend to treat Canule like a servant—how about you?”

“… I don’t plan to do so either—I’m no longer a noble, and Canule is not a servant—I’m sorry, Canule.”

Mitrof lowered his head towards Canule.

“No, no!—I don’t mind being your servant.”

“Don’t say that—rest for me, too.”

When Mitrof suggested it, Canule couldn’t refuse and hesitantly took a seat on the cloth. The hem of her black coat was long and spread out lightly.

“Okay, let’s eat here and finish up.”

“Food! I’m famished!”

“Me too—although we can’t be too luxurious with our food at the labyrinth.”

From their conversation, Canule quickly figured out what was going on and promptly handed over their luggage to them.

Mitrof immediately took out the assortment of portable foods he bought at the guild that morning. The small box was woven with wood and licked with bark. Inside were dried meat, cheese, raisins, and black rye bread.

Mitrof raised his eyebrows dejectedly and took the black rye bread in his hand.

“…Is this supposed to be food?”

“This is probably one of the better options.”

“I would rather go back to that cheap inn. Don’t you feel demoralized eating this?”

Mitrof looked at Grace with utter seriousness.

“Isn’t it enough to just be able to eat?—Eating is an act to gain vitality for our bodies.”

Suddenly, he felt a strong impact, like being hit on the back of his head. Mitrof was filled with despair.

Chapter 26: The fat aristocrat knows hope

‘Dining was not such a simple matter.’

“…Grace, dining is enjoyable—we eat because it’s necessary for our bodies, but if we fill our needs with just anything, it’s pitiful.”

“Well, I understand what you’re saying, but this is an unavoidable circumstance—things would be different if we had cooking utensils, wouldn’t they?”

“Um, I have some.”

Canule timidly raised her hand.

The two looked at Canule and tilted their heads.

“…Canule, did you bring cooking utensils to the labyrinth?”

“…Canule, can you cook?”

Both questions overlapped, and Canule shook her head left and right, returning the answers in a panic.

“Um, yes, Grace-san. I brought them, hoping they would be useful. Yes, Mitrof-san. I can cook, but not at a professional level.”

“That’s fantastic! Who knew you were a cook!”

Mitrof let out a rough breath.

“Oh, no, please don’t expect too much!—I’m not skilled enough to open a shop or anything like that!”

“What?! I don’t care! If you can make even this tasteless and withered ingredient taste a bit better, can’t you do something about it?!”

“Well, okay.”

In response to Mitrof’s enthusiasm, Canule nodded.

She took out a small trunk from her luggage. Upon opening it, well-maintained utensils were packed inside. And not only that, but there was also a small stove.

“Oh, I’ve never seen this before…”

Grace widened her eyes.

“These are tools often used by traveling merchants—it’s difficult to start a fire every break, so they use this—don’t adventurers also use them?”

“Hmm, I often heard stories about adventurers from my father, but I didn’t know about cooking utensils like these—maybe because it’s a changing era—what about you, Mitrof?”

“I don’t know either—but with this, you can have a kitchen anywhere, right?—It’s a fantastic product—I wonder who came up with it.”

“I don’t know that much,” Canule chuckled. “But I think he’s a famous alchemist.”

Canule assembled the stove with practiced movements and placed a small pot on it, igniting the fire.

She cut the dried meat with a small knife and fried it. She then added water and tore the black bread into pieces, stirring it in. The bread crumbled in the pot and melted into a thick porridge.

Taking a cheese grater out of the box, Canule grated the cheese into a fine powder and mixed it into the porridge. She then added seasoning from a small bottle and brought it to a boil before serving it in dishes.

“Well, aren’t you skilled!” Grace received the dish with an amazed voice.

In response, Canule nodded with a slightly troubled expression.

“I’m sorry. I can’t taste it myself…so if the taste is not good, could you let me know?—I’ll adjust it.”

“The smell is fantastic!—What kind of dish is this?!”

While inhaling the steam and smelling the aroma, Mitrof spoke.

“What’s the name?—Black Bread Risotto?”

“Food that you can easily carry, like this, is much better than bland dishes!”

After reciting a polite prayer as etiquette for nobles, Mitrof scooped up a mouthful of risotto with a spoon and ate it.

“——Delicious!”

He exclaimed without realizing it.

The bread, which had been cooked until it fell apart, was soft, like porridge. The rich flavor of melted cheese mixed with the savory taste of grilled meat. It had a flavor that penetrated the tired body.

“This is so delicious—It’s a bit salty, but perfect for the body after exercising.”

Grace nodded in agreement with Mitrof.

“Was the salt too strong?”

“It’s because of the dried meat—adventurers tend to lose salt by sweating, so they add more salt to the dried meat for merchants and travelers.”

“I see… I didn’t know that—I’ve learned something new.”

Canule’s nodding impressed Grace.

Canule always showed a lack of confidence, taking one or two steps back, but when it came to cooking, all her hesitations disappeared. Perhaps it was Canule’s earnestness in cooking that allowed her to excel in it.

“This is delicious—I can eat as much as I want!”

Mitrof quickly finished his portion of porridge. He looked at the empty bowl with a hint of regret.

Canule let out a modest chuckle.

“I’m glad you think so—It gives me a sense of purpose to cook.”

“I want to eat your cooking every day—the food at the inn is terrible.”

“Hyah.”

Canule was surprised, causing Mitrof to wonder what happened.

Grace thumped Mitrof’s knee.

“That’s a common phrase used to propose among commoners.”

“…What? I’m sorry, I lack common sense among the commoners—please forgive me.”

“No, no, I’m sorry too—I was just surprised.”

As Grace watched the two of them bow their heads and apologize repeatedly, she chuckled and slurped her porridge.

The girl named Canule, whom they met suddenly, was cursed and turned into a skeleton. It would be a lie to say that they were not anxious about delving into the labyrinth together.

However, now that they were actually cooperating, it wasn’t so bad.

Above all, the porridge was certainly delicious.

Chapter 27: The fat aristocrat talks to his peers

The fourth level was progressing smoothly. Kobolds were indeed powerful monsters, but Mitrof and Grace gained experience fighting them and devising countermeasures.

During their meal break, they had several meetings to discuss their concerns and suggestions for improvement, which resulted in better coordination.

Although they have not achieved their long-awaited “sublimation,” they could handle kobolds and fangs without any anxiety. The three of them aimed for the stairs to the fifth floor.

As they headed towards the stairs, Mitrof recalled his conversation with Grace from the night before.

She spoke of reaching the fifth floor to obtain a cure for the Divine Tree’s disease. Finally entering her target level, her goal will soon be achieved.

‘If that happens… Wait a minute?’

Mitrof widened his eyes in surprise.

Grace has come to the labyrinth seeking a cure. If she can get it, there will be no reason for her to delve deeper into the labyrinth. So, would this mean that the party will disband?

It seemed like an entirely natural thing to Mitrof.

For some reason, Mitrof felt like this new daily routine would continue for a long time.

He wanted to fight more monsters. He wanted to explore the deeper floors. He wanted to feel the sensation of being alive while struggling through the labyrinth.

His thoughts and Grace’s thoughts were different. Their positions, goals, and what they sought from the labyrinth were all different. That’s why, when their differences became decisive, they’d ultimately have to go their separate ways.

Realizing this, Mitrof was hit with a sense of emptiness, like peering into a gaping hole. So, he was the last to notice the adventurer party that was at the end of the hallway.

There were about four men and four women in front of the room that led to the stairs to the fifth level.

“Hey, you guys, you got a minute?”

The one who called out was a brown-haired boy. He wore leather armor and carried a large sword on his back. He must have been around the same age as Mitrof, but he had an adventurer’s dignity that even made Mitrof step back.

“Hey, is something wrong?”

Grace responded to him, seemingly cheerful, but Mitrof noticed that she was somewhat cautious.

The guild’s rules forbid fighting between adventurers in the labyrinth. If they were to unsheathe their swords and fight, both parties would be expelled from the guild.

However, there are no guild guards inside the labyrinth. Many adventurers are also ruffians, so it is not necessary to be too cautious.

The other party seems to understand this as well.

With both hands raised, he made it clear that he had no intention of hostility and kept a certain distance.

“We are the Wolves Wind Party. Haven’t you heard about the sighting of a ‘stray troll’ on this floor? We have taken on the task of searching and subduing it.”

“Oh, is that so?—That’s reliable of you.”

Grace nodded, and Mitrof looked at the party before him with a somewhat complicated emotion. He felt ashamed that he and his comrades had found and fought against the troll and let it escape. It was the first time Mitrof had ever experienced this feeling. There were several words for it, such as pride or self-esteem, but it was difficult to express it accurately.

Mitrof realized that he didn’t want to lose to the boy carrying a great sword that made him look like a skilled adventurer. Behind the boy, there were three other party members.

A dwarf carrying a shield as tall as himself, a woman in a gray robe holding a mace, and another person who was shorter and concealed her body with a scarlet robe, holding a staff longer than her height.

“Have you seen any trolls or signs of them on the way here?”

“Well, I think we’ve searched the area, but we found nothing.”

“Really?”

The boy suddenly raised his voice.

“There’s a broken hole, so it’s true that a troll was there, but it’s not there anymore—I think it escaped underground from that side hole—there’s no evidence that it escaped, and I’m struggling to report it to the guild.”

The boy clasped his hands behind his head and clicked his tongue in annoyance.

“If we encountered it, we wouldn’t have let it get away.”

He said it in a single sentence.

Mitrof was overwhelmed with emotions in his chest.

Grace glanced at Mitrof out of the corner of her eye and spoke to the boy as if nothing had happened.

“Well, I guess it’s time to go—we want to go down to the 5th floor today.”

“Oh, sorry. Is it your first time going to the 5th floor? Be careful of the guardian, ‘scarlet bear”—you can’t get down without fighting, so don’t push yourself.”

It was undoubtedly a consideration for Mitrof and the others. However, Mitrof did not feel good, as if their abilities were being underestimated.

However, at the same time, he understood that these boys possessed such power. “Sublimation” had a mystery that could greatly change a person, and how many times had they experienced it? At least, more than him, who had experienced it only once; the difference being that they had widened this gap.

Chapter 28: The fat aristocrat challenges a new hierarchy

Entering a small room and descending the stairs, Grace leaned her shoulder onto Mitrof.

“Don’t worry about it, Mitrof.”

“I’m not worried—I’m just a bit surprised.”

Mitrof said to Grace, tilting his head to the side.

“…I’ve never felt like this before—I was never expected to do anything and was thought of as incompetent—I just accepted that without any thought.”

His father, brother, servants, and teenage boys and girls he met at aristocratic gatherings. With his low position, lack of ability, and plump body, Mitrof was looked down upon by everyone he met and was ridiculed with polite language.

and Mitrof didn’t deny it. He didn’t think so. He thought what they said was reasonable.

“But earlier, I felt frustrated—I want to prove that I can do more, and make them understand that. I want to show them. ”

Unconsciously, Mitrof pressed his chest.

With the beating of his heart, there was an unprecedented heat inside him. The whirling heat was sent throughout his body, seemingly keeping his blood boiling.

“I want to defeat that troll; I don’t want it to be taken away by the party earlier. Is it strange for me to be so obsessed with the thought that the troll is my prey?”

Mitrof suddenly felt uneasy. He had never before experienced such untamed emotions, which baffled him. He was struggling with how to handle his feelings.

Grace, who was asked about this, narrowed her blue eyes and looked at Mitrof like the summer sunlight reflected on the water’s surface.

“…You’re a boy after all.

“Is it because I’m stubborn?”

“That’s right, and that’s a feeling that hunters and adventurers need—my father was like that too.”

Fufu, Grace smiled.

“Then—let’s also look for the troll—we were the ones who injured it first—surely, it’s our prey.”

“…But is it okay?—It’s dangerous, and it’s on the fifth floor.”

Although he wanted what Grace sought to obtain, Mitrof couldn’t say those words.

Grace put the tip of her index finger on Mitrof’s lips and stopped him.

“Boys must fight to preserve their dignity—Mitrof, this is the time for you to do so—it’s important.”

“I understand. Maybe you’re right. Thank you.”

“Oh, don’t worry; there was nothing we could do earlier—this is a good chance to clear your mind.”

The two looked at each other and smiled, then a hesitant voice interrupted them.

“I’m sorry to interrupt during such a good time, but can I ask what’s going on?”

“Oh, that’s right!—We must explain it to Canule as well—but there’s no good time for it, and please don’t misunderstand,” Grace replied, blushing.

She explained everything from scratch to Canule. Mitrof listened as they descended to the fifth floor.

φ

The stone construction remained unchanged, but a strange tension could be felt in the air. Perhaps it was due to the new monsters that had made their nest here or the presence of the guardians who ruled this floor.

Although the scenery had not changed, the mindsets of the three adventurers had become more serious.

“We will encounter ‘Blue Deer’ and “Ochre Boar” on this floor—we will fight them to gain experience and search for the troll.”

Without any objections from Mitrof or Canule, they nodded in agreement and proceeded down the passage.

The small room immediately after descending the stairs remained a rest area for adventurers as before. The three passed it by and focused on finding the monsters.

Blue Deer and ochre boar were completely different from kobolds or wolves. The difficulty level and time to explore the labyrinth would depend on how quickly they could adapt to new challenges.

Eventually, the width of the passage increased. It had always been wide enough for three adults to stand side by side with their arms outstretched, but now it was spacious enough for five or six people.

And the walls were gradually curving, as if something had been carved into them, giving the impression of a cave. The shadows cast by the lantern were distorted and uneven, and Mitrof suddenly thought they resembled marks made by claws.

“Hey, Grace, this is…”

“Shh.”

Grace sharply interrupted him and crouched down, gazing towards the end of the passage with her blue eyes.

Mitrof and Canule also noticed it. It was there, up ahead.

“They’ve noticed us. They’re coming straight at us!”

Immediately after, they could hear it—the sound of hard hooves pounding on the cobblestone as they rushed towards them.

Mitrof finally caught sight of it.

“An ochre boar!”

As the name suggests, its fur was the color of dirty yellow soil. Its height was no different from Grace’s, but its width was no less than Mitrof’s. Two fangs grew from the corners of its mouth, curving upward. With rough panting sounds of “fugo, fugo,” the giant body aimed straight at them.

“Canule! Dodge it!”

Chapter 29: The fat aristocrat knocks down a boar

Without even looking back, Mitrof raised his voice and pulled out his thrusting sword. He raised it in front of him and lowered his waist.

A heavier presence than himself was coming at an astonishing speed. If they collided, he would surely die.

Despite being aware of this fact, Mitrof’s thinking remained calm. The improvement in his mental strength through sublimation provided him with calmness at all times.

However, calmness is the ability to recognize reality. It’s not something to change to your advantage.

Even though he held his thrusting sword, he knew that he couldn’t stop that huge body with the small sword in his hand. He would only bounce back.

Mitrof led the boar until his mind could barely handle it and then jumped sideways.

It seemed as if a thick, warm wall of air had passed by.

Immediately after.

A loud, hard sound shook him to the bottom of his stomach.

Mitrof, struggling to get up with his body shaking from the excess fat, looked back and saw the ochre boar’s tusk embedded in the wall. The wall was being scraped and expanded from the thousands and tens of thousands of times that the ochre boar had struck its tusk into it.

Now is the opportunity to attack while the ochre boar has stopped moving. However, it is far away from Mitrof. Although Mitrof’s body is as large as a boar’s, he cannot run as fast as a four-legged boar.

However, when it comes to animals, there is a far superior entity than Mitrof.

When Mitrof recognized the ochre boar’s face, shaking its head and reversing its body, an arrow pierced its forehead.

“Even if it’s a monster, if it’s a boar, I’m used to dealing with them.”

Grace, who had attached a second arrow to her bow, took aim at the ochre boar with sharp eyes. The boar writhed in agony from the arrow in its forehead, scraping the wall with its tusks and banging its body. It was clear that getting closer to it was not an option.

Canule, who had been keeping her distance, jogged over to the pair.

“This is… What do we do…?”

“We can’t get close enough to finish it off.”

“Hmm,” Grace groaned.

“If it were a regular boar, we could take care of it, but perhaps it’s because it’s a monster—I wonder if its skin, meat, or bones are too sturdy for my bow to handle.”

Grace looked at her bow with mixed feelings, as she had relied on and used it as a hunter. She had no complaints or worries about this bow, as it had become completely familiar to her.

However, it was becoming evident that it was not trustworthy in the labyrinth, where all sorts of demons and monsters dwelled, even though it was good for hunting animals in the wilderness.

The ochre boar forcefully pulled out the arrow by rubbing its head against the wall and looked at the three of them with anger.

With a scrape on the ground with its front hooves, it put weight on its knees, and an arrow pierced through them.

The ochre boar fell to the ground, prostrated. Grace pulled the arrow again. The bow squeaked as she pulled harder than usual.

The arrow hit the ochre boar’s forehead and finally stopped its breath.

“Well done.”

Mitrof exclaimed, sheathing his rapier.

The bow is a difficult weapon to handle. It takes years of practice to hit the target accurately. Even in the army, skilled bowmen are more valuable than any other soldier.

Even Mitrof, who had little understanding, could see that hitting a wild boar from such a distance was quite an impressive feat.

However, Grace barely concealed her dissatisfaction as she watched.

“I aimed for the eye socket—I have to get used to a tighter draw.”

“…Still, I think it’s an incredible skill.”

Canule, speaking timidly, seemed completely impressed.

“In the forest, we often hunt small animals that are faster than wild boars—with such a large target, it makes things easier.”

“I see—that’s how it is.”

With a look of wonder on her face, Canule nodded and walked closer to the ochre boar.

“The tusks of the ochre boar are highly prized—its fur, tendons, meat, and bones are all valuable resources. However, dismantling and carrying it back in the labyrinth will be a big task.”

If it were a forest hunt, they would call their comrades with joy.

However, this is a labyrinth, and the ochre boar is nothing more than an obstacle to be overcome in their exploration.

The three of them discussed it and decided to carefully select the items to recover.

They chose the two tusks and the flesh from its back. Of course, the tusks were valuable, but the back flesh was also a valuable part that the guild purchased. It was not only used in the guild’s cafeteria but also had spread around the town and was accepted by citizens who were hesitant to eat monster meat.

“…It feels like biting only the sweet part of a fruit and throwing away the rest—I feel guilty.”

“That’s called a hunter’s habit.”

“Yes, we should make use of everything we’ve caught, but let’s not bring our forest consciousness into the labyrinth—let’s move forward.”

Grace took the lead as the scout. Canule walked in the middle, carrying the ochre boar’s two tusks, making it difficult to respond to sudden attacks. Therefore, Mitrof walked at the back, keeping an eye out for any potential threats.

Chapter 30: The fat aristocrat drinks tea at the labyrinth

While being cautious of his surroundings, Mitrof watched Grace, who walked at the front.

Her appearance seemed unchanged, yet slightly different. At the intersections and when they came out onto a broad corridor, she looked around as if searching for something.

If Mitrof didn’t know that Grace was aiming for the 5th floor, he might not have noticed these slight movements.

However, Grace was undoubtedly searching for something here—a medicine to cure her hometown’s Divine Tree’s disease, or perhaps something necessary for it.

Mitrof saw other adventurers fighting a few times. They had different strategies for fighting the boars depending on their party. The dwarf warriors erected large shields and faced the boars head-on.

On the way to a small room for a break, they met an ochre boar again. Grace shot an arrow and precisely hit the eye socket, killing it with just one arrow.

“The ochre boar is a tough opponent,” said Mitrof, folding his arms.

In the small rest area, the three sat down to take a break.

“In this short amount of time, we took down two of them—that’s a good result, isn’t it?—And no one got hurt.”

“But that was all thanks to Grace’s tactics—I didn’t do anything.”

“Well, since this is a party, isn’t it okay to divide our roles?—We’ll make up for Mitrof’s weaknesses. That’s all.”

“I see… Is that how it works?”

Mitrof asked Canule.

Canule tilted her head while holding a kettle that was warming on a portable stove.

“I’m not in a position to say anything, but… well, there are different types of knives.”

“Yes?”

“A knife for cutting fruit won’t cut hard vegetables—but a knife for hard vegetables won’t cut fruit delicately—so, um, you should also change your tools according to what you’re cooking—I don’t think you should worry about not being able to cut vegetables.”

“I see, so I was using a fruit knife—that makes sense.”

Mitrof nodded.

“Ah!—No, it’s not because you’re unreliable or anything!”

“It’s okay, I understand—it was an enlightening story.”

It certainly was a convincing story.

The sword techniques Mitrof learned were mainly focused on dueling as a noble. In other words, it was swordplay against a human opponent and not hunting.

Humans are very fragile creatures, and no matter where you cut or stab them, they become unable to move immediately.

Therefore, the key was to move quickly, make light cuts, and stab. That was all right.

However, going up against an ochre boar was a whole different story. Lightness alone would not work. It was like trying to cut a pumpkin with a fruit knife. The compatibility was not good.

“I will rely on Grace for a while.”

Mitrof bowed his head.

“What? It’s too late for that. Don’t worry about it. Up until now, I’ve been relying on you, Mitrof—it’s about helping each other.”

Grace laughed.

“I can only carry luggage and cook, though…”

The cup that was timidly offered contained tea. It had a soft, floral fragrance that lightly calmed the nerves.

“You even prepared something like this.”

and Grace took the cup with admiration.

“They sell it at the guild store—it’s a tea that adventurers like to drink during their rest periods.”

Mitrof also took a cup and sniffed the aroma.

Tea parties are essential for the nobility. Black tea during the day and alcohol at night are not only for enjoyment but also a means of diplomacy. Mitrof was also knowledgeable about tea due to his education since childhood.

Just from the aroma, Mitrof knew the brand of the tea leaves. It was a cheap one that servants of noble families would drink.

However, it tasted delicious.

“…This is brewed perfectly, and the sweetness is just right.”

“Thank you. I also bought a small bottle of honey.”

“Canule, could it be that you’re…”

He was about to say something.

Noble women enjoy drinking tea with honey when they are having tea parties. However, it’s not simply about adding honey. Honey comes in different varieties, each with different tastes. Some are bitter, some are light, and some are too sweet and difficult to dissolve.

deciding which tea to combine with which honey, sometimes even changing the extraction method for this purpose.

These are the skills and knowledge that one should be proud of and show off as a noble.

Mitrof is satisfied with the quality of the tea. Thinking about the person who brewed it, Canule, and who she could be?

“Oh, it’s nothing—the tea is delicious—do you have anything to eat?—I’m a little hungry.”

“Yes, I’ll prepare a light snack!”

Canule moves briskly and looks happy. Although you can’t see her expression, you can tell from her body movements that she has emotions.

Each person who ventures into the labyrinth has their own circumstances. Grace, Mitrof, and Canule all have their own stories.

Mitrof thinks that it’s rude to ask if someone doesn’t speak about it themselves. Regardless of their position and actions, Canule, who is present here and now, should be judged on her merit. Just like how Mitrof has abandoned the title of “useless third son of a noble.”

Having lost everything and coming to the labyrinth, Mitrof gained freedom and identity in return. Here in the labyrinth, he was just Mitrof, and one’s actions shape who they become. This simple and straightforward structure was comforting.

Canule had made a sandwich.

Mitrof took a big bite. Inside were minced salted meat, pickled paprika, and sliced olives. The strong saltiness of the meat was softened by the vinegar. The aroma of the olives and the texture of the paprika were enjoyable.

Although Mitrof’s stomach was not completely satisfied, a delicious meal like this could heal his soul. With this, he could explore the labyrinth a little longer.

Chapter 31: The fat aristocrat is a bit discouraged by the treasure

“… This is strange.”

Grace said after wandering around the labyrinth for about an hour since leaving the break room.

They encountered the ochre boar twice and passed by other adventurers.

“I haven’t seen a blue deer at all.”

“Is that rare?”

“No, I heard there are more blue deer around here.”

Mitrof had been thinking about trying to hunt blue deer since he couldn’t make much progress with the ochre boar. If they couldn’t find any, it would be a disappointment.

The spoils from the ochre boars were already enough. Canule carried a bundle of tied tusks on her back, but if the load became too heavy, it would hinder their movements in case of emergency.

If they could fight and confirm the ecology of the blue deer, they wouldn’t mind turning back. However, there was no sighting of the blue deer.

“…If we can’t find any, then we can’t help it—let’s head back.”

Mitrof and Canule had no objection.

Mitrof didn’t feel particularly tired. He was used to facing opponents such as kobolds and fangs on Grace’s watchful eyes, and the ochre boar was no exception.

However, he was worried about Canule, who was entering the labyrinth for the first time. Although she seemed to behave calmly, her face was completely hidden under her hood, making it difficult to read her expression from her skeletal head.

Considering the mental and physical exhaustion he experienced when he first entered the labyrinth, Mitrof felt that it was time to return to the surface, even though he didn’t participate in the combat.

The three of them retraced their steps. As usual, they saw ochre boars, but the blue deer were nowhere to be seen. And when they reached the fourth floor, Mitrof became busy dealing with the kobolds and fangs.

Finally, they returned safely to the surface.

Canule had the items they collected evaluated for sale, and while waiting, Grace approached the receptionist to ask some questions. The receptionist chuckled, pushing her oversized glasses up from her nose.

“Actually, we are still investigating that matter—we have had reports of a decrease in blue deer for a while now, but it seems they have finally disappeared completely.”

“…Completely?” Grace repeated.

“Yes, completely,” the receptionist answered with a smile.

“Isn’t that an abnormal situation?”

At Mitrof’s question, the receptionist chuckled.

“To be honest, we don’t know—we hardly understand anything about the labyrinth—why do monsters inhabit it?—Why do their numbers return even after we defeat them? What lies underground? —We’re stumped as to where to draw the line for an abnormal situation, given our lack of understanding—besides, “she paused for a moment, then continued, “Even if this is an abnormal situation, we don’t know how to resolve it.”

It was stated clearly.

Mitrof pinched his nose and nodded, “Yeah, I see.”

The guild did not know everything about the labyrinth, nor did they manage the ecosystem of monsters. Their job was to manage adventurers who went into the labyrinth, to assist in their exploration, and to buy their produce. Even if monsters disappeared, there was nothing they could do about it.

A dwarf hobbit(小人ホビット) in work clothes rushed over to the receptionist and handed her a document.

“Oh, we received an evaluation from the appraisal department—please check it.”

Mitrof took it and glanced over the evaluation, which was the most profitable result from their exploration yet. The ochre boar’s horn was worth a good price.

After sharing it with Grace and Canule and signing it, the receptionist prepared the cash and changed the subject.

“By the way, the ancient relic that was requested for appraisal the other day turned out to be the Magic Book.”

“Oh, that sounds expensive.”

Even Mitrof, who was unfamiliar with labyrinths and relics, knew about the magic book. It contained ancient wisdom and could perform miracles beyond one’s imagination through the use of magic.

However, it was not something that ordinary people could easily use. It was said that only those who received rigorous training in a magician’s tower were allowed to use this secret technique.

Mitrof was ecstatic at the thought of the treasure, but the receptionist lowered her glasses and smiled wryly.

“It is undoubtedly rare, but apparently it contained ‘Image Projection Lycalil.’ It is considered “common life magic’ that is not highly sought after in the magician’s tower, so it may not be as valuable as you might expect.”

“…Ah, I see.”

Even in the case of a magical book relic, there were hits and misses. Mitrof was disappointed, as he had secretly hoped for something more valuable.

“What would you like to do?—You can request the magician’s tower to buy it, or you can put it up for auction at the guild.”

Mitrof turned to Grace. Since they had found it together, he couldn’t make a decision on his own.

However, Grace seemed to pay little attention to the conversation between Mitrof and the receptionist and was slightly hunched over, lost in thought.

“Grace, what do you think?”

“…Hm? What about?”

“The magic book—we could auction it off.”

“I’m not familiar with the details of the financial system—it’s better if Mitrof decides.”

She answered absentmindedly.

Mitrof rubbed his chin in concern.

“For now, can we put it on hold?—It would be helpful if you could keep it for a while.”

“I understand. But please give us an answer soon—here’s the payment for this purchase.”

Mitrof received the payment and left the counter with Grace and Canule.

Chapter 32: The fat aristocrat worries about the elf hunter

They headed straight to the attached dining room.

Perhaps due to having time until the evening, the dining room was completely empty. Despite this, they chose a corner table out of sight of any prying eyes and sat down.

Grace usually takes charge, but this time Mitrof took on the role.

“You both made it back safely today—Canule must have had a hard time.”

“No, I hope I’m not slowing you down…”

“Not at all—thanks to Canule, we made great progress—the food was also fantastic.”

It was his honest opinion. Canule’s meals and tea during their break time, in addition to her duties as a porter, made their rest time more fulfilling. Resting well is important.

“Thanks to Canule’s hard work, we also had a good harvest—let’s split this into thirds.”

So Mitrof placed the money he had just received on the table and attempted to divide the pile.

Canule stopped him.

“I will decline the split—I only took care of the luggage, and you two were the ones who risked your lives.”

Her words were firm. There was a stubbornness there that seemed immutable, no matter what Mitrof said.

Normally, Grace would convince her otherwise, but when Mitrof looked at her, she seemed preoccupied with something else. She couldn’t even seem to hear the conversation.

Mitrof didn’t mind splitting the share into thirds, but if Canule refused, he couldn’t force her.

“Then how about we take 80 percent and Canule takes 20 percent?”

“…As a porter, that’s still a lot, isn’t it?”

“Not just as a porter—I want to rely on your cooking skills too.”

That was Mitrof’s true intention.

From now on, if they continued to explore the labyrinth, their stay would be longer. They would inevitably have to rely on the portable food that the guild sold. However, after tasting Canule’s cooking and tea today, Mitrof realized how bland the portable food was.

For Mitrof, meals were a vital element that determined his survival.

Canule seemed confused and taken aback by Mitrof’s proposal, but eventually nodded.

“I-If that’s what you want—I can’t guarantee the quality of my cooking, but…”

“That’s good enough—this way, my anxiety about spending time in the labyrinth has decreased. Is this okay for you, Grace?”

“….Um, yeah, that’s fine.”

Grace nodded absentmindedly.

Mitrof noticed the strangeness of Grace’s behavior but did not ask about it. The reason for her distress was undoubtedly related to the abnormal incidents occurring on the fifth floor of the labyrinth.

Even as he struggled with what to do, Mitrof proposed a meal that could also serve as a celebration.

However, Canule declined, saying she wanted to buy ingredients for the labyrinth from the markets while they were still open.

Although she didn’t mention it, Canule also noticed that something was off with Grace. She knew that Mitrof might have an idea about the cause.

Canule understood that it was their private matter and that she should not interfere, so she decided to leave the scene early out of consideration.

Mitrof understood Canule’s consideration and accepted it gratefully.

Once Canule disappeared from view in the dining room, Mitrof looked around and confirmed that no one was nearby before lowering his voice and asking, “Grace, what’s wrong? Is it about that medicine?”

“Hmm,” Grace nodded.

Her skin was usually as white as snow, but now she looked so pale that even her blood seemed to have drained away.

With slightly trembling eyes, Grace looked back at Mitrof.

“If there’s no blue deer, we can’t make the medicine to cure the Divine Tree’s disease—we need the antlers of a fawn.”

“…Antlers of a fawn?—Isn’t there enough stored in the guild?”

The guild bought most of the materials brought back by adventurers and controlled the materials circulating in the market.

Grace shook her head.

“First and foremost, it’s rare to even see a fawn—and fawn antlers are made of a special material—they rot within three days of being separated, so they cannot be stored. That’s why I came to the labyrinth, to hunt for antlers and then immediately return to the forest.”

“…I see, and now even the blue deer have disappeared.”

“If even the cause of that is unknown, then there’s nothing I can do—but if things continue like this, the Divine Tree will die, and our tribe might be driven out of the forest… It’s a difficult situation.”

Grace gave a bitter smile, as if it were a joke. But there was no joy in her expression, and tears seemed to be on the verge of spilling from her eyes.

For Grace, the forest was her home. She had family, friends, and her life there. Memories were there. It was an important place that she didn’t want to lose.

Mitrof couldn’t understand that. It was an emotion he didn’t possess. There was nothing important enough for Mitrof to feel so serious about protecting something.

However, Mitrof believed that anything Grace wanted to treasure must be beautiful—something worth protecting.

“It’s okay—we’ll find a way,” said Mitrof. “It’s just like my troll—we’ll keep going back to the labyrinth until we find the blue deer. If we can’t find it and there’s no reason for it to be gone, we’ll just have to keep going back.”

It was a comforting but unfounded reassurance.

But Mitrof genuinely believed in what he said. It was a sincere sentiment.

That’s why Grace was taken aback. She was surprised at the straightforward and persistent choice that she had never even thought of before.

“…Search, huh?”

“Yes. It might be somewhere out there.”

“…As many times as it takes?”

“Yes—we’ll keep going until we find it.”

“…But what if the sacred tree dies before we find it?”

“Grace did everything she could to fulfill her duty—though it would be worse if it died.”

Grace just stared at Mitrof’s resolutely spoken words and his plump face.

His eyes were sharp, and his upturned pig nose inflated as he let out a breath. He wore the expression of someone who was convinced that he hadn’t said anything strange.

For some reason, this made Grace burst out laughing.

She suddenly found it amusing despite feeling weighed down by the burden on her shoulders and like everything had come to an end.

“Fufu…”

Grace laughed.

Mitrof’s boundless confidence and his own one-sided seriousness were so comical.

“That’s right, it’s not over yet—let’s search for it; let’s confirm it with our own eyes. The labyrinth is still deep, and the road ahead is long—we cannot afford to give up.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

Mitrof nodded with satisfaction.

Chapter 33: The fat aristocrat makes small talk in the bath

Mitrof massaged his chin while pondering why people take baths.

Since having dinner with Grace at the guild and parting ways, he had come straight to the public bathhouse. His feet had unconsciously led him here without any particular thought. It had become a habit for Mitrof to soak in the hot water and drink a glass of milk ale here.

He sat on the edge of the usual large circular tub, watching steam constantly rise.

As he came here almost every day, he began to recognize familiar faces. Mitrof’s visiting time might vary depending on labyrinth exploration, but the city folks seemed to have established habits such as after work, before commencing work, and Mitrof, who comes irregularly, finds them at the same time.

The sun rises at the same time and the moon sets at the same time without fail, and the city folks seem to always be there like an endless cycle.

“Do they come here to enjoy the bath, or do they come here to maintain their habits?—Humans are mysterious,” Mitrof thought, realizing that he too was part of that group and chuckling to himself.

“Hey, aren’t you the one I met in the labyrinth?—What’s so funny?”

He was suddenly approached and saw a young adventurer with a large sword, who had been asked to hunt a troll, join the bath beside him with a splash.

“Wolves Wind…”

“Oh, you remember me well; I am the leader—Mikel.”

Mikel smiled proudly, with a somewhat modest tone. In his laughter, Mitrof could feel Mikel’s humanity. It was the smile of someone who carried the struggles and failures that came with being able to move forward, not just bragging about the good things in life.

“…You’re the party leader—that must be tough.”

“What are you talking about?—It has its difficulties, but it can be fun in the labyrinth.”

He laughed brightly, his shoulders shaking with mirth as he brushed aside his bangs.

“By the way, you should tell me your name too.”

“My apologies—I am Mitrof—our party—we don’t have a name yet.”

“You mean you just formed it.”

“Yeah, it hasn’t even been a month.”

“Wow, you’re just starting out!—Then I’ll be your senpai.”

Mikel pointed at himself and flashed a toothy grin.

“If you ever have any problems or don’t understand something, ask me—I’ll help you out as much as I can!”

Mitrof widened his eyes in surprise.

“…Why would you do that?”

“Huh?”

“Even if you help me, I don’t think it’ll be of much benefit to you…”

That’s just how the nobility operates. Energy is not poured into things that do not benefit oneself. A person who is not worth helping will not be helped. The sweet notion of helping someone in the hopes that they will one day help you is not a valid argument.

Mikel looked back at Mitrof, looking visibly exasperated.

“What’s the point of benefiting?—No thanks. Isn’t helping each other what adventurers do when they’re in trouble? I’m a senior, and you’re a junior, so I’ll help you more—that’s the way it is.”

“…Is that so?”

Suddenly, Mitrof remembered the day he first met Grace. She had also saved the life of the unknown Mitrof, without any benefit to herself.

“I see, that’s how it works.”

Mitrof agreed.

As a nobleman, it was hard for Mitrof to believe, but it seemed that adventurers lived by that kind of reasoning.

‘helping each other.’

“Good words.”

He laughed with a snort.

Mikel looks at Mitrof with a tight-lipped look on his face.

“…You’re a strange one.”

“Not really—I’ve only just become an adventurer—I’m still learning a lot.”

“Even as an adventurer, you’re so serious—you sound like our Yoreka…”

Mikel murmured, then splashed water on his face.

“Well, we’ll be up looking for the troll for a while, so if we run into each other somewhere, let’s say hi.”

“Did you find any clues regarding the troll?”

“Nope. There wasn’t any news about someone defeating it, so it may have returned to the lower floors. We’ll keep searching for it since it could be hiding in the tunnels only used by monsters. However, we probably won’t find it.”

‘I see, they can’t find it.’

Mitrof rubs his chin.

Did it hide to tend to its wounds? Is it really back on the lower floors? It’s hard to predict what the monster is thinking.

He wants it to be back where he was. He feels anxious about not being able to see it. He also harbors the desire for it not to be defeated by someone else.

He lowers his head and stares at the surface of the water.

The image of the troll comes to mind. The terrifying presence that made his spine chill. The sense of impending death and the feeling of being alive were both overwhelming. It was frightening. However, at that moment, at that very instant, he felt like he was burning with life.

“Oh, by the way, if you went to the fifth floor, you should know that the blue deer are missing.”

Mitrof suddenly refocused his attention and turned to Mikel.

“Yeah, I also heard about it at the guild.”

“There’s talk that it might also be the work of the troll.”

“…What do you mean?”

“It’s about why the troll came up to the higher floor—when we were searching for the troll, Yoreka, not me, found out that there were frequent sightings of the troll around the time when the number of blue deer decreased.”

‘Interesting,’ Mitrof nodded.

“It wasn’t considered that important by the guild because it was just sightings, not actual attacks or fights—but when we asked those who claimed to have seen it, the stories were strange—they said that the troll was carrying a blue deer.

“——That’s intriguing.”

“Right? Trolls usually hang around the 8th floor, but they came all the way up to the 5th floor to hunt blue deer. I checked the 8th floor, but the trolls seemed to be acting normally. I wonder what’s going on.”

No one understands what’s happening. All that was clear was that the troll was involved in the blue deer’s disappearance, at least in part.

“I wonder if blue deer are already extinct.”

“I don’t know. I don’t understand the labyrinth very well—there was a time when the killer bees proliferated and the ‘Fire Witch’ wiped them all out, or so the story goes—but now, there are still killer bees around—they returned without us noticing, and their numbers increased.”

“… Do you know how long it was between those times?”

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think it was about six months.”

‘Six months, or maybe even longer.

‘Will Grace make it in time?’

“Hey, Mitrof, what’s wrong?—Mitrof? Mirtof? Lof——?”

——Trolls usually lurk around the eighth floor.

Those words stuck in his head.

‘The eighth floor. The eighth floor, huh.’

“… That’s a long way.”

“Bufoo.”He let out a big sigh.

Chapter 34: The fat aristocrat can make friends.

The next day, the three of them continued to explore the fifth underground floor. All they could find were ochre boars, and still, there was no sign of blue deer. They couldn’t even find any traces of them.

Only the horns and meat of ochre boars were piling up, and Canule was already carrying a large load.

“Should we go down?”

Mitrof suggested it while they were looking at the map in the break room. Although there were unexplored areas, they could hardly expect to find conveniently placed blue deer that had not been seen up until this point.

“…Well. It might be better to hope that some stray blue deer survived downstairs—it’s pointless to keep hunting boars forever.”

“What about the ‘Guardian’?” Mitrof asked because of his lack of knowledge.

“That powerful monster is said to be on a floor where the layers change in the labyrinth, right?—I heard there’s no need to force oneself to fight it.”

Unexpectedly, Canule answered Mitrof.

“That’s right—it’s one of the most mysterious monsters that exist—even if you defeat it, it’ll revive the next day.”

“…It’ll revive?”

“That’s what they say—there are various rumors that some kind of relic is involved, or that it’s a curse from ancient magic. To challenge a guardian, you need to apply to the guild—It’s by appointment only.”

“…It’s like a high-end restaurant.”

Canule chuckled at Mitrof’s grumbling.

“In any case, it’s okay to put the guardian aside for now—it’s not a safe opponent to suddenly fight, and it’s very dangerous—you can advance without defeating it.”

Although they had carefully explored each floor so far, leaving unexplored guardians behind made Mitrof feel regretful, like he had halfway fulfilled his desires. However, both Mitrof and Grace had someone they needed to search for.

It was a fact that there was no point in staying too long if they couldn’t find them on the fifth underground floor, especially since Grace was under a clear time constraint. They had to find a blue deer fawn, an ingredient for medicine, and return before the Divine Tree withered.

The three of them headed towards the stairs and descended to the 6th floor. In the square before the stairs, adventurers were resting individually.

Mitrof, who had just finished taking a break, went by them.

At that moment, someone called out to him.

“Oh, it’s Mitrof!”

When he turned to the cheerful voice, there was Mikel sitting on the floor, chewing on an apple. Of course, the other members of “Wolves Wind” were also gathered around.

Mikel called out to his comrades and stood up, walking over to Mitrof.

“Mikel, were you also on the 6th floor?”

“I’m still looking for the troll today—the troll doesn’t seem to be anywhere above the 5th floor—but if adventurers can make it up to the 6th floor, they can handle trolls and either fight or run away. If we weren’t looking for this floor, we’d have to give up too.”

“Crunch,” Mikel said, biting the apple. He then looked behind Mitrof at Grace and Canule, tilting his head.

“You’re a three-person party, huh?—Are you rushing too much to the 6th floor?—Are you okay?”

Mikel asked, not making fun of them but genuinely worried.

Mitrof doesn’t know the standards of the labyrinth. He hesitated a little, wondering if their three-person party was too small or if their exploration pace was too fast, or both.

“If we sense any danger, we will turn around immediately.”

“I see. Besides, there aren’t even any blue deer on the 5th floor right now. It might be more efficient to do it on the 6th floor. By the way…”

Mikel put his arm around Mitrof’s shoulder and brought his face closer.

“Hey, are you dating that gorgeous elf?”

“Oink.”

To an unexpected question, he felt like he was about to blow snot out of his nose.

“W-What are you asking!—There’s no way I could be dating her!”

“For real? You’re not in love?—Are you really keeping up with things?”

“That’s rude?!—Having such frivolous feelings and falling in love with a woman so easily goes against chivalry!”

Mitrof replied with a panting breath. Of course, it was spoken in a low voice.

Respecting women was a natural manner for nobles. While he remained faithful to his own self-interest, there was a strong moral code that he stubbornly upheld. These were based on the customs and chivalry practiced by medieval knights, which Mitrof had strictly learned from a young age.

“Man, you’re so uptight.”

Mikel laughed heartily.

“It’s not that my head is too hard, you guys are just too soft.”

Mitrof said sullenly.

“Seriously, falling in love so easily and getting flustered over romantic love affects a man’s reputation.”

“That kind of thinking is silly.”

Mikel slapped Mitrof’s arm with a snap. He was amazed at the elasticity of the arm, but he had enough common sense and consideration not to tease Mitrof too much.

“Well, we’ll be on the sixth floor today, so if we pass by somewhere, let’s help each other if we run into trouble.”

“Sure,” and Mikel left .

“…He’s such a laid-back guy.”

This is the first time Mitrov has ever met someone with such a personality. He does not know how to behave as a non-aristocratic person.

“Mitrof, you have made a friend.”

“What did you say?”

Mitrov turned around in surprise, and for some reason, Grace was looking back at him with a soft smile.

“No?—It looked like you were very close.”

Grace turned to Canule, who obediently nodded and said, “Yes.”

“I thought he was Mitrov-sama’s friend, but they aren’t?”

“A friend?”

Mitrov was at a loss for words and looked back, perplexed.

Mitrov knew the meaning of the word “friend.” However, he had never used that term before.

He had interacted with boys his age, but they all carried their family names on their backs. As the child of an aristocrat, there was no room for fostering friendship.

However, Mitrov was no longer a nobleman.

Mikel was not a noble either.

“I never signed a contract to be friends with Mikel.”

Mitrof says, rubbing his chin.

“Fufu” Grace chuckled softly and spoke to Mitrof gently as if talking to a child, “Listen, Mitrof. Friendship is not a contract. It just happens naturally—if you think the same way as your friend and they feel the same way as you do, then that’s what friendship is.”

Mitrof groaned.

Friendship was something strange and abstract to him.

Mitrof doesn’t know for sure, nor can he guess what Mikel thinks.

It felt as unsatisfying as when they came down from the sixth floor, leaving an unexplored area behind.

Mitrof headed towards “Wolves Wind” alone. His party members noticed him and looked at him curiously, and Mikel also noticed.

Mitrof asked Mikel seriously.

“Mikel—I’m sorry if I’m wrong, but are we friends?”

After a short pause, Mikel burst out laughing, holding onto his stomach. He stood up and playfully slapped Mitrof’s shoulder while laughing, “Hahaha!”

Grace and Canule were watching the scene from a little further away. They exchanged looks, wondering what kind of relationship Mitrof and Mikel had.

After the laughter subsided, Mitrof returned with an uncertain expression. He furrowed his brow and met Grace and Canule’s gaze, saying, “Apparently, Mikel and I have become friends—It’s my first time experiencing this—honestly, I’m confused.”

Mitrof was serious, but Grace and Canule couldn’t help laughing a little.

With an uncertain expression, Mitrof pouted his bottom lip.

Chapter 35: The fat aristocrat fights trolls

The exploration of the sixth floor was relatively smooth.

The creatures inhabiting it were bipeds, cat-faced beastmen, and plump snakes.

The cat beastmen came at Mitrof quickly with their developed forearms and sharp claws. Their swift movements were troublesome, but Mitrof found them easier to deal with than the ochre boars. His decisive swordsmanship was well-suited to fast opponents.

The plump snakes approached by crawling on the ground or walls. When they contracted tightly, they would jump like a cannonball. Grace sometimes shot them down, and Mitrof sometimes knocked them down with his gauntlet.

Once, Mitrof took a hit from a plump snake like a cannonball in the stomach. It was a painful blow to the stomach, but because of Mitrof’s thick fat, the plump snake bounced back.

Once you get used to dealing with them, the sixth floor can be a relatively easy place to explore. However, neither the cat beastmen nor the plump snakes had valuable parts when skinned, and in terms of harvest, the fifth floor seemed to be a more fruitful location.

“It seems like there really aren’t any blue deer present.”

Grace murmured softly, as if her thoughts had slipped out. Although her voice was flat, Mitrof could sense a tinge of anxiety and restlessness mixed into her tone.

The exploration of the 6th floor was progressing smoothly. However, there were no signs of the blue deer, nor could they see the troll. Even if the exploration itself was going well, without finding what they were looking for, their hearts would continue to tire.

The incident occurred when Canule suggested taking a break because she was worried about the two.

“Something seems to be rampaging.”

Grace, with her sharp ears, noticed it first. Following her lead and turning a corner in the road, Mitrof finally heard the sound.

There was definitely the sound of something hard hitting the wall. In the labyrinth, that sound was almost certainly the noise of someone fighting something. However, what was strange was that there were no monsters on the 6th floor that could make such a loud noise.

As they continued down the hallway to see what was happening, they could finally see the figure. It was the “Wolves Wind” who was in a battle.

Mikel, holding his great sword, noticed Mitrof.

“Mitrof! Get back!—It’s the troll’s ‘March of Advance’!”

Without any reaction to his words, Mitrof could only widen his eyes.

There was a hole in the path. Trolls emerged from there, and it wasn’t just that. Three trolls were already fighting with Mikel and others in the passageway, and there were even trolls that had already exhausted their energy.

Close to 10 trolls were now visible in this location alone.

“Do we help?”

Canule asked Mitrof calmly. It meant deciding whether to leave this place or participate in the battle.

Of course, Mitrof didn’t hesitate.

“——Let’s go. Canule, stay here. Grace, okay?”

“Of course. Abandoning them would only tarnish the pride of the elves.”

Grace pulled out three arrows from the quiver. She held one in her mouth, held the other with her little finger and ring finger of her right hand, and drew the bowstring with the last one.

Mitrof drew out his rapier and ran forward.

With his belly shaking and bouncing, he ran swiftly.

Arrows flew past him from behind. One, two, three.

The rapid fire accurately hit the troll’s neck and head, visible through the side hole.

The troll screamed, but the wounds were shallow.

The troll’s skin was thick and protected by fat. It was not a fatal blow. However, it was enough to signal their presence.

The troll pulled out the arrows embedded in his body and threw them to the ground. The creature let out a growl, glaring at Mitrof as he approached.

“Hey! I told you to run, you pig!”

Mikel shouted.

“You said adventurers help each other, you shorty!”

Mitrof shouted back.

The troll held a broken stone axe in his hand. It was nothing more than a lump of rock without any sharpness, but if it hit Mitrof, it would surely kill him.

His body suddenly heated up, burning with flames. He tightly gripped the handle of his weapon. The troll raised the stone axe and swung it down. There was no way he could miss that movement.

Mitrof stepped and avoided the stone axe. Fragments of the shattered floor flew toward his feet. He paid no attention. He moved in and stabbed the knee of the troll. Quickly pulling his sword back, he slashed the back of the knee.

A scream.

The troll collapsed where Mitrof had jumped back. If he severed the tendon of his right leg, the giant could not stand. If Mitrof hit his knee, the head would lower. It was easily within reach.

Without hesitation, Mitrof jumped in again, dropped his knee, and thrust his sword with his whole body toward one point. He thrusts from below, aiming for the bottom of the troll’s chin.

The rapier penetrated accurately and pierced through the troll’s brain.

Immediately withdrawing the sword, he stepped back with a turn of his body. A ray of blood from the tip of the sword that was shaken off draws an arc that wraps around Mitrof’s body.

Without a scream or astonishment, the troll fell and stopped moving.

“——Good.”

This movement was something that Mitrof had imagined many times since fighting the troll. He nodded at the fact that he could do it in reality, and quickly moved on to the next challenge.

“You did it, junior!”

Mikel teased Mitrof, keeping an eye on him while fighting at the same time.

Mitrof’s composure in battle was something he had to learn from his experienced seniors. He felt frustrated but didn’t say a word.

Mikel and the others were fighting three trolls at once with ease. They were a party of four people, each with their own roles. They dealt with trolls with confidence and efficiency.

While Mitrof was taking a breath, a troll peered out from a nearby cave. But at that moment, an arrow pierced its right eye with pinpoint accuracy, taking it down without fail. Grace, who was still holding the bow, remained in place and released the arrow.

Mitrof looked back and saw Grace smiling confidently.

Just as Mitrof had many ideas on how to fight trolls, Grace must have had her own, not to hunt the beast, but to strike the monster. This difference in mindset from hunting to adventuring had sharpened her archery skills.

Mitrof and the others didn’t need to provide backup, as “Wolves Wind” had taken care of the trolls one by one, finally defeating the last one. Now they could take a breath and relax—but suddenly, at that very moment when the tension came loose,

Dodon.

The ceiling burst open.

Chapter 36: The fat aristocrat meets the powerful enemy once again

The debris fell like a waterfall.

Few were able to react to this abnormality.

The ceiling collapsed almost directly above the “Wolves Wind” and most of the trolls, and dust immediately filled the area.

“Mikel! Are you okay?!”

Mitrof shouted while covering his nose and mouth with his arm. After some time, the dust cleared, and his vision returned.

Where Mikel and the others were, there was only a pile of soil and stones, and there was a particularly large figure.

Upon seeing it, it was immediately clear that the figure was looking at Mitrof.

——That troll.

It’s the troll that fought Mitrof. However, what was strange about it was its appearance.

It was covered in wounds, and blood was still oozing from its body. There were diagonal claw marks on its face, and it seemed to have lost one of its eyes. It opened its mouth, which was dyed red, exposing its teeth.

The troll is holding an arm from his left arm. It was a thick arm covered in scarlet fur.

“… Is that the arm of the ‘Scarlet Bear’?”

Grace murmured in disbelief.

“He… he ate the Guardian!”

The trolls show off by biting into the arms of the “scarlet bear” and chomping down on a piece of meat. He chewed and then roared.

The air vibrated. Mitrof was overcome with unbearable trembling. As a living being, he felt fear.

That was a monster.

He wanted to run away now, to escape. He couldn’t possibly fight against such a thing.

But Mitrof saw it.

He saw a figure half-buried in the rubble. It was Mikel. He was protecting the black robed girl.

At that moment, he was trying to save his comrades. But they were now in no condition to fight.

What would happen if they ran away?

It’s obvious.

That’s why they couldn’t run away.

Why was that? Mitrof wondered. It wasn’t a rational decision not to run away. It wasn’t right as a noble.

It was terrifying. Even so, he felt that he had to fight.

Mitrof exhaled trembling breaths.

Bu,hiiiiiiiiii.

He tried to dispel all the fear and terror that gushed out of his body.

It was impossible.

It was terrifying. His body was stiff. He wanted to run away. He felt like he might soil himself.

However, he could not let go of his sword.

“Grace,” he called her name. “I will fight—you should run.”

“Don’t be silly, Mitrof!—We are a party—if we fight, we do it together.”

Her face was firm, with a smile. Mitrof smiled too.

“Okay, Canule, what about you?”

Before he could finish his sentence, Canule shook her head.

“If you consider me one of you, please allow me to stay here.”

“…Alright—while we distract him, please rescue Mikel and the others.”

“Understood—if it’s physical work, I can be of use.”

When the two said they would stay behind, Mitrof felt intense joy. He thought he was happy. He wasn’t alone. He had allies. And now, he would go and help his friends.

Could there be a more blessed situation?

He thought of such things for a moment.

Existence has meaning. There is a reason to fight, and there is a reason to live.

If that’s the case, there is nothing to fear.

‘The way of chivalry is to find death.’

“No, of course I do not intend to die, but I will go with the intention to die.”

Mitrof stared down at the troll, calmly approaching it.

The troll stood on top of debris, taking a step forward. The earth crumbled.

The footing was unstable. Mitrof thought to himself, ‘I can’t go there.’

The teacher who taught him swordsmanship since childhood taught him things that were not typically noble. He was originally an adventurer, and his skills were based on practical swordsmanship.

He often talked about the battlefield—places that were easy to fight, places that were difficult. Drawing the opponent into one’s own favorable terrain was a prerequisite for fighting.

That pile of debris was difficult for Mitrof to fight on, but suitable for the troll.

Therefore, he couldn’t attack and had to wait for the troll on level ground.

However, Mikel and the others were in the rubble. If the troll shifted its focus there, they had no choice but to jump in.

With a tense stare-down, the pressure builds up around Mitrof, taking his breath away.

Behind him, Grace had an arrow ready, while Canule was looking for an opportunity to help Mikel and the others.

They knew that something would trigger the situation, and once it started, it would not stop.

That trigger came from within the rubble.

Chapter 37: The fat aristocrat is prepared to die

The young girl that Mikel had been protecting lifted her staff, even as her body remained half-buried in debris. She incanted in the magical language used to manifest ancient miracles in modern times.

The incantation coalesced into water. Starting as a small sphere, it grew until it was as big as a human head and then transformed into the shape of a sword.

The sword pointed towards the troll, and then it flew.

Mitrof watched everything from beginning to end. She was undoubtedly an excellent magician, with a seamless connection between her incantation and the activation of the spell.

However, the magic sword of water missed the troll as it swung the arm that held the “scarlet bear” like a club, knocking the sword aside.

Grace reacted instantly, taking aim at the open area created by the troll’s movement and firing an arrow, which struck the troll’s neck with precision.

“——What kind of a troll is this!”

Grace spat out her words. Mitrof was also shaken.

The troll grabbed the arrow just before it pierced its neck. Its reaction was surprising and unexpected for a clumsy troll.

Once again, the magic water sword flew towards the troll. Even that was dodged. The troll aimed at Mikel and the others in the rubble while throwing away the arrow it had grabbed.

“There’s no choice but to go,” Mitrof said, clicking his tongue.

He ran towards the rubble. The debris was mixed in different sizes, making it difficult to go straight. However, he had to protect Mikel and the others.

“Over here, troll!”

Mitrof yelled at the troll from the top of the rubble, trying to draw its attention. But he soon realized the futility of his actions.

The troll had been watching Mitrof from the start. Its behavior in attacking Mikel and the others was just to lure Mitrof into this place.

The troll had set a trap to fight in a favorable position. Mitrof gritted his teeth. He knew there was no time to turn and run away, even after realizing the trap.

The troll let the “scarlet bear’s arm” hang limply. Sharp and transparent claws, like glass crystals, grew at the end of its arm.

The sharpness of those claws should not be underestimated.

With the strength of a troll, just grazing it could result in being sliced in two. In this precarious location, it is impossible to land a decisive attack.

However, is it possible?

Mitrof places his rapier diagonally in front of him and shifts into a half-body position.

He places his weight on his back foot to be able to retreat at any time instead of on his front center of gravity when stepping forward.

Ignoring Mitrof’s posture entirely, the troll charges in, kicking up rubble. Its upper arm swings down in a high arc, but Mitrof avoids it by sliding down the slope.

The sharp claws of the scarlet bear cut through the rock. Mitrof sees the smooth cut—a terrifying sight. He clenches his left fist tightly.

The leather gauntlets covering his forearms can handle goblins, kobolds, and fangs, but against a troll, they are no longer a shield—both the gauntlets and the rapier in his right hand are so unreliable and precarious that he feels insignificant.

Still, there was only one thing he could do, move forward and thrust his sword.

Therefore, Mitrof lifted his foot, stepped forward, and thrust his rapier.

He aimed for the troll’s lowered right arm. However, the troll avoided it. Mitrof’s thrust was too slow to hit his target.

It was a foothold. He lacked decisiveness on the debris, and his center of gravity was shaking. Mitrof’s heavy body and lack of muscular strength made it impossible for him to stand firmly there. Therefore, his sword was dull and useless.

During the gap between Mitrof and the troll, Grace’s arrow flew without missing its target. This time, it was not grabbed. However, the arrow aimed at his face had landed on the troll’s left arm. Although it pierced through his arm, it didn’t seem to cause any pain or itch, as if he were attacked by a bug.

Mitrof caught a glimpse of Canule out of the corner of his eye. She quickly crossed behind the rocks and made her way to Mikel and the others. She dug out the rubble and earth that had buried the bodies.

Mikel and the young magician he protected were finally free. However, Mikel seemed to have lost consciousness and was unable to get up. Canule carried Mikel over her shoulder and held the young magician close as they moved toward safety.

For now, they have successfully rescued the two of them. But there were still two others somewhere beneath the rubble, and finding them might prove difficult.

Mitrof had been biting his lip when he suddenly heard his name called sharply.

Startled, he bent down just as the troll threw a piece of debris at him. Rocks and stones of various sizes filled his vision.

He crouched down, protecting his face with his gauntlet.

The impact felt like being struck repeatedly with a hard rod. The intense impact made his left arm go numb and caused a sharp pain to shoot through his left thigh.

Despite this, he managed to stay standing. The debris missed him.

When Mitrof looked up, he saw the troll swing the Scarlet Bear’s arm in front of his eyes.

Chapter 38: The fat aristocrat dances the waltz

He didn’t think of anything.

His mind was blank.

Faced with an inevitable death, he realized that all a person could do was stare at it.

Suddenly, his vision was blocked—it was a dwarven shield warrior who was one of Mikel’s comrades.

The sizable metallic shield repelled “The Scarlet Bear’s Claw,” emitting a sharp and distinct sound.

The dwarf did not falter. He stood there as a shield. Not only that, but he stepped forward with his large shield against the troll.

The movement tripped the troll.

“I fear not the weapons of amateurs!”

It was a strong, roaring voice.

The dwarf stood like a formidable wall. ‘How reliable his thick, broad back was!’

Mitrof was awestruck by the magnificence of the shield warrior and, at the same time, noticed that his feet were soaked in blood. Upon closer inspection, it was not just his feet; he was bleeding from his back, arms, and forehead too. He had injuries all over his body from the collapse of the rubble.

Despite that, he still stood here. He protected Mitrof.

“Dwarf shield warrior, I thank you.”

“Hmph—words are unnecessary—my weapon remains buried—winning depends on your needle—show it through your actions.”

The voice was hoarse, the breathing was rough, and the speaker was unsettled. It was proof that he was suffering from unbearable pain.

Mitrof swallowed hard, feeling something stuck in his throat.

He felt both awe and admiration for the warrior’s true appearance as a fighter, and his own pathetic state.

The warrior had not lost to fear or resignation. This was what an adventurer was, and Mitrof gritted his teeth.

He stomped his left foot hard on the ground. There was a pain that resonated in the bone marrow. He involuntarily scowled, and tears welled up in his eyes.

‘It hurt.’

But what was this level of pain? The warrior in front of him was standing with pain many times greater than this.

The footing was bad. So what? Those who don’t move forward in fear of rolling on the rubble ground have no future. Victory can only be achieved by stepping hard, whether by rolling, injuring one’s feet, or even bleeding.

abandoning complacency, fear, and oneself.

When he determined his resolve, finally that quietness came to Mitrof’s heart.

the power he obtained from “sublimation” mental strength to compensate for his own weaknesses in the past.

Mitrof took a deep breath.

Buuuuhhhh…

The troll snarled, baring its fangs, and Mitrof noticed that its pupils had turned red, like blood.

This is a battle.

It was not a relationship between an adventurer and a monster. It was not a matter of hunting or being hunted.

To live, they staked everything on each other. They could no longer escape. They had to win here.

The troll charged.

The “Scarlet Bear’s Arm” was swung sideways, cutting into the ground.

The dwarf did not move—no, he could no longer move. He no longer had the strength.

Despite that, the pride of a shield warrior ensured he could block that attack.

Gaan made a heavy sound that shook the depths of his stomach.

The dwarf took the brunt of the troll’s attack and protected Mitrof completely. However, he could not withstand the impact and was blown away as he rolled over a pile of rubble.

That gave Mitrof visibility.

He saw the figure of the troll swinging its arm and stretching its upper body. But it was staring at him with one unmarred eye.

Mitrof is not intimidated. He glares back. How can there be victory in a battle that is lost in spirit?

He ran through the piles of rubble, advancing on unstable ground with broken cobblestones, earth, and rocks. Mitrof’s body was heavy, and the excess fat shook like a heavy stone. He used its weight to dig his toes into the ground and proceeded from there, driving them like stakes.

movement through points using a toe stand.

It was not a sword technique for dueling.

It was a dance.

A technique that nobles are required to learn is ballroom dancing, a dance performed at social events. Mitrof remembered the movements that his instructor had drilled into him since he was a young child.

maintaining posture using the toes and footwork through center of gravity movement.

The rhythm of the waltz led Mitrof through the rubble.

Before the troll could grab him, Mitrof thrust his rapier into his wrist. The blow pierced through the fat and landed solidly on the bone.

The troll yelled and flung his arm. Mitrof had already drawn his sword, pivoted his body, and moved away from the spot.

1, 2, 3. 1, 2, 3.

In his tranquil mind, only that rhythm was repeated.

The troll slammed the scarlet bear’s arm down from above.

Mitrof elegantly reached up with his hand and spread his legs widely, rotating his flabby body to avoid the strike.

The rhythm flowed. He slashed the elbow he had pulled in as if to release it. It tore through the troll’s right knee, sending blood flying.

a roar of anger or perhaps a scream.

The troll did not retreat. With red eyes seething with anger, he looks down at the little monster that is Mitrof.

Baring his fangs, he glared down, and then an arrow landed on his face.

It was Grace.

The troll writhed in agony.

‘This is it,’ Mitrof said, holding his sword in front of him. It was the stance he had been taught as a noble’s duel ritual. He swept the tip of the blade through the air and waited for the right moment to step forward.

The troll pulled out the deeply embedded arrow. Blood splattered. Grace’s second arrow flew toward him. He received it on his left arm and shouted out in frustration.

That’s when Mitrof stepped forward.

The troll swung his left arm, still holding the arrow he had pulled out, to strike Mitrof. But Mitrof rotated and avoided the strike. With a loud sound, the ground shook beside him as rubble flew around him, cutting his cheek. But Mitrof did not fear, and forgot the pain.

Mitrof has already learned how to fight trolls.

To win with a thin, needle-like rapier, he had no choice but to aim for the face. And to reach the troll’s face, which was much higher than Mitrof’s, he had to attack his feet first.

—Stab.

He made his first stab and pierced the troll’s knee with the rapier, then pulled it out.

As Scarlet Bear’s arm swung at him again, Mitrof rotated and lowered his body close to the ground, using centrifugal force to regain his posture. He then struck again with a second stab.

The troll returns his swung arm to its original position with a reverse kasaya cut. Mitrof clearly sees this movement.

——The waltz is playing.

In the faded memories of his childhood, Mitrof dances while crying. While receiving whippings from his instructor, he keeps performing the same moves until dusk. The sound and the rhythm are here now.

Mitrof spins around. With a sharp sword in his right hand, he dances the waltz at the center of a pile of rubble. Dodging even death, he thrusts the sword three times.

It deeply pierced the troll’s knee joint.

A scream echoes above. As his leg loses strength, he falls to his knees, and the voice is even closer now.

Mitrof plants his feet firmly on the ground, accumulating the weight of his corpulent body, all for the final thrust with all his might.

The troll, on his knees, screams and raises the scarlet bear’s arm. His left arm is also raised. He intends to crush Mitrof with both hands.

Mitrof has no intention of avoiding it, nor can he. He has already stopped moving.

At this point, it’s only a matter of who will reach first—and Troll is slightly faster.

However, Mitrof did not give up.

He only aimed for the troll’s chin and focused on that one point. The world was already colorless. In a silent world where only himself and the target he aimed at were colored, Mitrof stretched his body. As a nobleman, he had been trained in swordsmanship for this duel.

Before his sword could reach its destination, two things happened at the same time, just as the troll’s arm was about to catch Mitrof.

a dull sound, and Canule appeared to protect Mitrof. Holding a large shield borrowed from a dwarf warrior, she intercepted the troll’s desperate Scarlet Bear’s Arm weapon with her incredible strength.

With a thud, the troll’s left arm hit right beside Mitrof. An arrow was sticking out of his wrist. The arrow that Grace had fired with all her might, strong enough to cut through the bowstring, hit and penetrated through the troll’s wrist, changing its trajectory and protecting Mitrof.

Thus, there was nothing to stop Mitrof. Mitrof pierced the troll’s neck with such intense concentration that he didn’t even notice what had just happened. It rose from the jaw, taking the troll’s life.

The red eyes glared at Mitrof.

Mitrof stared back at the troll. Eventually, the light went out from the troll’s eyes, and it collapsed on the spot, crushing Mitrof underneath.

A scream of agony rose up.

Chapter 39: The fat aristocrat visits a friend

When Mitrof went to visit the hospital attached to the guild, Mikel was already sitting up.

“Hey!—It’s my lifesaver!”

Mikel raised his hand to Mitrof. His voice and expression were full of energy, but his legs were immobilized with bandages and splints.

“…That’s a serious injury.”

“Well, being buried alive was no joke—just being alive is good enough—and thanks to Leona, I was healed immediately and back to normal.”

“That priestess, huh?—It’s really a relief that her healing prayers worked.”

“Well, the worst thing that could happen is for a troll to bury you alive.”

“It’s not a laughing matter—I really felt my life was in danger.”

Mitrof glared at Mikel as he laughed out loud.

Mitrof almost lost his life when the troll he had killed crushed him. The extra flesh pressing down on Mitrof’s face made it difficult for him to breathe, and he was trapped between rubble and flesh, where he could have met his end.

The priestess, who had been rescued by Canule, was healing the dwarf warrior. Together with Canule, they lifted the troll.

Although it was a healing prayer, it is not possible to completely heal injuries on the spot. Mikel, for example, had broken both of his legs and is still receiving treatment in the infirmary a few days after returning from the labyrinth.

“So, what happened to the march of the troll?”

Mikel asked.

“The guild has already taken care of it—they’ve gathered a group of high-ranked adventurers and taken them out.”

“Damn! I wish I could have been there. We don’t get to ‘march’ very often.

“I’m not very familiar with the labyrinth, but a ‘march’ is an abnormal situation, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s right—a king is born among the monsters, who then leads the invasion of other floors. If it happens too often, it can become a mess.”

‘I see,’ Mitrof nodded.

He had heard the details of the story from the guild receptionist.

As they successfully defeated the troll ‘king,’ the situation seemed to have been resolved. It was revealed that the trolls had been using the blue deer as a food source, which had led to a significant increase in their numbers.

Usually, an increase in troll numbers would be noticeable, but this time, the trolls had followed the “king’s” orders and created nests in the side tunnels of the labyrinth. They had been quietly and steadily increasing their numbers, so no one had noticed.

As soon as Mitrof and his group encountered them, trolls were seen all over the place.

Luckily, adventurers returning from exploring the deeper levels were able to quickly subdue the trolls. However, if the timing had been worse, it could have caused a great deal of chaos, according to the receptionist.

“Come to think of it, that troll you defeated ate the ‘Scarlet Bear,’ right?”

“Yeah, it used its arm as a weapon—it was scary.”

“Did it have red eyes?”

“Yeah, it did—do you know something?”

“It’s a ‘mutation.’ It’s probably rarer than a ‘march’ and said to be an existence that ‘sublimated’ by devouring stronger monsters.”

“Monsters can ‘sublimate’ too…?”

It was surprising and felt like an adventure, but at the same time, it was understandable. That red-eyed troll was powerful, beyond comparison to an average troll. By defeating the guardian, the “Scarlet Bear,” perhaps it was reborn into a stronger existence.

“Hey, Mitrof.”

Mikel suddenly put on a serious face.

“Thank you, seriously—thanks to you, my comrades were saved.”

It was a simple phrase. That’s why Mikel’s emotions came through straightforwardly.

Mitrof placed his right hand on Mikel’s shoulder, thinking about what he should do a few times, and lightly patted Mikel’s shoulder with an awkward amount of force.

“—Adventurers are supposed to help each other, right?”

Mikel gave a wry smile.

“Yeah, that’s right—it’s about helping each other—next time, I’ll help you, so wait for me.”

“First, let’s fix both of your legs. If we don’t, you won’t even be able to take a bath.”

“That’s right!—Damn it, I really want to take a bath soon—I miss Milk Ale so much.”

Mitrof and Mikel looked at each other and laughed.

Chapter 40: The fat aristocrat wishes to help the elf hunter

On his way back from the treatment center, Mitrof headed to a plaza on a hill in the city where you could overlook the entire city. The location was a relaxing spot where families and couples were enjoying the nice weather.

At the edge of the plaza, there was a bench, and as expected, Grace was sitting there.

Mitrof sat next to her. It was their third time sitting side by side, watching the city and the elven forest far away.

Grace noticed that Mitrof was sitting next to her, but she did not turn her face.

Swimming her silver hair in the wind blowing through, and she had a somewhat relaxed expression on her face.

“I went to the guild, and Mikel seemed to be doing well,” said Mitrof.

“I see—that’s good to hear,” replied Grace.

“Thanks to the ‘March,’ low-ranked adventurers still cannot enter the labyrinth—they said it would be lifted within a week,” added Mitrof.

“I see.”

The “March” of trolls caused the temporary closure of the labyrinth. However, it only affected the shallow areas where trolls appeared, and it did not affect the adventurers who were exploring deeper into the labyrinth.

The “march” of the trolls had been completely eradicated by the hands of high-ranking adventurers, but the guild still conducted thorough investigations. Apparently, the “march” of monsters was an abnormal situation.

Confirming the safety within the labyrinth was reliable, but at this moment it was frustrating for Grace, who felt immobilized in the face of her goals.

“…Last night, a messenger came from the elf village.”

“It doesn’t sound like good news.”

“Indeed, the leaves of the Divine Tree are withering one after another; time is running out, and it may not even last for a week.”

Although it was a serious problem, Grace’s voice strangely remained flat. It seemed to reflect the weight of her troubles.

“Is there no other way?—aren’t other elves looking for a solution besides Grace?”

“Of course, they are, but none of them seem to be successful.”

Mitrof let out a big, snorting breath through his nose.

In the elf forest, there is a divine tree that houses ancient spirits. It is because the management of the tree has been carried out without interruption, that Grace’s tribe has been able to live peacefully in the forest. If the Divine Tree were to wither away, there would be no reason for them to be there. It is said that the current king places an especially strong faith in such wishes and spiritual powers.

“…The king will be very angry if he hears that the Divine Tree has withered in his reign.

“…It would be a bad omen.”

‘No, it wouldn’t just be a bad omen.’ Mitrof muttered inwardly.

The withering of the Divine Tree could be interpreted in any number of ways—an ill omen, a rejection of the king by the spirits, a precursor to a great disaster—but none of them seemed good.

The royal family and nobility place great importance on omens and divination. They believe that there is a great invisible will at work in the world. If the sacred tree were to wither away, it could become an even bigger event than Mitrof imagines.

“But there’s nothing I can do.”

Grace turned her face towards Mitrof and smiled—a powerless and strangely transparent smile. The word “resignation” was written all over it.

“We cannot enter the labyrinth—and even if we do, the blue deer will not be found—then I am at my wit’s end. It’s pathetic, but that’s about all we can do.”

She sighed heavily, like an old woman who had carried a heavy load all her life.

“Mitrof, I really appreciate all that you have done for me—your battle with the troll was magnificent—you taught me what a true warrior is.”

“Don’t say it’s all over for us.”

“It’s over—even if we lose the forest, we’ll manage to survive somehow—of course, we won’t have our tribe roots with us.”

Grace spoke as if it were a joke, but Mitrof couldn’t bring himself to laugh.

Chapter 41: The fat aristocrat finds a solution in the bath

Even without going to the labyrinth, Mitrof would often visit the public bathhouse.

It was partly due to habit and partly to clear his head of problems that were not going well or getting stuck.

Taking a bath in the middle of the day was not bad.

The bathhouse that Mitrof went to after his adventure was always dimly lit. However, in the daytime, sunlight streamed in from the stained glass ceiling and skylights, reflecting off the white walls and tiles, making it a pleasantly bright environment. The greenery of the potted plants placed here and there also looked vivid.

The clientele was also slightly different from the nighttime crowd. Mitrof recognized many unfamiliar faces, but they appeared to be adventurers from the atmosphere. They could be people who took a bath before heading to the labyrinth, or novice adventurers who were also prohibited from entering the labyrinth, like Mitrof.

There were people whom Mitrof was sure were like himself, slouching and gazing blankly at the skylight or the water’s surface, propped up on their elbows with nothing to do.

Mitrof was one of them, unable to concentrate on the pleasure of the bath, not feeling motivated, and unable to find anything to do.

“Oh… how unusual.”

The voice was familiar to him. The sight was refreshing and unfamiliar.

“…It’s been a while.”

It was a familiar lion-head man. It was difficult to see in the dim light of the night. However, in the bright daylight, Mitrof was amazed by the man’s sturdy build and the fierce nature of his lion head. Although he spoke casually, he exuded an aura that suggested he was not just an ordinary adventurer.

With a splash, the lion-headed man submerged himself in the water, his mane trailing behind him.

“What a coincidence to meet you in the daytime.”

“Yes, the labyrinth is off-limits.”

“Ah, right, the troll incident—It seems to have been quite noisy.”

For him, the incident seemed to be of a minor degree. Mitrof scratched his cheek, thinking that this man might be a fairly advanced adventurer.

“I heard about the troll’s ‘march’ happening on the upper floors—were you safe?”

“The “march” itself was fine. I encountered a few of them. I almost died in a battle with the red-eyed troll.”

“Oh, you fought a red-eyed troll—impressive.”

The lion-headed man seemed genuinely impressed. Mitrof was not used to receiving praise from someone who was probably quite powerful. His back felt itchy.

“So, it was you who found the relic.”

Mitrof was surprised.

“How did you know?”

“There are those who find value in such information—and valuable things circulate, especially when it comes to relics—and I heard about a promising newcomer who found a relic that everyone on the upper floors had overlooked and defeated a Red-Eyed troll.”

“Gururu” laughs with a rumble in his throat.

“… You’re kidding, right?”

“No, it is true that there are stories about that. It’s quite impressive to accomplish those two things alone. When it comes to relics, I hear that there’s a lot of information going around. After all, curious collectors have money and power. If you get into trouble with a troublesome person, tell them. I might be able to help you a little.”

“…Thank you very much.”

‘Can he really help deal with troublesome people in power?—Who is this person?’

Mitrof realized he was making guesses and evaluations, so he immediately washed his face with hot water. This was something like an ingrained aristocratic trait.

“Do they really want relics that much?”

He asked to change the subject, feeling his own thoughts were base.

“Rare things only have value because they are rare—It would make you feel fulfilled to get your hands on it. I know a guy who relies on adventurers to collect rare materials and decorate them in a special glass case called the Ward Box. It’s engraved with magic, and apparently, anything put inside can be preserved as if time were stopped—truly a ridiculous hobby…”

“Excuse me.”

Mitrof widened his nostrils and approached the lion-headed man. As if an angel had whispered in his ear, that spark raced through his mind.

“I would like to meet that person.”

Chapter 42: The fat aristocrat makes peace with the past.

When Mitrof met up with Canule and left their usual inn, a horse-drawn carriage stopped before them.

Though well-worn, it was clear that this was a luxury item, distinct from the public carriages commonly seen by citizens. It was a carriage that nobles favored.

It was customary for each family’s emblem to be designed on the door, which was used to determine the owner.

Mitrof squinted at the familiar emblem on the carriage.

“Canule, please step back while holding that.”

“…Do you know them?”

“It’s my father.”

Canule nodded in understanding, holding onto the box while moving away from Mitrof.

At the same time, the coachman opened the door. The first to come out was the butler, Arzo. It had only been a month, but Mitrof felt a sense of nostalgia upon seeing his face.

Arzo looked at Mitrof with a gentle gaze and bowed, then pulled out the mobile stairs from beneath the carriage.

Next to come out, as Mitrof had anticipated, was his father, Count Vansankai.

His father elegantly dismounted and faced Mitrof. He surveyed him from head to toe and snorted in derision.

“It seems like you haven’t forgotten the appearance of a nobleman.”

“It just so happens—I have an appointment with someone now—usually, I wear work clothes.”

Mitrov was wearing the clothes he had on when he was kicked out of the house.

After becoming an adventurer, he preferred cheap clothes like work clothes and hemp shirts, but his father would have frowned upon seeing Mitrov in such attire.

“How did you end up coming to this place?—Surely you weren’t worried about me?”

“I heard you’ve been doing well as an adventurer lately.”

His father neither confirmed nor denied it. Mitrov couldn’t help but smile wryly at his father’s aristocratic way of speaking, veiling the conversation. People involved in adventuring, especially Grace, spoke honestly and directly, which Mitrov found more comfortable than the circumlocutory conversation that masked the true intentions of aristocrats.

He also thought that there was no need to ask about things that were already obvious.

His father is not someone who would just waste his resources by moving around downtown by carriage for petty reasons. Mitrov knows this well.

He moves with a purpose, and only does so when it benefits him.

“I heard that you found a hidden room in the labyrinth and obtained a relic there.”

“…I did not expect Father to know much about the labyrinth situation.”

“Marquis Truffe has made an offer—that old man likes to collect rare things; he wants to see the relic you have obtained.”

His father looked over the wooden box held by Canule, who was standing behind Mitrov.

“Is that the relic?—Just as well, I’ll take it home.”

His father said it as if it were only natural. He was that kind of person. He believed that everything should go according to his own wishes, and he had held enough power to do so throughout his life.

His mother and brother followed suit, of course. Mitrov did too. That was the way of life for a noble household. The word of the head of the family was always right, and following it was the way to protect and grow the family.

Thus, Mitrof lived as the third son of a noble family. The eldest son was to inherit the house, followed by the spare second son, and then Mitrof, who was not expected to amount to anything. Perhaps he could not meet the expectations that his father had once held for him.

His father did not even give him a second glance. He didn’t smile, compliment, or even scold Mitrof.

Eating was the only pleasure in his daily life, and as Mitrof grew plumper due to overeating, his father frowned upon him. It wasn’t until then that Mitrof realized he existed in his father’s world and was within his father’s sight.

Overeating and becoming as bloated as a pig may have been his way of rebelling against his father.

Mitrof had nothing.

No power to earn his father’s recognition, no will to go against his father, and no strength to live on his own.

His father expelled him from his house and told him to perish by himself in the labyrinth.

Preparing for death, Mitrof went to the labyrinth.

and he truly faced death there.

It was Grace who saved Mitrof and had helped him grow up to this point.

His father was looking at the wooden box that Canule was holding. It was the artifact that they had received from the guild, just as he had suspected.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot give this to you.”

“I didn’t hear you right.”

His father looked at Mitrof. He met his gaze with his own.

“But there is already an existing reservation for this artifact.”

“You can change any reservation as many times as you want—I am the father, and I am the one who says I need it.”

“But the other day, I was disowned by the Vansankai family.”

“Oh, is that so?”

His father laughed through his nose.

It was a face that showed that he had seen through Mitrof’s true intention by reading between the lines of what he said.

“Very well then—Mitrof, I will take you back home—I was originally going to pick you up after a month in the labyrinth.”

Mitrof laughed.

His nose made a “Buhhii Buhhii” sound.

His father narrowed his eyes, sensing that Mitrof’s laughter was filled with scorn.

“I refuse.”

Mitrov said.

“…You refuse?”

“You weren’t going to pick me up in the first place—you only came because you heard I had a relic and because you could use it. On the day you abandoned me, I abandoned you as well. Your home and your ties to me, you are no longer my father.”

“Hmph, have you gone mad playing adventurer games?—Are you planning to give up the life of a noble and struggle in the mud? I told you I would take you back.”

“Mud?—Is that what you think?”

Memories of the days of adventure with Grace came to mind. They were the most vivid and colorful days of Mitrof’s life.

Dirty rooms, scarce meals, life-threatening labyrinths, and overcrowded public baths for commoners

He met Canule; he met Mikel; they became comrades, friends, overcame formidable enemies, and praised, helped, and trusted each other.

There was no guarantee in life, no elegant ballroom. Clothes got dirty, injuries occurred, and beans in hand got squished. Maybe they will die tomorrow.

Such a life is like being in the mud. And yet.

“In this past month, I’ve finally been able to live—I feel like my heart is burning—certainly, the life of a noble is peaceful, with no fear of starving and every day feeling like a holiday. But I’d rather live free, writhing in the mud, than live another dead day. Please go back. Your son is already dead.”

Mitrof stated this firmly.

Not using a noble, roundabout way of speaking, but instead speaking honestly like an adventurer, he showed his clear determination.

His father frowned and looked down on him with a sharp gaze. Mitrof did not back down, despite the pressure of his father’s noble status. He shuddered under his father’s gaze. In the past, he would not have been able to stand up to such pressure.

But now…

How much more frightening is this compared to a red-eyed troll?

And he fought that troll, and he won.

In that case, there was no reason to fear. Mitrov stood there, standing firm in his beliefs. There was no reason to fear his father.

“——You have grown up.”

His father muttered softly, turning on his heels and returning to the carriage without leaving any lingering words.

Mitrov watched his father’s back disappear into the distance. He wondered if his father’s back had always been so small.

Arzo bowed to Mitrov and followed his father back into the carriage.

Mitrov watched the carriage as it drove away, as if his whole life was moving further away from him. He was born a noble, raised as a noble, and although he was expelled from his home, he was still a third son of a noble in his heart.

But now it has all come to an end.

The noble Mitrov has left with that carriage.

From this point on, he would never see his father again. This was the turning point of his life. His father would continue to be a nobleman, and Mitrov would become an adventurer. They would each follow their own paths.

“Are you sure?”

Canule appeared next to him before he even realized it.

“Yeah, this is fine.”

Mitrof nodded, as if telling himself something.

“…That was difficult, but you did a great job.”

“Thank you—now, let’s go—we’ll be late for our appointment.”

Mitrof laughed, no longer making pig-like grunts.

Chapter 43: The fat aristocrat goes hungry

“Mitrof, I still don’t know how to thank you.”

Grace was at a loss for words, with a look on her face that Mitrof had never seen before. She seemed unsure of where to place her hands, whether crossing her arms or playing with her hair. When she glanced up at Mitrof, she quickly looked away.

“There’s no need for thanks—Grace found the relic with me—it’s your achievement too.”

“But I wouldn’t have thought of this method on my own—and with this, it seems like I’m the only one reaping the rewards.”

Grace looked to the side.

There was a carriage prepared to take them to the elf village. The elves from Grace’s hometown were waiting, guarding the area carefully. Inside the carriage was what they had found: the antlers of a blue fawn that Grace had desperately been searching for.

“We were lucky—a collector introduced to us wanted our relic more than we thought; he used his connections to collect antlers from all over.”

“…That’s fortunate, but is there anything else that you lost?”

“There’s no need to worry—I’m just giving you a relic I can’t find a use for. Isn’t that right, Canule?”

Mitrof turned to Canule, who was sitting beside him, and spoke.

Grace also glanced at Canule to confirm. At times like this, Canule was grateful to have no facial expressions and nodded.

“Yes, Mitrof-sama only gives you the relic because he can’t find a use for it.”

That’s not a lie. If Mitrof had decided not to talk about it, Canule would respect that decision.

“Well, that’s good to hear… but still, how can I thank you enough?—I couldn’t have done it alone—from delving to the fifth basement floor to defeating trolls and even finding what I was looking for, it was all because I met you.”

“I’m the one who should be thanking you—you saved my life and taught me about living as an adventurer in the labyrinth.”

There were things that he really wanted to say, but the shame of being completely honest overwhelmed him.

“Thanks to this box, the deterioration of the horns has stopped, but we must hurry and deliver it to the village as soon as possible—I really want to give a proper thanks, but time is of the essence.”

“It’s alright, don’t worry about it—when in trouble, we help each other—that’s the first thing you taught me.”

Mitrof joked, and Grace finally softened her expression.

“I think it was the guidance of the Divine Tree and Spirits that led me to meet a person as kind and sincere as you—honestly, I’m not very fond of humans, but you are special.”

“I think I look more like a troll than a human, to be honest.”

“Stop joking.”

Grace laughed heartily.

The time of parting was approaching. Grace didn’t want to drag it out, and Mitrof understood. Both had accepted what needed to be done.

“Truly, it was a fun time—living as an adventurer isn’t that bad.”

“Yeah, really—it’s all thanks to you, Grace.”

“When things settle down, I will definitely come back—I have to thank you properly, Mitrof, so make sure to stay alive until then.”

Grace turned her gaze to Canule.

“Canule, will you take good care of Mitrof while I am gone?—He is naive, and I worry about leaving him alone.”

“I will do my best to support him, so please do not worry.”

“Well, it is good that Canule is here—I could not leave Mitrof alone and return to the village.”

“Are you my guardian?”

Mitrof said in a bewildered voice, and both Grace and Canule laughed at his face, which looked like that of a teenage boy who hates meddling.

“Canule, I hope you find what you are looking for—Mitrof seems to be in possession of good fortune—with him, you won’t be far behind.”

“Yes, I think so too—I will do my best to help.”

“…I do not like being expected to do something.”

The three exchanged glances and smiles, nodding their heads slightly at each other.

Mitrof thought this was good.

“Alright, let’s go then.”

Grace called out to the waiting elves. Everything was already prepared for departure.

“So long, Mitrof, Canule.”

“Same to you, Grace.”

Mitrof laughed, while Canule nodded her head.

Grace lifted her leg to climb into the back of the carriage but then remembered something and came back down.

She took off one of her silver earrings that was infused with the blessing of the Divine Tree and abruptly pressed it against Mitrof’s chest.

“This is a silver earring infused with the blessing of the Divine Tree—it will help protect you. Remember, just keep it safe for me—make sure to return it when we next meet.”

“Okay, got it—I’ll keep it safe.”

“Good.”

Grace then turned her back. Mitrof keenly noticed that her long ears, protruding from her silver hair, had turned red. He just couldn’t understand why she was so flustered.

Grace didn’t look back again.

They got into the carriage, and it started moving. Soon, they blended into the hustle and bustle of the street and disappeared into the shadows.

“——She’s gone.”

“Yes—I will miss her.”

“Ah, yes. But, is it okay, Canule?—Since I’m going solo, my income and search speed have decreased—I’ll be less efficient at finding what you’re looking for.”

Mitrof expressed his natural concerns.

When Mitrof decided to trade the relic for the antlers, he called Canule not only to entrust her with the heavy wooden box but also to discuss what would happen to her after Grace was gone.

As a solo adventurer, Mitrof released his contract with Canule and believed that she should find a better party for her own purposes. He even intended to introduce her to Mikel.

At the time, Canule replied, “I’ll think about it.” But now, she continues to adventure with Mitrof.

“Yes, if we are looking for a deep location, there might be a more efficient party for that—however, the labyrinth seems to be a complex place—Mitrof-sama, for example, discovered a relic in a side passage that no one had noticed before. As Grace-sama said—I think you are lucky.”

Furthermore, Canule continued, “Rather than being efficient, I want to go to the labyrinth with someone I can trust—Mitrof-sama said my cooking was delicious, and he was separated from something important for Grace-sama’s sake. I think you are an honorable gentleman.”

“Y-Yeah?—Thank you, but that’s enough—I’m not used to compliments.”

“Yes.”

Canule chuckled softly.

Feeling the composure of an older, graceful lady, Mitrof groaned. He felt that he could not win against such a woman, so Mitrof thought about changing the subject.

“N-Now that I think about it, Grace seemed quite embarrassed when she gave me this.”

Mitrof looks at the silver bird-shaped earring he holds in his hand.

Even Mitrof, who has an aesthetic sense as a noble, finds it beautiful.

“…Did you not know about this, Mitrof-sama?”

“What about it?”

Mitrof responds casually, making Canule hesitant about whether to tell him the meaning.

“Female elves give bird-shaped earrings to men they have chosen in their hearts. It is a symbol of their returning to your side with their feelings. Grace-sama said it was just an entrustment, so it might not be a formal thing.”

“…”

Mitrof wasn’t really listening to the latter half of what was said.

After all, Mitrof, who had been a pig since he was young, had no relationship with women and had never thought of falling in love. Come to think of it, even receiving gifts from others like this was a first for him.

Now that he understands the meaning of Grace’s reddened ears, Mitrof suddenly becomes aware of her.

“Mitrof-sama, your face is all red…?”

“No, it’s nothing. Ah, I’m fine. I’m trying to keep a calm mind.”

His heart was racing loudly. His temples were hot. He sighed with dissatisfaction, wondering why he couldn’t maintain his calm thoughts, which he acquired through sublimation, at times like this. He carefully put her earring away in his pocket.

“Well, what do we do now?”

It was a blatant change of topic, but Canule had learned the art of not teasing men about their shame.

“If it’s okay with you, I would like to see weapons and armor.”

“Why is that?”

“Although I lack the confidence to fill Grace-sama’s shoes, I reasoned that it would be safer if I could at least hold a shield so that we could fight together rather than separately.”

Mitrof remembered his battle against the red-eyed troll. In the end, Canule withstood the troll’s “Scarlet Bear Arm” with the help of a dwarf warrior’s large shield.

“That’s really reliable—let’s rely on Canule—to be honest, I was also worried about fighting alone.” Mitrof nodded in agreement and replied: “I know a good shop—there’s a stubborn dwarven blacksmith and an armor shop run by a rude but kind old woman.”

Mitrof walked while talking about the day he went to the store with Grace.

The sunshine was dazzling, and the coolness of the wind blowing gently was pleasant. The main street was crowded with people, and it was lively and noisy.

Suddenly, a delicious aroma of spices wafted from the food stalls.

Mitrof’s stomach growled, and his mouth watered. His nose made a snorting sound.

“Can we eat something first?” Mitrof asked.

Volume 1 End

Chapter 44:The fat aristocrat has money problems

“Money—I want money—everything in this world is about money.”

Mitrof muttered to himself.

As a nobleman, Mitrof was born into a life of restrictions. Even as a child, he received lessons every day without any time for play.

Even during meals, instructors sat beside him and lectured him on etiquette and food knowledge.

The books he was allowed to read were limited to historical books and biographies about the founding of the family. They were pieces of knowledge meant to be learned for education rather than entertainment.

As a nobleman’s etiquette, he learned dance, swordsmanship for duels, the management of the territory, and how to eat elegantly.

However, Mitrof was the third son.

The oldest son was supposed to inherit the noble family. The second son was there as a reserve and to support the oldest son. Being the third son meant that Mitrof was only a reserve of the reserve.

Despite being part of the Count family, Mitrof, as the third son with no noteworthy talents as a nobleman, was regarded as having no value. Over time, he became lazy, hopeless about his future, and simply repeated eating and sleeping, which ultimately led to him being kicked out of his house due to his laziness.

However, this became an opportunity for Mitrov to become an adventurer and lead a life where he could make all the decisions himself.

Freedom. It was a wonderful thing.

He could eat whatever he wanted whenever he wanted without caring about anyone’s opinions.

He could sleep until noon and snore all he wanted.

He could even confidently fart without being scolded by a teacher.

He wouldn’t even be slandered behind his back as a pig at a noble child’s tea party.

However, there was one problem.

‘I don’t have any money.’

“Ugh.”

Mitrov sat cross-legged on a shabby bed, calculating his finances.

“Is this how expensive it is to live?”

He sighed heavily, pinching the fat under his chin.

Life as a noble was indeed suffocating. He was restricted in everything and forced to do things he didn’t want to do. He was not regarded as an individual, but as the third son of the Count family.

However, he never had any financial problems.

There were always fresh and clean clothes, delicious food when hungry, and a soft bed with feathers. The room was always clean.

The necessities of life were perfectly provided for. This was the life of a noble.

Mitrov looked around again at his current state of dress, food, and lodging.

His clothes were made of scratchy hemp, bought from a thrift store, and the size was loose and ill-fitting. The rough material always irritated his skin, and the collar and hem were frayed. The yellowed stains around the neck remained even after washing.

On the edge of the bed, there was a half-eaten green apple. It was cheaply sold at a food stall, but it was dry on the inside and only tasted sour. Mitrov was astonished that such things were sold as fruit.

And then there was the room. It was unacceptable.

It was an inn for rookie adventurers partnered with the guild.

The room was small, the bed was shoddy, and no one cleaned it.

The walls were thin, and there was never any silence. Drunken men’s raucous voices, prostitutes’ moans brought in by someone, dark voices cursing their own situations, and so on. There was no quietness whatsoever.

Mitrof’s impression was that this was not a place for people to live. Perhaps his snoring was disturbing someone’s sleep as well. Yes, it was not good for either of them.

“I need to live in a better room.”

It was a wish and a declaration of intent.

Since leaving home, Mitrof hadn’t had the luxury of caring about his environment. He was too busy adjusting to the labyrinth, and his room was merely a place to sleep. The clothes were just there to get dirty.

But now, with an adventurer’s lifestyle, he has become accustomed to stability and tranquility. His attention turned to his surroundings.

And what should he find? What a terrible environment!

It was wrong to compare it to the life of a nobleman.

Mitrof, who admitted to being ignorant of the world, understood that.

Still, he could want a little bit more, couldn’t he?

“I want to sleep in a quiet and clean room. I want to eat delicious food until I’m full. I want silky sleepwear.”

Mentioning it made the desire even stronger. It was a craving.

Things that were naturally present until now are no longer in Mitrof’s hands.

From somewhere in the inn, angry screams can be heard, along with the sound of bottles breaking. Men are fighting.

Mitrof sighed.

On the bed, his money was sorted and arranged neatly.

When he was kicked out of the house, he was given some money. Former servants also pitched in and gave Mitrof some money. Although it was not a lot, he made some money as an adventurer.

He won’t be hungry anytime soon. However, he is not rich enough to choose a good inn.

Moreover, Mitrof realized

“I haven’t kept any accounts…”

The duty of a noble is to govern their territory well. Collect taxes from the people and pay them to the country. Accounting is important.

Mitrof has learned how to handle money since he was young.

Therefore, he understands the importance of it.

Accounting is significant.

How much money is coming in and what it is being used for.

He has to record the details. Otherwise, his money won’t accumulate. He won’t even know how much money he can spend freely.

“Okay, let’s keep accounts.”

Suddenly, there was a loud noise from somewhere in the room.

Chapter 45: The fat aristocrats keep a household account book

“A household account book?”

Canule stopped brewing tea and tilted her head slightly. The hood pulled deeply over her head created a dark shadow, completely concealing her face.

Her voice was light and girlish, but her appearance was unknown due to the coat that covered her entire body.

In fact, beneath the fabric was a skeletal body, with a skull hidden under the hood. Due to a curse caused by a relic produced by the labyrinth, she had turned into a skeleton girl.

“Yesterday, I thought about it more deeply—I have to start keeping track of my finances.”

“I see, that’s necessary.”

Canule nodded once and poured tea into a cup, offering it to Mitrof.

Mitrof accepted it with thanks and stared at the surface of the steaming tea.

The surroundings echoed with lively voices.

This was the tenth underground floor of the labyrinth. There was a small room in front of the stairs that had just descended from the ninth floor. Many adventurers were sitting there, taking their time to eat and rest.

“I wonder how much this tea costs?—I always depend on Canule for this kind of thing.”

“Don’t worry about it—I prepare it because I like it.”

“No, this is part of the party supplies—I’ll pay for it.”

“Then, don’t we need to keep a record of the party expenses?”

“Hmm… no, you’re right—it’s only natural that I separate and manage my personal funds.”

“Mitrof-sama, are you considering starting a business?”

“No, not at all.”

“I apologize for being rude—I was just curious because adventurers may not be consciously aware of bookkeeping and financial management.”

Mitrof sips on his tea. As always, Canule’s tea tastes good.

“I’m getting used to the labyrinth—I have some room to think about money—as an adventurer, I need to earn it properly.”

“Speaking of earning money, do adventurers pay taxes?—I also need to complete some procedures for paying taxes somewhere…?”

Merchants are also subject to taxes. Bakers, blacksmiths, and thrift shops must pay taxes to their Lord once a year based on their sales.

Mitrof laughed and nodded at Canule’s question.

“I know it’s hard to understand, but there are many taxes imposed on the labyrinth—adventurers, of course, pay taxes as well.”

“I don’t remember paying any taxes.”

“The guild collects them—the guild buys the products produced in the labyrinth that the adventurers bring back—and the tax is deducted from the payment made at that time.”

“The guild does that?—They manage the labyrinth and adventurers…”

“Of course, that’s their main job—however, their essential role is to manage the financial accounts related to the money involved in the labyrinth—the labyrinth is somewhat like a domain… all tax revenue is directly connected to the country—the more adventurers there are, the happier the country is.”

Mitrof also believed that nobles were essentially the same. They talked about tradition, bloodline, pride, and honor, but in essence, they were just collecting and managing the money for the country and the royal family.

“Everywhere you look, people build structures and work for money—even if you talk about freedom, you can’t do anything without money…”

Mitrof sighed.

No position, no title, no money.

He thought he had only gained freedom, but even that required money.

For weapon maintenance, for armor, for first aid equipment, and for supplies to bring into the labyrinth. If injured, he would have to go to the medical facility, and until he recovered, he would have no income.

“Being an adventurer is a harsh job.”

“…Um, if you need money, you can reduce my share.”

Canule spoke hesitantly. Mitrof, of course, refused.

“I won’t do that—Canule has helped me a lot.”

Grace, Mitrof’s partner, had returned to her hometown, and he was prepared to become a solo adventurer again. Originally, Canule was just a baggage carrier for the party as a porter.

Due to her appearance, it was difficult for Canule to register as an adventurer. Although she remained in the position of porter with lenient screening, due to Canule’s request, she was now participating in battles.

The curse she received from the labyrinth’s relic gave her not only her appearance but also monstrous strength.

Utilizing this monstrous strength, Canule held a round shield and took on the role of a “tank” to block all enemies’ attacks.

“I want to earn more money to reward your hard work.”

“…Even those words alone are more than enough. I am grateful just to be accepted as part of the party with this cursed body—please do not worry about me.”

The voice from under her hood was light and girlish, her tone of voice gentle.

Mitrof didn’t know what position Canule had or where she had lived. He had never asked.

However, from her behavior, knowledge, and even the way she chose her words, she was clearly not someone of low social status. Mitrof thought that Canule might have been a servant of a high-ranking person.

Regardless of the circumstances, it was not something that could be talked about while holding tea in the labyrinth. Canule seemed to be avoiding the topic, and Mitrof did not intend to force the matter.

However, when Mitrof considered how curses had distorted the life of this young woman, he experienced a sharp pain in his chest. Her appearance resembled that of a monster, and she would undoubtedly be persecuted if seen. It was precisely because of the curse brought about by the relic in the labyrinth that the procedure for lifting the curse had to be found within the labyrinth.

To achieve Canule’s goal, the pursuit of money was necessary.

The more money they had, the better. With better equipment, they would have more leeway with their lives. Staying at a good inn would invigorate them, and eating delicious food would satisfy their bodies and minds.

“Let’s move forward.”

And the only way to earn money was to continue exploring the labyrinth.

Chapter 46: The fat aristocrat meets a person of the labyrinth

The 10th floor is considered a milestone.

Other adventurers often ridicule those who have just begun their adventure, calling them “rubi.”

The rubi is a well-known bird. As a chick, it has red feathers on its head, which gradually become smaller and whiter and finally fall off when it becomes an adult.

The 10th floor is where newly born adventurers are recognized as full-fledged adventurers.

It seems that even the guild has set up a hurdle there. When a person clears the 10th floor, a seal is stamped on their guild card, which serves as proof of rank-up.

So, what obstructs this hurdle?

“Damn, rabbits are troublesome!”

Yes, it’s the rabbits.

Mitrof evades the jumping rabbit with agility.

As a noble, he elegantly avoids the rabbit as if dancing, but the rabbit jumps from another direction.

Mitrof readies his left arm.

He uses a gauntlet made of monster leather instead of a shield. There is an impact as he brushes past the rabbit. Mitrof may not have strong muscles, but he can withstand the impact. However, what is frightening is not the impact.

A blood streak appeared on Mitrof’s cheek. There are certain blades that a gauntlet cannot stop.

He quickly turned around.

The landed rabbit shook its head. Its long, floppy ears swayed, reflecting the lantern light fixed in the labyrinth’s hallway like a water surface.

“…How can ears turn into blades?”

It is a monster called a smallblade rabbit.

The edges of its two ears are sharpened into blades. With this weapon, it attacks with powerful hind legs. That alone is troublesome, but smallblade rabbits always act in groups.

There was a sound of air being sliced.

Mitrof immediately turned around and swung his rapier.

The sword accurately split the smallblade rabbit’s head. As Mitrof saw it flying off in the wrong direction from the impact of the cut, he spun his body again.

Heavy. His body and belly fat

Fast. The smallblade rabbit and its ear blades

“——shit!”

The blade slit his upper left arm. Heat. The pain has not come yet.

Mitrof already had his target. He drove his slender sword into the smallblade rabbit’s back. It was a battle in the blink of an eye.

Without letting his guard down, he looked around. It seemed that the herd had disappeared.

Canule stood a little distance away, holding a round shield. Several smallblade rabbits were scattered around her.

“Canule is more skilled at this.”

Mitrof said with a frown, as he arrived late due to the pain in his arm.

“It seems that round shields are a good match—you can knock them down by bashing them.”

“I’m not good at it—my body is heavy.”

Canule chuckled at Mitrof’s self-deprecation. As she approached, she took out a small round tin from the small bag hanging from her waist.

“Let’s stop the bleeding.”

“I rely on that ointment too much—my whole body smells like herbs.”

“The old pharmacist said the effect was excellent.”

Mitrof pulled the torn cloth apart to reveal the wound on his left arm. There was bleeding, but the wound itself was shallow. It was like being cut with a razor.

Canule opened the lid and applied the ointment to her fingers, gently spreading it on the wound. The bleeding stopped mysteriously soon after. The effect was indeed excellent.

“Either my whole body will be covered in ointment or my clothes will be torn to shreds first, it’ll be a sight to see.”

Since entering the 10th floor, his whole body has been covered in cuts and bruises from the smallblade rabbits.

Of course, Mitrof had researched what monsters inhabited the 10th floor in advance, but there was a difference between confirming it through documents and actually facing them. Despite being a small rabbit, it was not as easy an opponent as he had imagined.

“If I had leather armor, would it be easier?”

“That’s true, but they’re expensive.”

Even if Mitrof were to protect himself with leather armor on his arms and legs, it’s not something that can be easily purchased, as it’s made for battling monsters. Once again, the issue of money arises.

The leather gauntlet on Mitrof’s left arm alone cost quite a lot. It’s only now that he realizes how good the quality is, but he was able to make the purchase back then because Mitrof was still thinking like a nobleman in terms of money. Furthermore, Grace covered half of the cost at the time.

Now, as a seasoned adventurer who knew the ins and outs of making a living and how it affected his finances, Mitrof could not make such a casual purchase, no matter how good the quality.

“But, Mitrof-sama, your injuries are increasing.”

“That’s also something to worry about—I have more injuries, but they’re not serious.”

smallblade rabbits were certainly a nuisance. The wounds keep increasing.

However, they were just cuts. It will heal with a little ointment and a good night’s sleep. Rather than investing a fortune in armor to prevent cuts, wouldn’t it be better to move on to the next level quickly? Such a frugal mindset was shaking his judgment.

“It’s still an injury.”

Canule said it firmly. Mitrof pretended it was no big deal, but his clothes were blood-stained and he had cuts all over his body, making others worry.

“Well, let’s observe a little more and then decide.”

Mitrof said this while applying ointment to his cheek wound.

Once the treatment was over, the two of them cut off the ears of the small dagger rabbits and moved on.

As expressed by the phrase “as sharp as a razor,” smallblade rabbit’s ears are processed and sold as razors. Due to it being an indispensable item for grooming, there is a big difference between the buying and selling prices.

Mitrof thinks that smallblade rabbit ears are much better than goblin ears.

Canule wraps the collected ears in cloth and puts them in the bag on her back, which she also carries as a porter. Mitrof recently couldn’t help but feel indebted to Canule for her work.

“Mitrof-sama, shall I cook rabbit meat for lunch?”

“Rabbit meat? That sounds delicious. Please do.”

Moreover, with the delicious meals prepared in the labyrinth, Mitrof only becomes more troubled.

Canule, noticing Mitrof sighing and sniffling like a pig, asked, “What’s wrong?”

Mitrof said sincerely to Canule, who was carefully selecting the tastiest rabbits around them, “Canule, I will definitely reward your hard work.”

“Thank you very much…?”

Canule tilted her head with a surprised expression.

Mitrof, as a nobleman, had a proud record of receiving a high level of education.

He learned to read and write, excelled in his studies, and was well-cultured. He even mastered swordsmanship, a benefit that commoners could not obtain even if they wished.

Despite this, Mitrof realized there were countless things he could not do. There was simply so much he did not know.

Grace had taught him how to earn money and live in the labyrinth. Now he relies on Canule in many ways.

Adventurers helped each other, but Mitrof felt like he had only ever received help from others. He had been taken care of, lent a hand, and saved, making it this far in life.

That was why, now, he wanted to help others.

For Mitrof, it was a natural emotion, an entirely new feeling he had never experienced before.

He wanted to be useful to someone. He wanted to help someone.

Mitrof accepts the natural changes in himself but still hasn’t figured out how he can help others.

Helping others is a challenging task. Therefore, he first thinks of increasing his income to repay Canule for her work.

As Mitrof looks around, he notices a small girl peeking from the shadows at the intersection ahead. Her plain clothes make her look more like a local than an adventurer.

“…A scavenger?”

Mitrof remembers the name Grace once told him.

Canule looks up at Mitrof’s murmur, and the girl notices their gaze and hastily hides.

Mitrof recognizes the girl’s pointed, beast-like ears on her head.

“Is that a people of the labyrinth?”

Canule mutters.

Is that what you call it? I thought it was called “scavengers.”

“No, ‘scavengers’ is when adventurers or porters who can’t defeat monsters, pick up items left behind by other adventurers. I heard that “people of the labyrinth” literally means people who live somewhere within the labyrinth,” explained Canule.

Mitrof widened his eyes at the explanation.

“Wait, there are people who live in the labyrinth?—Can people even live here in the first place?”

The labyrinth is filled with monsters. These monsters are extremely ferocious, attacking humans indiscriminately. Mitrof couldn’t even imagine living in such a place.

“I’ve only heard rumors about it—is it really possible to live in a labyrinth?”

Chapter 47: The fat aristocrat takes a bath today

“It’s not impossible—it may not be ideal to live, though.”

With his arms crossed while soaking in the bath, the lion-headed man made a low growling sound—a direct response to the question Mitrof had asked Canule.

All year round, the public bathhouse, where the lights and steam never cease, is always crowded with people.

No matter if one is a commoner, a noble, a beastman, or an adventurer, once they strip off their clothes, they are all the same. Everyone enjoys soaking in the hot water, making it a place to heal their daily fatigue.

Mitrof also goes to the bathhouse frequently to ease the tension and fatigue of his adventures.

Today, however, the smallblade rabbits’ cut on his body hurt so bad that he was only able to sit halfway in the bathtub and soak his lower body.

“Even if it’s not impossible, won’t the guild not allow it?”

“In all things, there are loopholes—in laws and in the labyrinth. For those who are tired of living in the city, have no place to go, or are being chased, the labyrinth is convenient. And the guild is always too busy to bother chasing after everyone who enters it.”

“So, they’re the people living in the labyrinth.”

“I’ve also seen them a few times—they gather somewhere in the labyrinth and seem to live together while helping each other out—and I’ve heard stories of them trading with the city merchants.”

“Unbelievable—people are really living in the labyrinth.”

Even in the shallow depths of underground floors that only go down to the 10th floor, Mitrof may have felt his life was in danger multiple times. The monsters were so terrifying, and the labyrinth environment was tough.

Even if he considered how many days he could survive there, he couldn’t imagine a bright future.

“Only those who can adapt can survive—there may be circumstances that force them to choose to live in that environment.”

The lion-headed man turned his head and looked at Mitrof.

“So, you made it to the 10th floor—your beginner period is about to end soon.”

“…I hope to finish it without any trouble.”

“From the looks of your wounds, it seems like you’re having a hard time.”

The lion-headed man laughed.

At a glance, Mitrof’s body was marked by several red straight line scars. Today, he was just overwhelmed by the smallblade rabbits’ speed. He still can’t deal with its quickness.

“I’m having trouble with the smallblade rabbits.”

Mitrof slowly sank his body into the hot water. The wounds stung, but he gradually got used to the prickly pain. People can adapt. That’s true.

The hot water was slightly cloudy and soft. The steam reflected the light of the lanterns on the wall.

By soaking in the hot water up to his shoulders, Mitrof finally felt like he had taken a bath.

He let out a long sigh, and the heat resonated throughout his body, melting his stiff fatigue.

Mitrof and the lion-headed man looked out over the bathhouse, where the steam drifted lazily. The circular bath was spacious, and there were always men soaking in it. Laughter echoed from somewhere.

With a splash of hot water, the lion-headed man stood up.

“All adventurers struggle with smallblade rabbits, even if they defeat trolls and handle ferocious wild boars—strange, isn’t it?”

The way he spoke suggested that he, too, had struggled with smallblade rabbits.

“How did you conquer it?”

“How? Unfortunately, there is no model answer—you have to think for yourself and master it yourself—and that’s all there is to it.”

With a snort of laughter coming from the gap in his teeth, the lion-headed man left the bath.

Watching his large back as he left, Mitrof muttered under his breath.

“…He’s so cool.”

Chapter 48: The fat aristocrat struggles with rabbits

After Mitrof took a day off, he once again delved into the labyrinth. He tried to avoid combat as much as possible and went straight down to the 10th floor underground. He soon found a smallblade rabbit.

Speed. That was troublesome. The small ones were fast.

Mitrof found it difficult to keep up with the speed of the smallblade rabbit bounding on the ground.

He could follow it with his eyes.

His thinking was fast enough.

Thanks to the mystery of the labyrinth called “Sublimation,” Mitrof had gained a level of calmness to the point of being ruthless, enabling him to anticipate how the smallblade rabbit would move.

However, his body was too heavy.

“Guh, ugh…!”

His steps to avoid them were inevitably one step behind. They didn’t mesh with the rabbit’s rhythm.

While his back was cut and his arm was cut, he managed to strike one blow. The tip of his rapier slashed through the rabbit’s neck.

He had managed to hunt the rabbit, but Mitrof’s body was accumulating more and more wounds.

As many smallblade rabbits as he met, that was the current state of Mitrof’s body, with overlapping wounds.

“…I can’t keep up with dodging.”

His breathing was calm. There was no tension in him that would begrudge even breathing space from the smallblade rabbits.

However, sometimes Mitrof’s rapier could not reach the passing smallblade rabbits.

Each time, he would suffer injuries, bleed, and eventually become immobile due to pain and twitching skin.

The smallblade rabbits were not terrifying opponents.

They were merely troublesome opponents. The small monster quickly approached and retreated, making it difficult for Mitrof to handle.

Mitrof was cautious, holding his rapier with one hand, surveying his surroundings.

There were four smallblade rabbits in the herd. Mitrof had only taken down one, but the rest were already jumping quickly and flying towards Canule.

Canule moved lightly and hit the smallblade rabbit in the air with her round shield.

The curse’s superhuman strength easily stripped away the small creature’s life. The razor-ear of the smallblade rabbit hit the shield, making a high-pitched metallic sound as it flew and hit the wall.

“… Amazing.”

While Mitrof was struggling to defeat one, Canule was effortlessly taking care of three more without getting hurt. Her movements were becoming more and more refined. She was already handling the smallblade rabbits with ease.

“Mitrof-sama, are you injured?”

“No, I’m fine—it’s nothing.”

“Shall I bring some ointment?”

“…Just your concern is enough—it’s just a scratch this time.”

Mitrof pressed his right upper arm with his left hand. It was bleeding. It was not just a scratch.

However, Mitrof couldn’t nod his head to Canule’s words.

He was struggling with an opponent as small as a smallblade rabbit, whom Canule had easily defeated. The wound on his arm seemed to symbolize that, and he hesitated to show it.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m fine—let’s hurry and collect them and move on.”

Mitrof collected razor ears from a small knife bunny. At that moment, it seemed like he had lost his attention, and he cut his finger with the sharp blade.

A tingling heat-like sensation and a throbbing pain. Bright red blood floated like a bead and dripped onto the ground.

He wanted to click his tongue in annoyance.

‘Why was I struggling with a mere rabbit?’

Frustration colored the words surging up inside him.

The redness of the blood on his fingertips stimulated his memory.

About half a month ago, he fought against a red-eyed troll. How exhilarated he must have been at that moment.

The moment life and death collided, he understood the true meaning of being an adventurer to the core of his being.

He thought that was the moment he became an adventurer.

But now, he was struggling against a small rabbit and cutting his finger with its ear.

‘What a dull time…’

“Buhi,” a sigh. It leaked out without Mitrof’s knowledge.

He never imagined a bright future for himself.

He was forced out of his house, stayed in cheap inns, and earned pocket money fighting against goblins. The ordinary days when he was struggling were full of tense moments. He found a sense of achievement in fighting strong enemies.

Perhaps it was the recoil from that.

Hunting rabbits, and struggling to do it well. He felt pathetic.

“…Grace could easily handle this.”

The mutter escaped him.

Canule tilted her head.

“I thought Grace could easily hunt the smallblade rabbits.”

Mitrof said it with a slightly embarrassed expression.

Canule also agreed softly.

“Grace-sama was a hunter, wasn’t she?”

“Yes—with such skillful archery, she must have been an excellent hunter.”

Grace, who had helped Mitrof when he was lost and bewildered upon arriving at the labyrinth, was originally a hunter in the forest of elves.

Growing up with an adventurer parent, Grace had ties to and an understanding of human society. She came to the labyrinth seeking means to solve the unavoidable situations that had arisen in her tribe.

Fighting against the monsters that abound in the labyrinth must have been a different kind of hardship from hunting. Nevertheless, she had repeatedly helped Mitrof with her bow.

——What’s wrong, Mitrof? You can’t? Leave it to me, then.

Grace must have said that with a smile, and Mitrof smiled wryly.

She achieved her goal and returned to her hometown. She promised to come back, but Mitrof had no idea when that would be.

Mitrof always kept the silver earrings in his pocket that Grace entrusted to him as a promise to meet again.

Wishing for her safety, Mitrof bundled the razor-sharp ears of the smallblade rabbit he collected.

At that moment…

A voice calling for help could be heard.

Mitrof raised his head, and Canule braced herself.

Although the voice echoed through the passage, it shouldn’t be far away. Mitrof strained his eyes, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone, but the passageway was dimly lit, and the visibility was poor.

Although lights were installed on the walls for adventurers, they were only like campfires at night, and daylight could not be expected.

“It should be ahead—let’s go.”

“Be careful.”

“I know.”

Mitrof cautiously advanced along the passageway with his hand on the hilt of his rapier. Canule also had a shield in hand, ready to jump out if something happened.

Neither Mitrof nor Canule had been in the labyrinth for long. They had not yet learned many things that experienced adventurers knew as common knowledge or unspoken agreements.

Even so, they know that anything can happen in the labyrinth. Adventurers are never saints. Just like good and bad people mix in the city, there are no exceptions in the labyrinth.

Evil people with weapons attack other adventurers for their own benefit.

Such stories are heard all the time.

One cannot judge whether a cry for help is a trap to lure unsuspecting prey. The rationale that it is better to be cautious prevails in the labyrinth.

At the end of the corridor, it became a dead end, with passages extending to the left and right.

Approaching the corner, Mitrof cautiously peeked into the passage on the right.

Instantly, he saw the glint of reflected light from the lantern. He quickly lowered his head.

A sharp sound cut through the air as a smallblade rabbit passed by, slicing a few strands of Mitrof’s hair.

Mitrof looked at the ground.

His thinking was calm.

There was a sound of metal behind him. Canule must have deflected it with her shield. There was no need to turn around. He must be vigilant.

Only those who venture into the labyrinth and defeat monsters experience a phenomenon called “sublimation.” It is said that this is due to the influx of the monster’s life force into the body or a magical evolution that occurs to correspond with the labyrinth. However, much of the reality of this phenomenon is still unknown.

The sublimation that occurred in Mitrof could be described as an enhancement or stabilization of his mental strength. In situations where the old Mitrof would panic and lose his composure, this enhancement reinforced his mind to remain calm.

That’s why Mitrof isn’t panicking, even though danger confronts him face-to-face. He calmly assesses the situation and raises his head to recognize the enemy while drawing his rapier.

In the passage, there was a girl sitting down, injured. She couldn’t move right away, with a stick in her hand to ward off a pair of smallblade rabbits.

One of the rabbits, one small and the other large, was in front of the girl.

The small rabbit is running towards Mitrof. It shrinks its legs to gather strength and jumps.

Mitrof has already moved. If he could see the rabbit’s movements, he could predict its trajectory. Even if Mitrof is not as fast as the rabbit, if he moves before it, it would offset his agility.

“Canule!—Leave it to me!”

“——Got it.”

Mitrof lowered his body and moved to the left.

The sharp edge of a passing smallblade rabbit’s ear blade licked Mitrof’s right temple, leaving a streak of blood in the air.

Due to the weight of his body, Mitrof’s movements were sluggish. The normalcy of his thoughts through “sublimation” produced simplicity and speed. However, his body could not keep up, and the gap between his thoughts and his body was frustratingly severe.

The rabbit in front of the girl was two sizes larger than the other smallblade rabbits. Its face was already facing Mitrof.

Mitrof had previously collected information about the 10th floor at the guild. He knew that this was a superior species called a swordhorn rabbit.

The ears stood firmly erect. The overlapping ears looked like a single sword growing out of its head. The swordhorn rabbit lowered its head and pointed its tip towards Mitrof. Its hind legs bit into the ground, and its thick muscles bulged out of its thighs.

Mitrof suddenly recalled the words spoken by the receptionist at the guild.

——Even if you’re used to smallblade rabbits, don’t underestimate the swordhorn rabbit. They can,

Bang! The scaffold of a sword-horned rabbit exploded.

——shot like a bullet.

“…Huh?!”

The chilling sensation that ran down his spine was a memory from when he fought with the red-eyed troll, risking his life. At that moment, instinctively, he evaded rather than giving orders to his body to calm down and think rationally.

He rolled on the ground like a rag doll.

His sight was fixed on the swordhorn rabbit.

It was no longer a rabbit but a gray, round shadow, exactly like a bullet. The swordhorn rabbit flew with speed incomparable to that of the smallblade rabbit, grazing Mitrof’s left arm.

With a forceful impact, his left arm bounced up. Mitrof lost his balance and fell to the ground, but he immediately got up and wielded his sword, a sign that his adventurer’s instincts were taking root within him.

“Huh?”

Turning around, Mitrof uttered a shocked voice.

Wide-eyed, furrowed eyebrows, he slowly caressed his double chin.

The Swordhorn rabbit was impaled on the wall. It struggled and thrashed. Its terrifying speed and sharp ears had turned it into a bullet, embedded in the wall. Once it stopped, it couldn’t move at all.

“Oh, I see—that’s how you deal with them.”

It dawned on Mitrof.

If you observe closely, the walls around here are not flat but warped and uneven. Mitrof had seen walls deform similarly before.

The ochre boars

They are fierce monsters that keep charging at rapid speeds. How do you deal with them? Stand with your back against the wall and avoid them. That way, they will strike their tusk against the wall.

It was the same here.

Mitrof went to the swordhorned rabbit hanging in the air on the wall and sliced its throat with a rapier.

The horned sword is halfway through the stone wall. Its sharpness and force were terrifying.

Looking around, there was no sound. Mitrof sheathed his rapier and headed towards the girl.

Canule was already standing a bit away from the girl. She was vigilant of her surroundings and wanted to avoid being seen, as her appearance had turned into that of a skeleton due to a curse.

She knew all too well how those who saw her like that in the labyrinth felt. Mitrof felt like he saw Canule’s sadness at the boundary line drawn between them from a distance.

The girl leaned against the wall with her legs stretched out. As Mitrof approached her, she shrank in fear and made herself small. On her head, the ears of the beast were flattened.

Chapter 49: The fat aristocrat sells commodities

“Did you see us yesterday? You were watching us, weren’t you?”

The girl’s shoulders jumped in surprise, but she eventually nodded several times, as if resigned.

She seemed terribly frightened. Mitrof stroked his chin, wondering how to handle the situation. ‘What would Grace do?’

Mitrof squatted down without startling her. He raised both hands, showing that he was not carrying any weapons.

“Well, this is a reunion, then. It’s good that we’re both alive. My name is Mitrof, and you are?”

“…Apélie Tiff.”

“Nice to meet you, Apélie Tiff. I want to help you. Are you hurt?—Can you show me?”

“…Why?”

“Why?”

Mitrof blinked quickly.

“Why are you helping me?—I don’t have anything.”

“I’m not expecting anything in return—when someone is in trouble, we help each other—that’s what being an adventurer means.”

Mitrof smiled. That was the first lesson he learned from Grace. In the labyrinth, everyone helps each other. That’s what it means to be an adventurer.

However, Apélie Tiff shook her head.

“…I have seen a lot of adventurers abandon their comrades and leave them behind; there is no reason for you to help me—just leave me alone.”

Apélie Tiff spoke and began to stand alone. Placing her hands on the various dents on the wall, she shifted her weight to her left leg. It seemed as if her right thigh was injured, as blood was staining the cloth even in the dim light.

She needed medical attention. The young girl’s build was small, and this amount of bleeding could be fatal if left unattended.

However, Mitrof did not expect to be refused help when offering it.

Why would Apélie Tiff refuse treatment?

He thought that helping when someone was in trouble was a rule that supported adventurers. When helped, one expresses gratitude.

Mitrof looked at Canule. It was a plea for help.

But Canule did not move from where she was standing. Because of her hood, her expression could not be seen—well, even without the hood, her expression could not be seen.

‘Oh, how inconvenient.’

Mitrof shook his head.

If this were between nobles, Mitrof would be able to read the other party’s thoughts. Profit and loss are what drive nobles. There are clear demands, and there are deals to be made. They are always thinking about how much they can take from the other party.

But what should he do when someone refuses something offered freely?

His tutor did not impart such negotiation strategies.

The girl who had stood up completely was walking, dragging her legs as she leaned against the wall.

Mitrof could only watch her silently. He didn’t know how to persuade Apélie Tiff.

Suddenly, Canule was standing next to him. She leaned in close to Mitrof’s ear and whispered in a low voice.

“Mitrof-sama, the beastmen are a noble race—I hear they never accept one-sided charity.”

“…I see—if I only keep helping without taking in return, I may hurt their pride.”

There are many different races living in the country, each with their own vastly different cultures and ideologies. Even in the labyrinth, it seems that this fundamental truth remains unchanged.

Mitrof pondered for a moment and took out medical tools from Canule’s baggage.

“Wait, Apélie Tiff, I want to sell this to you.”

Apélie Tiff stopped and turned around hesitantly.

“Clean fabric, a hemostatic ointment, and bandages to protect your wounds—these pills are for pain relief.”

“…I don’t have anything.”

“I know. But you live in the labyrinth, don’t you? I’ve heard that there are precious plants and minerals inside. And also, let’s see, information. There may be hidden paths or dangerous places in the labyrinth that other adventurers don’t know about. Things that you take for granted may be valuable to us.”

Apélie Tiff looked at Mitrof skeptically.

“…It seems like you have nothing to gain from this.”

“Of course, there is a profit to be made—the selling price is double what it is on the surface—and I’ll take twice the amount I paid for it from you,” Mitrof said.

Apélie Tiff squinted her eyes, appearing to be considering Mitrof’s proposal or observing the unique individual before her.

“…Don’t you think I’d take it and run?”

“Are you planning to run?”

“I won’t run—I won’t do that kind of thing.”

Apélie Tiff said resolutely. It was the response Mitrof was hoping for.

“Well then, it’s settled—I’ll trust you, and we have a deal.”

Mitrof placed the item on the spot and took a few steps back.

Apélie Tiff looked at Mitrof and the item, seeming to be pondering for a while. Finally, she approached the item, sat down, and took the ointment in her hand.

She bent her leg, piercing her pants with her canine tooth. With a pop, the fabric was easily removed, exposing the wound on her thigh.

It seemed like a scrape on the outside of her thigh, but it was hard to tell from where Mitrof was standing.

He was worried that a blow like the one from the swordhorned rabbit would have pierced through, but for the time being, it seemed safe.

If it were a serious injury, ointments would only be a placebo. They probably would have returned to the ground with Apélie Tiff in their arms and thrown her into a treatment center.

She wiped away the blood and applied ointment to the wound, pressing the cloth firmly and tightly wrapping it in bandages. It was a practiced movement.

Mitrof admired Apélie Tiff’s skill while keeping an eye on their surroundings.

“Do you know how to treat injuries?”

“…I saw adventurers do it like this.”

After finishing wrapping the bandages, Apélie Tiff took a pill from a small metal can. Though looking suspicious, she popped it in her mouth and bit down with a crunch.

Immediately, her face tensed up, and tears overflowed from the corners of her eyes.

“Just so you know, it’s not poison—that’s what it tastes like.”

“…Adventurers are strange.”

Even adventurers would not prefer to take it. Who would enjoy a taste that assaults the bitter and sour taste buds at the same time? However, the strong flavor is also a revitalizing medicine to bring the injured person to clear consciousness. It couldn’t be helped.

The girl wiped away the tears at the corner of her eyes and stood up again. Her movements were now steadier, the effect of the powerful medicine showing.

“You seem to be alright now—do you have a place to stay?—Or shall I send you somewhere?”

“…I’m fine.”

“I see—well then, we will excuse ourselves.”

As Mitrof was about to turn away, Apélie Tiff stopped him.

“I want something small.”

“Something small?”

“Something that has your scent on it—that way, I can track you down.”

“I see—your kind has a strong sense of smell, right?”

Even so, being asked to give someone something with his scent on it was embarrassing for him as a human.

Mitrof searched through his pockets and found two handkerchiefs.

As a noble, his manners were still deeply ingrained. One was for wiping sweat, but the other was a well-crafted handkerchief he carried around to give to women. It was a nobleman’s hobby.

It wasn’t dirty, and it should still have his scent on it.

Mitrof slowly approached Apélie Tiff and handed her an unused handkerchief.

Apélie Tiff’s eyes widened at the purity of the cloth. She received it timidly.

“…Apélie Tiff made a deal with you—I will definitely pay it back.”

“Understood—but first, it’s best to prioritize healing your injuries—if you get hurt again, I’ll sell you medical tools at double the price.”

“…You’re a strange adventurer.”

“I’m still a rookie—and as I mentioned before, my name is Mitrof.”

“…Mitrof.”

“Great, then be careful on your way back.”

Mitrof left the place with Canule. When he turned around after taking a corner in the corridor, Apélie Tiff’s figure was already out of sight.

Chapter 50: The fat aristocrat goes out for repairs

The day after descending into the labyrinth is designated as a rest day. You can take one, two, or even three days off, but doing so will decrease your income.

Mitrof slept until the afternoon and then went to the commercial district after finishing lunch at a food stall.

Though he was covered in long-sleeved clothing, he had cuts and wounds here and there. For shallow ones, he only applied ointment, while deep ones were covered in bandages.

He continued to explore even after parting ways with Apélie Tiff. While he had learned how to deal with swordhorned rabbits, the tension of it all still wore him down mentally.

Waiting with his back against the wall and dodging a flying swordhorned rabbit is a simple enough action. However, there is a note saying that you must not fear the swords that fly at an incredible speed.

The tension of dodging the swordhorned rabbits and the small cuts gradually increased with the smallblade rabbits.

Mitrof was the only one wearing down, while Canule remained steady with her round shield. Though Canule still had room to spare, she was considerate of Mitrof’s physical condition, and they continued to cut short their exploration of the labyrinth.

The income is not bad at all.

It seems that the ears of the swordhorned rabbits are widely used as blades, and therefore have a high buying price. Similarly, the ears of the smallblade rabbits are known to be turned into razors. The adventurer’s items that Mitrof and his companions risked their lives to obtain, now form part of the daily livelihoods of those living in the city.

‘But I can’t stay covered in blood forever.’

Mitrof asked the receptionist how other adventurers dealt with those rabbits.

“Well, everyone tends to buy shields.”

The nonchalant response was unsurprising, and Mitrof agreed fully. Shields were the answer. If it’s difficult to dodge, then simply block. Even children could understand this.

In the commercial district, there was a street lined with shops that sold weapons and armor in a quieter, more secluded area. Only adventurers came here, yet the street was bustling like a market.

However, the shoppers were not the city’s breadwinners, and the noise of haggling voices was rough and rowdy, bordering on shouting matches.

Beyond the ruckus, there was the Meln Workshop. This was where Mitrof had purchased his gauntlets.

Upon entering the shop, there was no one there. Although the shopkeeper’s skills were undoubtedly excellent, her habits were strong. She was an old woman who would reject customers she didn’t like.

Only sunlight shining through the window illuminated the dimly lit shop, scented with tanned leather and maintenance oil.

As Mitrof searched for the old woman, he found a door leading to a small room at the back of the shop that seemed to be used for work. A hunched old woman sat on a tall, round chair, working a knife into thick leather.

“Owner, there’s a customer.”

“Hmm?”

The old woman raised her head when Mitrof called out to her, and peered at him menacingly through the glasses perched on her prominent nose.

“What, it’s you again—you still look like an orc.”

Mitrof chuckled at her usual sharp-tongued insult.

It was strange even to himself that he didn’t feel angry when she insulted him.

“I’ve lost some weight, though—just a little.”

“I’ve never seen a skinny swordsman like you—lose more weight.”

As she spoke, the old woman beckoned him with a crooked finger.

Mitrof enters the workshop. It was the old woman’s castle as a craftsman. The small room was organized in a way that only she could understand.

Shelves covering the walls, worn-out tools, scratches, and stains on a large desk… The old woman must have been doing this job long before Mitrof was born.

Before the thickness of the years that filled the room, Mitrof felt a feeling similar to reverence. It was the same feeling as when one is in front of a magnificent work of craft or art that transcends time.

“What are you daydreaming about?—Hurry up and give me what you’re holding!”

Snap! The old woman scolded him, and Mitrof straightened his back.

Yes, Mitrof suddenly realized. When scolded by this old woman, he would remember his childhood tutor, who taught him how to act like a nobleman. Although Mitrof had many tutors, the one who disciplined him in noble behavior was somewhat similar to this old woman. She was strict but also fair.

Mitrof placed the gauntlets, wrapped in cloth, on the desk. He came to the Meln Workshop to ask for a repair on the gauntlets.

The old woman set aside the chisel and hammer she had in her hand and opened the package.

She snorted and inspected the gauntlet while twirling it in her hand.

Mitrof’s estimate was that it was in terrible condition, to put it modestly.

The gauntlet, which was made by overlaying thick leather scales, would have needed just a little oil for minor scratches. However, now there were several cuts and peeled and gouged wounds.

“These are the wounds of smallblade rabbits and swordhorned rabbits—did you descend to the 10th floor?”

“Yeah…are you not angry?”

“Angry?—Why should I be angry?”

“Well, I greatly damaged your work.”

For the first time, the old woman smiled at the hesitant answer from Mitrof.

After clearing her throat with a chuckle, the old woman gave Mitrof a slightly softer look.

“Did you worry about that?—Instead of making a face like a naughty child, stand up straight and be proud! You are an adventurer!—Just bring it in with confidence.”

“Um, well…but it’s armor that was made with great care—I don’t feel good seeing it all beaten up like this, you know?”

“Well, I guess artists would care about that, but I’m a craftsman—armor that’s all beaten up?—That’s not bad at all!—It means it protected the owner well—actually, I’m happy about it!”

The old woman spoke truthfully and lovingly stroked the battered gauntlet.

“It’s still beautiful besides the scratches—you take good care of it.”

“Yeah. The owner told me to. I made sure to take care of it after returning from the labyrinth.”

The old woman slapped Mitrof’s arm with a “paan!”

“Ouch! Why’d you hit me?!”

“I gave you a compliment!—Take it!”

“Isn’t there a nicer way to give compliments?!”

Ignoring Mitrof’s response, the old woman lost interest and took a small magnifying glass out of her tool kit, carefully examining the gauntlet’s scratches.

“Well, well… I suppose it’s true that the wound from the smallblades are shallow… but it seems the swordhorned rabbits managed to strip off the outer layer… the cut isn’t straight either…”

At that moment, the old woman suddenly looked up and glared at Mitrof.

“You’re not planning to stop a swordhorned rabbit with this gauntlet, are you?”

“Of course not!”

“Even with multiple layers of leather, it’s still just a wrist guard—If you try to stop a swordhorned rabbit head-on, its horn will pierce right through and into your arm. Don’t even think about it.”

“I wouldn’t do it even if you didn’t tell me—I don’t want to die.”

The thought of the swordhorn rabbit’s horn piercing through his arm made Mitrof shudder. His left arm was essential to him.

“Can you afford it?”

“I won’t complain.”

“The repair costs aren’t that high—It’s just a matter of replacing the useless leather boards but if you’re going to take your time getting to the 10th floor, how many times do you think you’ll need to repair it again?”

Mitrof was at a loss for words.

The old woman was right. The gauntlet was essential for protecting himself from the smallblade rabbits, and he might even need it to block the swordhorned rabbits’ charge.

If he had to keep asking for gauntlet repairs, it would only waste time and money.

“If you have the money, buy a small shield.”

“…Didn’t you say before that amateurs shouldn’t use a shield?”

When Mitrof first came to this shop and asked for a shield, he was scolded relentlessly by the old woman.

“Don’t you have a brain in your head?!—If you can get to the 10th floor, you must have enough skill to defend yourself against a smallblade rabbit!”

Enemies like kobolds and trolls use weapons. Using an unfamiliar shield to block their irregular attacks will distort your fighting style.

If you focus on the shield, your sword will be neglected. Handling a shield you don’t know how to use in a situation where your life is determined in a split second is difficult.

But with a smallblade rabbit, you can just wait with your shield. They come to you.

“A shield, huh?—Can’t we use it with the gauntlet?”

“They have the same role—there’s no point in carrying both. It’s just heavy.”

“I like this one.”

It was the equipment that had always protected his left arm as he delved into the labyrinth. He had an emotional attachment to it and trusted it with his life.

Undoubtedly, there were some attacks that a gauntlet could not completely thwart. However, Mitrof shook his head, feeling uncomfortable about switching to a shield right away.

“It’s not shameful to change your equipment according to the situation—it’s common sense for adventurers.”

The old woman spoke kindly in an attempt to persuade Mitrof.

It is true that some adventurers cling to specific weapons and armor. Betting their lives on a familiar weapon is a story that stimulates the pride of adventurers.

However, it is also true that using only one weapon or armor is a fairy tale. There are a variety of monsters living in the labyrinth.

“Changing weapons and armor according to the monsters or the environment—that’s what makes a top-class adventurer. It’s not worth getting attached to something and losing your life,” the old woman said.

Only someone who had established a business here and had seen numerous adventurers come and go could utter this word.

“…But can I handle a shield?”

There were two shield users that Mitrof knew.

One of them is a dwarf shieldbearer who fought alongside Mitrof against the red-eyed troll. The other is Canule.

Both of them have monstrous strength that makes Mitrof pale in comparison, and they use their power to repel monsters. Mitrof doesn’t feel like he can fight like them.

“You’re really good at using this gauntlet—I can see the wounds—you won’t do too badly with a small shield.”

‘What?!’ Mitrof widened his eyes. ‘This foul-mouthed old woman was complimenting me?!’

“… Are you feeling okay, owner?”

“Dumbass!”

He was smacked on the shoulder.

The old woman sighed in exasperation and shook her head.

“Anyway, it’ll take some time to repair it—I have a lot of work to do—but you can’t go without a weapon in the meantime.”

That was understandable.

They couldn’t just stop exploring until the repair was done. On the other hand, going unarmed would be too much of a burden against smallblade rabbits.

“… Then what do you recommend as a small shield?”

“Well, if you’re concerned about how to use it, why don’t you take a shield course at the guild?”

Chapter 51: The fat aristocrat gets a small shield

Looking into the face of the Gran Workshop diagonally across, the young boy noticed Mitrof right away.

“Oh, welcome back—you’ve been here before, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, last time I was turned away because I had nothing for you to do—I figured it was about time to have you take a look.”

The boy returned a wry smile. The irritable owner had turned away a lot of customers, just like Mitrof.

“I’ll call him over right away; please wait.”

The boy headed toward the back of the store.

As Mitrof gazed at the swords and spearheads hanging on the wall, the boy returned with a dwarf. He was the owner of Gran Workshop, a stout man with bulging muscles, wearing a small suit of armor.

“Hmm.”

Gran thrust his hand out with a terribly sullen expression. Knowing what was expected of him, Mitrof immediately handed over the rapier and sheath.

Until now, Mitrof had only met friendly merchants.

When dealing with nobles, merchants always had to be personable.

They flattered the nobles, made them feel good, and never showed any signs of dissatisfaction, no matter how difficult the problems or complaints. They were even exaggeratedly polite to Mitrof, who was just a child.

The armor shop owner, Meln, and Gran were completely different from such merchants. They were craftsmen and took pride in their work. That’s why they didn’t have to be humble, even to their customers.

Mitrof found their way of doing things fresh and interesting.

The boy who was standing beside Gran seemed to be worried and sorry as he looked at Mitrof, but Mitrof’s ignorance of the world was working in a good direction.

“It looks like you’ve put a little bit of work into it.”

Inspecting the rapier blade, Gran muttered.

“Do you remember?—I only showed it to you once.”

“Well, of course I won’t forget—there’s a big difference from a human face.”

Gran put the blade back into its sheath and handed it to the boy.

“Sharpen only the tip—the black wasp..”

Saying only that, Gran went back to the back of the shop.

Mitrof watched the man’s back as he left, then turned to face the boy holding a sword.

The boy looked somewhat troubled, eyebrows furrowed as he looked up at Mitrof.

“Um, how can I help you?—If you’re concerned, I can return it.”

“…What is the black wasp?”

“It’s a sharpening stone—they come in different colors and grits, depending on how much you want to sharpen your blade—starting from the black No. 8, they go up to the blue No. 5.”

“I see,” Mitrof nodded in understanding.

“Are you in charge of sharpening the blades?”

“Yes. I’ve been told that I’m better at sharpening steel than hammering it.”

The boy blushed on his cheeks.

Gran, who would not compromise on any work, praised his technique as good?

‘That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?’

Mitrof groaned. Gran had entrusted him to the boy. It must mean that the boy’s skill was reliable.

“I entrust this to you—thank you.”

“Thank you very much!—I’ll do my best to meet your expectations!”

The boy bowed his head as if folding his waist, losing his balance under the weight of the thrusting sword, and stumbled, making a clattering sound.

Even though Mitrof was a little worried, he made the decision to visit the guild while it was still daytime. He wanted to learn how to use the small shield properly.

The old woman gave Mitrof a simple wooden round shield. Leather was attached to the front, and the edges were reinforced with iron. It had a belt and a handle on the back, making it easy to wear it by passing the arm through it.

Handling it with the left arm was the same as with a gauntlet, but there were significant differences between the bracer and the shield.

According to the old woman, the guild offered courses for adventurers to learn how to use weapons and armor, as well as basic knowledge.

However, even after coming to the guild, Mitrof didn’t know where those classes were taking place.

The building stood as if covering the entrance to the labyrinth that opened to the underground. It was all under the management of the Labyrinth Guild, and it was packed with facilities for adventurers.

There was a cafeteria, blacksmith, clinic, and general store. The upper floors were used as hospital rooms for injured adventurers.

It was supposed to take the form developed for adventurers to explore the labyrinth safely and efficiently, but there were clearly citizens who were not adventurers as well.

They would request quests from adventurers who were similar to Jack-of-all-trades, visit the labyrinth guild out of boredom, or come to buy monster ingredients.

Mitrof walked around inside the guild, searching for the place where he should attend a class. Along the way, he found a guild employee he recognized. It was the receptionist who always took care of Mitrof.

She also noticed Mitrof and approached him with a friendly smile.

“Mitrof-san, are you off today?”

“Do you remember my name?”

Mitrof widened his eyes. There were adventurers who came to the guild every day, so it was natural to have forgotten his name. If he had a guild card, then his name would have been recognized, but at the moment, he did not.

The receptionist pushed up her round glasses, which had slipped down her nose, and smiled shyly.

“Mitrof-san is unique—being a newcomer who defeated a red-eyed troll has gained attention in the guild.”

“I see—I want to live up to those expectations.”

If Mitrof had simply accepted the compliment, it would have been a happy statement. However, Mitrof was raised as a nobleman’s son and was not straightforward enough to take praise from others at face value.

When Mitrof casually brushed off the compliment, the receptionist gave her a look of surprise, as if she had been snubbed.

Adventurers boast about their feats. Especially if they have defeated a famous monster, they will boast about it and make it a topic of conversation. This is a privilege granted only to adventurers who risk their lives in the labyrinth, and it is also their pride.

Moreover, Mitrof is still young as an adventurer. The receptionist thought he would be happy to hear the compliment, but she seemed to have misjudged him and corrected her perception.

“Are you going to the labyrinth again today?”

“No, I want to attend a small shield training course today, but I don’t know where to ask.”

“Training course!?”

The receptionist’s mouth dropped open, and she covered it with her hand.

“…What’s wrong?”

“Uh, nothing. I never thought an adventurer would want to attend a training course.”

“You’re doing a course for adventurers, right?—Is it because there aren’t many participants?”

Mitrof tilted his head.

“No, no, of course we’re offering it for free and targeting adventurers—however, it’s just that…”

The receptionist looked around and lowered her voice to continue secretly.

“It’s said that many adventurers care about their reputation and are sensitive to public opinion—it seems like taking a guild course is considered embarrassing.”

Mitrof looked puzzled.

It was understandable for adventurers to care about their reputation. Everyone was risking their lives fighting monsters, relying on their own strength and techniques. It was natural to have confidence and pride and to even compete against each other.

However, Mitrof couldn’t give a damn if people made fun of him for taking a course at the guild on handling weapons.

The receptionist pondered it for a moment and searched for words to convey it to Mitrof in a simple way.

“For example, adventurers usually form parties—so let’s say, Mitrov-san is recruiting a tank to hold the enemy’s attacks with his shield. If someone applying for the position were to say, ‘I just attended a course on shield usage at the guild yesterday,’ wouldn’t they seem like a complete beginner who can’t be relied on?”

“I think he’s a serious person with a desire to improve.”

“Um, well…”

The receptionist frowned in bewilderment. She looked around as if seeking help, then pushed up her glasses and cleared her throat.

“Well, Mitrov-san is a good person, so you might think that way—however, typical adventurers tend to avoid such ‘novices.’ It is also common to add conditions, called ‘marks,’ when recruiting…Oh, ‘mark’ refers to the guild stamp that is stamped on the card of those who have reached the 10th floor underground.”

“I see,” Mitrov nodded.

There were times when Mitrof’s household would hire new servants. Most of them were inexperienced youths who could not immediately perform their duties as full-fledged members. Each noble family has its own set of rules, and the required behavior and customs vary depending on the title. Even simply walking around the mansion exposes one to sensitive information that other families shouldn’t be aware of.

Therefore, it was rare to hire someone who had worked for a long time in another household, no matter how capable they were. In the first place, such servants were not something that families parted with easily.

As a result, it was common to bring in talented and inexperienced people like a blank slate and educate them over time to fit the household’s needs.

Mitrof thought that adventurers were looking for people who could be immediately useful rather than investing in such education.

If one were to attend a beginner’s course at the guild, it would be like shouting, “I am a beginner!” for all to hear.

“So, um…it may be best to consider this carefully—in this situation, those who have taken the course tend to stand out.”

As a member of the guild staff, Mitrof felt grateful that they were concerned about him from the perspective of an adventurer. It was something that Mitrof wouldn’t have even realized if it weren’t for the receptionist’s advice.

Mitrof crossed his arms and stroked his chin. He squeezed and kneaded the fleshy skin, then came to a conclusion.

“I appreciate the advice; I understand it well; I will take the course.”

“Eh, r-really?”

“Words cannot break bones, even if people mock or make fun of me—but monsters can take lives. Right now, as an adventurer, technique is more important than pride.”

To Mitrof’s firm response, the receptionist let out a deflated “I see.” Sometimes her big eyes would narrow, and she’d give a surprisingly mature smile, saying “fufu.”

“Mitrof-san might become a successful adventurer—okay, I’ll guide you.”

Chapter 52: The fat aristocrat takes a small shield course

Unbeknownst to most adventurers, the guild has a small courtyard. It’s not a resting place or a tourist spot, but simply a bare ground that can be used as a sports ground, without a single blade of grass growing.

Thanks to the receptionist, Mitrof was able to attend the shield course without much waiting. It’s not scheduled for a fixed time; rather, it is held whenever there are enough participants and the instructor is available.

There used to be a time when they determined the time, but it was changed to the current format because there were more occasions when nobody showed up.

As a result, only Mitrof and the instructor were in the courtyard, observing each other.

“What, the first student in a long time is a fat kid?”

The middle-aged man lazily surveyed Mitrof with his tired eyes and waved the bottle of alcohol in his left hand.

The amber-colored liquor spilled from his lips and flowed down his unshaven jaw, wetting the collar of his shirt. It was so dirty that Mitrof wondered how many days he had been wearing it.

The man’s standing posture was frail and unreliable, with a slight hunch in his back and bad posture. His hair, a mixture of gray and black, was long and tangled with grease. Beast ears grew from there, but one of them was twisted and severed midway.

He was introduced as a lecturer, but to Mitrof, he looked nothing more than a beastman hobo.

“I’m Sonn—It’s my job to teach you techniques.”

“I’m Mitrof.”

“Fine, fine—I’m not good at remembering names anyway.”

While Sonn gave a rough response, he pointed to Mitrof’s left arm with the thin stick he held in his right hand.

“You want to know how to use a small shield?”

“…Yes.”

“What are you up against?”

Without looking at Mitrof or showing any interest, Sonn drank his booze.

“It’s the smallblade rabbits and the swordhorned rabbits.”

“If you can’t avoid it, hold a shield—you’re lucky you’re smart enough to think.”

He laughed it off with a “Ha”.

With obvious mockery, Mitrof narrowed his eyes.

The emotion that came over him was, “What the hell is this?’ He came here to learn techniques to survive, but the so-called lecturer was a man who dressed like a drunken hobo. For no reason at all, he was mocked, and he involuntarily took a step forward and said,

“I didn’t come here to be made fun of.”

“Prepare yourself.”

“For what?”

Pew.

A surprisingly light sound echoed.

“——Block it with your shield!”

Mitrof opened his eyes wide in surprise.

Sonn had swung a stick, and it was already touching Mitrof’s shoulder.

‘Fast—no, slow?’

Sonn had only swung his arm lightly. It should have been visible, but Mitrof couldn’t react.

In just a moment, his thoughts and reality became confused, and Mitrof was focused on the stick hitting his shoulder, causing him to stop moving.

“Everything has a category—let’s call it milk, ale, wine, and liquor—you’re milk.”

Without showing any concern for Mitrof, Sonn removed the stick from his shoulder.

“It’s simple for you, Milk—just see where and when the attack is coming and decide whether to place your shield or not.”

The stick was swung again, and this time Mitrof used his shield to block it.

“That’s it. Don’t think about deflecting or repelling. Got it milk?”

“…Is this a training course?”

“What, did you think I was going to teach you a magic spell, my lord?”

“Fuurin” swung his stick again, this time to the right.

Mitrof instinctively twisted his body and blocked it with his shield.

“Avoid that one—what are you going to do from there?”

When he checked his posture as instructed, it was indeed unnatural. To protect his right side with his left arm holding the shield, he was twisting his waist.

“A small shield is not meant to block everything—It’s only supposed to be used minimally in times of need. Stupid people who don’t understand this complain that small shields are useless.”

Mitrof choked on his words, unable to speak. He himself had only recognized the small shield as an inferior version of the large shield.

“…how do you determine when you need to use it?”

“Gut feeling.”

“What?”

Mitrof thought he was joking, but Sonn didn’t even change his expression.

He stirred his drink and wiped his lips with his arm, then lifted an eyebrow in response to Mitrof’s gaze.

“When you blocked this stick just now, did you think about it?”

“…no.”

“Look, think, move your body, and block. That’s too slow, move by reflex—that’s the only way.”

“So how do I learn how to use it, or rather, how to distinguish it?”

Sonn shrugged his shoulders and then shook the stick he held up and down in his right hand.

“You have to learn it with your body—you understand, fatty.”

There was a whizzing sound.

Chapter 53: The fat aristocrat meets knight

“…Mitrof-sama, what happened to your face?”

The next morning, Canule timidly asked Mitrof, who had an unfamiliar bruise on his face and looked confused and unsettled.

If the bruise had been around his lips or eyes, it might have been assumed that he got into a fight, but in Mitrof’s case, the mark was a clean, straight line in the center of his face.

“…I was taking a shield course at the guild—I got hit by the instructor’s stick.”

“That must have been a very intense course…?”

Reacting to Canule’s expressions, which seemed to suggest she was from a good upbringing, Mitrof smiled wryly.

“Intense? Not at all—It was just bullying disguised as a course.”

Not only on his face but also all over his body, bruises were a constant reminder of his own inadequacy and the cruelty and skill of Sonn’s stick.

“Bullying…? Have you considered making a complaint to the guild?—Such behavior should be rectified.”

“No… even though I am unsatisfied with the method, I feel like the objective is being effectively accomplished… I also have trouble handling it.”

“I see.”

Canule was not satisfied, and Mitrof struggled to explain.

Mitrof was beaten, rolled on the ground, cursed, and covered in sweat and mucus.

However, in the end, he learned to dodge Sonn’s stick with his small shield. He had experienced genuine growth, and that made him unable to get angry.

“Anyway, let’s try it out in practice.”

Mitrof tightened the belt of the small shield wrapped around his left arm instead of his gauntlet.

Although the stick used by Sonn was different, exploring the 10th floor became much easier than Mitrof had imagined.

The best solution for the smallblade rabbit was undoubtedly the small shield.

He bounced off the smallblade rabbits as they flew in, knocked them down, or bounced them back with his shield.

The rabbits were small and light. Even when they collided head-on with his shield, his arms did not become numb.

Compared to the unrestricted movements of Sonn’s stick, it was not difficult to anticipate the straight attack of the smallblade rabbit. Mitrof calmly handled the small shield while observing where the smallblade rabbit would come from.

The intense training that left him covered in bruises had certainly taught Mitrof how to handle the small shield. He couldn’t even complain about it now, and he chuckled to himself.

“Are you hurt?”

After exterminating the group of smallblade rabbits, Canule approached Mitrof.

Mitrof opened his arms to show her.

“I’m not hurt at all—the small shield is useful—and the rapier that was sharpened for me is also sharp.”

“That’s good to hear—I’m relieved as well.”

Canule’s voice was somewhat bright. She had been watching Mitrof with a dark expression while covered in bruises until now.

“I also caused you worry, Canule—I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. But don’t let your guard down.”

“I’ll be careful.”

There was a teasing quality to Canule’s warning words. Mitrof also smiled and nodded.

Even though it was a small shield, it was not cheap.

Especially that old woman who does not sell mediocre items. If you prioritize quality that you can trust, the price will also increase proportionally. Although it cost quite a bit more than a cheap shield bought at a random armory, Mitrof thinks it was not the wrong purchase.

His life depends on this small shield. If safety can be bought with money, then there is no reason to hesitate.

However, the feeling of worry about an empty wallet is separate. Mitrof tightened his resolve to make full use of his shield and earn money properly.

“Speaking of which, Canule’s shield seems to be of much better quality.”

“Yes, it is—It is a sturdy item.”

The round shield that Canule carries on her back is much larger than Mitrof’s small shield. If the petite Canule were to hold it up, it would cover almost the entire upper body.

While Mitrof’s shield was made of wood with leather attached to it, Canule’s shield was made of shiny metal. A magnificent design of a soaring eagle was also applied, incorporating elegance into the rough armor.

As he was about to ask where he got it, Mitrof held back.

Mitrof is a nobleman. Nobles are required to have a cultured upbringing. He studied art from a young age, appreciated art pieces, and honed his sensibilities to understand “what is beauty.”

Therefore, if Mitrof’s noble eyes find something “beautiful,” then it must be an exceptional object. He sensed that inquiring about the origins of such an object would involve deeply related matters about Canule’s status and circumstances.

Canule also read Mitrof’s consideration in his silence.

The two collected the smallblade rabbit ears in silence and put them in Canule’s backpack. Canule tied the backpack’s straps under the lantern against the wall and looked around.

After carefully confirming that no one was there, Canule turned to Mitrof. The flickering flame illuminated the inside of the hood and partially revealed the whiteness of Canule’s concealed skull. She looked lifeless. Canule’s voice echoed from there.

“Mitrof-sama. You must have already noticed, but I’m——. ”

Mitrof listened carefully to the following words.

Canule stopped talking midway and turned around in the passage. It was the path that Mitrof had taken.

Mitrof turned his face as well. Clack, clack——the sound of metal footsteps on cobblestones. It wasn’t a monster. It was a human.

In the lantern light that uniformly illuminated the passage, the figure of a knight appeared.

“…What’s that?”

Mitrof tilted his head. A knight served someone. It was too unnatural for a knight to be in the labyrinth.

There was a possibility that the adventurer was wearing knight’s armor, but knight’s armor was not sold commercially. It was something passed down from generation to generation in a knight’s family.

If he was wearing armor, then that was a true sign of a knight.

Mitrof heard Canule gasp at the sight of the knight who had appeared. He knew that Canule had an idea of who he was.

Mitrof looked at Canule’s expression. If there were any signs of wanting to escape, Mitrof was prepared to run away with her immediately. However, Canule didn’t move.

She didn’t run away, nor did she run towards the knight. She just stood there, stunned.

The knight approached Mitrof and Canule in the garden, not rushing, and came to a stop before them.

“It seems you are well.”

A muffled voice came from within the knight’s armor.

“——Yes, Nii-sama.”

Canule nodded.

Mitrof’s eyes widened at the mention of “Nii-sama.”

Chapter 54: The fat aristocrat’s Mouth Turns Often

“To delve into the labyrinth—you’ve always surprised me.”

The knight’s helmet shifted, and his gaze shifted towards Mitrof.

“Did you take care of my sister?—She must have been a bother.”

“…No, Canule took care of me more than I took care of her.”

“Canule?”

The knight tilted his head and nodded as if understanding.

“Canule huh—you must have thought that changing places and names could change the course of your life.”

“…No.”

“Have you had enough fun?—Let’s go home.”

The knight spoke gently, as if soothing a child.

Canule looked down, as if resigning herself to the situation.

Mitrof furrowed his brow in surprise, but the situation was straightforward. Canule had originally run away from somewhere, and since she recognized the knight as her brother, there was no doubt about her identity.

“Wait, the conversation is moving too fast.”

“Unfortunately, you have no right to interfere.”

Indeed. It seemed that this was a family matter. However, Canule didn’t seem too pleased about reuniting with her brother.

It is not appropriate to interfere with the affairs of another’s family. Mitrof, who was raised as a noble, understands this well. However, if he wants to say something, he has no choice but to assert his right to speak up.

Mitrof thinks carefully.

“——I am Canule’s employer.”

“Oh?”

“I hired her as a porter—It’s troublesome if she is taken away without permission, and it violates the contract.”

“Do adventurers have contracts?—Certainly, that is disadvantageous to you.”

Mitrof took a breath for the moment. His appearance standing in the labyrinth with a knight’s armor was not ordinary, but he seemed capable of having rational discussions with people.

“Now, can you tell me about the terms of the contract?”

“…Canule is to assist me in carrying goods and in my exploration.”

“How long is the contract for?”

Mitrof was about to say “one year” instinctively. He had not discussed the duration of the contract with Canule. He thought it would be okay to say a large number and buy some time.

However, Mitrof’s thoughts turned, and the calmness he had gained through “sublimation” was still working. He corrected his choice of words.

The knight was rational. He respected Mitrof’s use of the word “contract” and confirmed its content. This was probably because he had the correct knowledge and understanding of the terms of the contract.

In an instant, Mitrof searched for an old memory.

“…It’s supposed to be renewed every month.”

“That’s common for an employment contract—if it were unfair, I could have broken it, but that’s a shame.”

A sound of laughter, as if he were exhaling breath from his armor, rang out. Mitrof narrowed his eyes.

“May I confirm the contract in writing?—If it’s just a verbal agreement, it’s another matter.”

“Of course, we exchanged contracts.”

“Then where is it?”

“Well, there was a fierce battle against a red-eyed troll the other day—the contract was torn to shreds at that time.”

“Doesn’t my sister have a copy?”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t explain properly—the copy of the contract that Canule had was also torn.”

“I see—it’s a surprising story, but such things happen in battles.”

“Yeah, I was surprised too.”

The knight nodded happily, and Mitrof returned a smile.

“So, is the original document safe, then?”

“Yeah, my partner keeps it safe—she’s someone you can trust.”

“Can you introduce me to this partner?”

“I would love to, but my partner has returned to her hometown due to some urgent circumstances—she accidentally took the contract with her.”

“I see, it’s very convenient, almost like a made-up story.”

“I know, I can hardly believe it myself—but it’s the truth.”

Mitrof was, in fact, surprised at how well his mouth moved.

And his way of talking, never admitting inconvenient facts, was just like his father—Count Vansankai—negotiating.

When Mitrof was still expected to live up to his father’s expectations, he was allowed to attend negotiations and had seen his father speak like this.

“So you have a contractual agreement, but the contract is missing, is that correct?”

“No, that’s not correct—there is a contract, but the situation does not allow me to show it right away.”

Mitrof stood tall. The knight’s back was high, requiring him to look up. The knight’s armor and aura were overwhelming.

However, nobles held power through authority, not armor or swords. They are individuals who can subdue others with their own bodies. Mitrof learned this behavior from his father.

Therefore, with no backing, legitimacy, or status, he simply boasted boldly. He stood proudly, boasting that he was right.

“If we cannot confirm the contract clauses correctly, we should respect the intention of the parties to the contract… In other words, if Canule and I recognize that there is no mistake, that is equivalent to the contract’s proof.”

“You seem to be familiar with the old contract law—then you also know that the clause continues like this… However, this is only guaranteed if the individual’s will is undoubtedly free—how do you prove that you did not force my sister’s will?”

“It’s simple.”

Mitrof pointed straight at Canule and declared, as if to say, “See for yourself.”

“——I am weaker than Canule. If she wants to escape, she just needs to defeat me.”

Silence fell. In the distance of the labyrinth, a dull sound echoed. Mitrof thought it must have been the swordhorned rabbit crashing into a wall.

“Huh.”

and.

“Ha ha ha ha.”

A man laughed inside the knight’s armor. However, to Mitrof, the brave silver knight appeared to be swaying unsteadily in a fighting stance, and it seemed comically out of place.

The knight suddenly stopped laughing.

“Very well—I will accept your argument.”

“That would be great.”

“The contract will be renewed every month—at the end of the month, my sister will be free. Let’s talk again then.”

With that, the knight turned on his heel and left without a second thought.

The sound of his footsteps echoed in the darkness of the labyrinth until he disappeared from sight.

Mitrof breathed a sigh of relief.

As the unique atmosphere emanating from the knight engulfed him, Mitrof’s body began to lose all of its strength.

“What an eccentric brother you have.”

Mitrof looked at Canule. At that moment, Canule was sitting properly on the floor, in the traditional Japanese style.

“——Mitrof-sama, I apologize for the trouble I caused you—and…thank you very much.”

Canule spoke in a trembling voice, aligning the fingers of her black leather gloves and bowing her head.

It was the same scene as when they first met in town.

“No, it’s fine.”

Mitrof responded curtly. He’s not used to being thanked by someone.

Chapter 55: The fat aristocrat learns about the bone girl’s situation

Meeting a knight who claimed to be Canule’s brother led to the end of their labyrinth exploration.

After returning to the surface, Mitrof and Canule moved to a new location. They took a seat at the end of a small dining hall in the inn where Grace once stayed. They didn’t know of any other suitable place to talk about things they didn’t want to be asked about by others.

The sun had yet to set, and it was still early evening. The dimly lit dining hall had few customers, with only a male elf drinking alone at the opposite table.

Mitrof ordered red wine and a rabbit meat dish. He gave the smallblade rabbit he brought back from the labyrinth to the innkeeper and asked him to prepare it. This way, he could eat meat to his heart’s content, cheaply.

The unsmiling innkeeper brought a bottle of red wine and two glasses. Mitrof poured the wine into both glasses.

Canule hasn’t eaten or drunk anything since being cursed. However, placing an empty glass in front of her made Mitrof hesitant.

“…Once again, I have caused trouble for you, Mitrof-sama.”

Mitrof nodded in response to Canule’s apology. He didn’t think he had caused any trouble, but denying it wouldn’t make the conversation progress.

“Is that really Canule’s older brother?”

“…Yes, without a doubt.”

“Were you knighted?”

Canule nodded in response to Mitrof’s question and dropped a few words.

In the past, countries fought each other, and among them, the era of noble lords competing for territory continued for a long time.

Many young men became soldiers, and those who performed outstanding deeds were granted the title of knight. However, that is now a thing of the past.

The world was governed, and diplomatic maneuvering prevailed over warfare. The stage of the knight in armor has long since fallen into disuse. The Royal Guard Knights still exist, but they haven’t been to battle in decades.

Nevertheless, knighthood has not yet disappeared, and a title called “Knight Baron” has been established for the quasi-nobility, with selected families inheriting the knightship.

“Women born into a knight baron family learn both ladylike behavior and martial arts—and as they reach the age of maturity, they become a quasi-knight and a guard attendant for noblewomen.”

“I have heard of it—for noblewomen, a female knight is indispensable for dressing up in high society.”

To have a beautiful appearance, impeccable manners, and a female knight with superior combat skills by one’s side. It is the “trend” in high society.

The story of knights has always captivated people’s hearts. To have a courageous knight offer their sword and pledge loyalty is still a noblewoman’s dream today.

The knight pledged their loyalty to the country in exchange for a title. The knights who once lived for the noble ideals of chivalry and their sword have now taken on the responsibility of protecting their own homes. All of it has disappeared into fantasy.

That’s why noblewomen overlaid their illusions and decorated female knights to keep them close. It’s not uncommon to dress them in men’s clothing.

Of course, there is also a practical benefit to serving as a bodyguard in places where men are prohibited. However, it is not every day that noble women are attacked by rogues.

“I too served as a certain person’s attendant—I cannot go into detail, but I was cursed with the relic of the labyrinth in order to protect that person.”

“…I see—and that is why you were exiled.”

Nobles place importance on reputation and detest scandal. It is a concern for both the side that puts knights by their side and the side that sends them out. It is not just a beautiful story of a knight protecting a lady from a curse that can be settled in a noble social gathering—Mitrof thought.

Canule hesitated and carefully chose her words with a hesitant tone.

“I have a slightly complicated circumstance—besides…I can’t serve in this state either. My father told me to go back home. He said it would bring shame to the family if I were to remain like this.”

Mitrof strongly understood the words “shame to the family.”

The existence of the nobility is not about the individual but about the family, protecting the lands, status, and honor that their ancestors have guarded generation after generation and entrusting them to future generations. That is what is important in the family.

If the value of the family is lowered, they may choose to discard the individual. It is also the duty of the head of a noble family.

“If I return home, I probably won’t be able to go out for the rest of my life—as a female knight, there would be no role for me anywhere in this appearance…”

It’s not something to laugh about. Mitrof knows the harsh reality and unforgiving values of the nobility.

In fact, almost every noble family has a reception room or underground prison. These prisons are not only for imprisoning criminals but also for confining the disgrace of families that must be kept hidden from other houses.

Although Canule had proven herself by protecting her master, she became a monster due to a curse. The head of the household could not let her roam free and risk ruining the family’s existence. Mitrof, too, could understand the reasoning behind this decision.

The knight baron has a monster of a daughter—malicious rumors could even threaten the existence of the family.

Carrying not only Canule’s burden but also the name of the longstanding knight baron, she carries a heavy stone on her shoulders.

“…My master let me escape. She said If I go to the city’s labyrinth, I’ll be able to hide and maybe even find a way to turn back—I must take advantage of her words.”

However, Canule lowered her gaze.

She was staring at the wine glass placed in front of her. The small candle in the middle of the table modestly illuminated the wine in the glass.

“I knew this life would not last long—it was shorter than my expectations yet longer than I thought, but I believe I’ll never forget that I was able to adventure with Mitrof-sama.”

“Thank you very much.” Canule lowered her head deeply.

Mitrof felt like it was a farewell for life.

They wouldn’t ever meet again, but there was no reason to be sad. Stay strong.

Send a letter. I’ll send one too.

It’s not too late to run away to another city.

Mitrof had many words to say, but he couldn’t think of anything valuable. Everything was meaningless and hollow.

The shopkeeper came over with a pot and placed it in front of Mitrof without saying a word, then left.

Inside the pot was rabbit meat with gravy sauce, a dish familiar to Mitrof and common enough to be served at noble dining tables.

The roasted rabbit meat was cut into small cubes. The meat juice from roasting the rabbit, sautéed onions, almond milk, and spices were added and simmered until the sauce thickened. In the middle of the pot, a mound of mashed potatoes was piled up.

Mitrof seemed to have used all the rabbit meat he brought in, as the pot was filled to the brim with meat.

Mitrof took out a napkin from his pocket and looked at it before spreading it out for his meal. It was not something you would find at a food stall or restaurant, used to prevent the sauce from staining clothes or to wipe one’s mouth or hands after a meal. Mitrof had started carrying a napkin with him.

He believed he was no longer a noble but an adventurer.

However, he still used a napkin during meals. Adventurers would not bother with such things.

Changing the way of life ingrained in one’s body and senses is difficult.

It’s not easy to tell Canule to run away and live freely. He understands that much.

He knows that she cannot choose that option, even though she understands it.

Even during meals where no one cared about table manners, like spreading out a napkin, Mitrof did so.

“——We had to finish early today—let’s dive into the labyrinth again tomorrow.”

Canule looked up. Due to the hood she never took off, even indoors, it was impossible to read her expression. The whiteness of her jawbone was the only thing that the candle flame in front of her illuminated.

Mitrof couldn’t read Canule’s emotions, but he still wanted to communicate something.

“Your brother agreed that my contract with you ends at the end of the month—until then, no matter what anyone says, you are my companion; I can’t do without you.”

“Yes.”

From that point on, Mitrof didn’t say anything and stuck his napkin into his collar, starting to eat the rabbit meat.

It was completely different from the meals made by the exclusive chef at his family’s home. There were few spices used, and the quality was poor. There was hardly any sugar in it. The mashed potatoes were probably made by mashing them all together in the morning; they were cold and had a dry, mealy texture. The meat had been cooked too much, making it tough, and the lack of preparation made it stringy.

Canule straightened her back and placed her hands on her knees, watching as Mitrof engulfed the meat without even a drop of juice spilling.

There was no clatter of dishes as Mitrof struck them in the absence of conversation. There was also no sound of chewing. His ingrained habits were elegant, in contrast to the run-down inn’s dining hall.

Occasionally, the candle flame flickered in the draft, causing the shadows of the two to tremble.

Chapter 56: The fat aristocrat chats with his peers

“Right now, it’s still okay, but once we get past the 10th floor, it’s going to take a while.”

As Mitrof unloaded his bags in an open space, he spoke to Canule.

“Yes, that’s right—It’s likely that just getting to the designated floor will take a whole day.”

Finally, they arrived at the 10th floor. The small room in front of the staircase was larger than on the other floors, and many adventurers rested there at any given time.

People tended to gather along the calm walls, leaving the center mostly empty, with adventurers forming a ▢ formation.

On the shallower levels, there were only a few adventurers resting, with most just sitting on a cloth. However, on the 10th floor’s break area, some were resting in tents in the corners, while others had taken off their equipment and were eating in casual clothes. It was evident they didn’t plan on returning anytime soon.

The labyrinth was deep, and monsters infested the paths, making the journey to and from the surface time-consuming. If they were to go deeper, it would become a long journey spanning several nights.

Mitrof muttered that he would be depressed if he couldn’t get out of this underground labyrinth, and the adventurer next to him laughed.

“What’s wrong, kid? Don’t you know?”

The man was middle-aged, with white mixed into his short-cropped hair and chin stubble. The corners of his eyes drooped, and his eyelids looked drowsy, softening his appearance.

“Don’t know what?”

“You know you’ll get a ‘wing emblem’ if you conquer the 10th floor, right?”

“Yeah, the receptionist told me that—she said it’s a milestone.”

“Then why do you think it’s called a ‘wing emblem’?”

That is what Mitrof goes on to say. intending to explain that beginners are called “rubi” and that the rubi bird, which has noticeable red feathers, loses them when it becomes an adult…

But the man shook his head, as if anticipating Mitrof’s response.

“No, no. After passing the 10th floor, adventurers literally get their own ‘wings’.”

It was like a riddle. When Mitrof twisted his neck to ask what it meant, the man sitting next to the adventurer with short hair interjected.

“Hey, are you still giving the ‘course’ to the newcomers?”

As he sharpened his short sword with a whetstone, the man turned to face Mitrof.

“This guy sits here and waits, and when a newcomer comes in, he talks about it—’What is that about? Please let me tell you!’—This guy has been on the 10th floor eagerly waiting for them every day, just for that.”

“Hey, don’t talk about me like I’m some kind of depraved weirdo!”

“You know yourself well.”

“Shut up! Swordsmen like me are weak against swordhorn rabbits!”

“Then hurry up and find some party members!”

“What can I do?!—When a middle-aged man like me calls out to them, they get suspicious!”

“Ha!—A middle-aged man with no confidence or charisma is just pathetic!”

They seemed to have a close relationship as they exchanged sharp words, paying no attention to Mitrof and Canule standing still.

“There’s a great elevator, you know.”

A passing beastman woman casually informed them.

“Sorry for overhearing—well, I have good hearing, you know.”

Pointing to her head were animal ears that grew perkily from it.

“Ah! Why are you telling him instead of me? You idiot!”

“The idiot here is you guys—what are you doing, telling silly stories to the newcomers?—Young people aren’t as free as you—go to work.”

The tongue was so sharp that Mitrof took a step back. The men suddenly became quiet and hung their heads.

“That’s terrible… It’s too much…even though I’m concerned…”

“You don’t have to say that…hey, right…?”

“That’s how you two bond—by licking each other’s wounds.”

The beast-woman cut them off with a glance, turning to face Mitrof. Her expression changed completely, and she showed a light, friendly smile.

“Not many people know this, but there are vertical holes with the great elevator set up in the labyrinth up on the surface—of course, there’s a fee, but nothing is more convenient when you’re going into the deep parts.”

“Wow,” Mitrof said, impressed.

“Is it made with magic?”

“Well, I don’t know complicated things like that—you just use it, that’s all.”

“It’s a relic, a relic,” said the short-haired man.

“It must have been the wisdom of the ancients to move such a huge thing.”

“You say it as if you’ve ridden it before?”

“Hey, are you being mean to me?”

The man with the short sword laughed at the short-haired man’s sullen profile. He deftly spun the sword in his hand, checking the sharpness with his fingers as he continued to explain.

“That’s one of the guild’s treasures—no one knows the details. It’s said to be powered by a relic or that some genius built it. The important thing is that it can take you down to the bottom in no time.”

“If you pay the money,” said the woman with the animal ears.

“Yes, if you pay, you don’t have to walk—it’s like having wings; you can go up and down as you please.”

“I see, so that’s why it’s called ‘wings.’ I’m learning something new.”

The three adventurers exchanged glances at Mitrof’s formal language, but it ended there.

Adventurers were all people who had some kind of situation. No one would ask deeply about it. It was an unspoken understanding among adventurers.

“Well, you can go back and forth over 10 floors if you take your time—a lot of people don’t use the great elevators.”

A short-haired man commented as if he had regained his composure. He pointed to a tent set up across from the small room.

“It’s expensive, you know—many people just use it for a one-way trip.”

“Hey, why don’t you try using it for free?—A noob like you could climb into a barrel full of them and fall in.”

“Aren’t you going too far?!”

The woman with beast ears laughed, the man with short swords laughed, and the man with short hair, who had been teased, also laughed while retorting.

Watching them, Mitrof also laughed. He could also hear Canule’s suppressed laughter behind him.

Mitrof and Canule took a break and enjoyed chatting with the men. The three of them were not skilled adventurers, as they had only changed careers a few years ago.

Still, they were much more accustomed to the labyrinth than Mitrof. The tension that Mitrof still couldn’t let go of, the men had managed to rid themselves of. This was not in a negative sense, but a conscious decision to rest when necessary and switch mindsets.

Swordsmanship, etiquette, and even dance were subjects that Mitrof’s private tutor always taught him. With a teacher to guide him, he could improve with ease. However, now that there was no teacher to teach him how adventurers should act, it was difficult.

If anything, he was taught the basics by Grace, but that was only the beginning. There were still many things he didn’t know. Speaking to his seniors like this was a great learning experience for Mitrof.

The three of them had explored in the morning and were taking a break for a while.

“Then, see you later.” After exchanging promises to meet again, Mitrof and Canule decided to continue deeper into the labyrinth.

As they moved away from the small room overflowing with human presence and filled with light, they gradually began to sense an unsettling feeling. Beyond that point was the territory of monsters, and they needed to firm up the slackened tension.

Mitrof placed his right hand on the hilt of his rapier to be ready to escape at any time. He talked to Canule while scanning the area for any movement.

“A great elevator?—Labyrinth has some amazing things.”

“Yes, I was surprised too—if we can figure out how it works, it would make exploration much easier.”

“Yes, but the cost seems to be quite high, which is a concern.”

Canule smiled softly, rolling a bell at Mitrof’s complicated expression.

“Yes, there are more items to write in the household account book.”

“So far, the records have held up well—it turns out that the cost of food is putting a strain on the family budget.”

Canule laughed again.

“Don’t laugh like that—I feel like I need to seriously lose weight.”

“Don’t worry about it too much—Mitrof-sama is already wonderful as he is.”

Canule consoled Mitrof, but at the same time, Mitrof was troubled about whether to rely on her words.

Although Mitrof’s physical activity had increased significantly since becoming an adventurer, his weight had not decreased much.

“The post-labyrinth meals are just too delicious…”

Yes, they were truly delicious.

‘Sweating in the labyrinth, grinding our lives away, exhausted in spirit and body—the food from the food stalls is as tasty as if your life demanded it—and what a wonderful feeling of satisfaction to have food in your stomach!’

At first, Mitrof felt uncomfortable with the noble and refined meals on the dining table, but now he had completely become accustomed to the commoner’s food.

Strong seasoning and spices were essential for the body after working hard in the labyrinth.

Adventurers tended to become excessively attached to certain acts or behaviors in order to relieve the terrible tension and excitement in the labyrinth. In Mitrof’s case, he was already accustomed to focusing on eating, so he always overindulged in food after returning from the labyrinth.

Night after night, Mitrof would hit his stomach and feel a slight regret. But his gluttony was recorded as numbers in the household account book, which made him condemn his own instincts as his rationality held the moral high ground. ‘You’re eating too much,’ he scolded himself.

However, the truth was that Mitrof loved to eat. It was a difficult problem to limit himself in moderation.

As he pondered whether to have a restrained meal today, he noticed a shadow floating at the end of the hallway.

Chapter 57: The fat aristocrat gets a thank you

At first, he was on guard, thinking it might be an enemy, but as it got closer, he recognized that it was in the shape of a human. Upon approaching without stopping, the shadow became clear, and he realized it was the beast girl, Apélie Tiff.

“You really knew I was coming, didn’t you?”

Mitrof said in surprise. At the time of their parting, Mitrof had given Apélie Tiff a handkerchief. She had said that if there was something with his scent, she could find him.

“…The scent was easy to follow.”

“It’s a little complicated for me—I hope it doesn’t stink… are you okay now?”

Apélie Tiff’s leg injury was not life-threatening, but it was not shallow enough to heal immediately.

“I can walk—I’m fine.”

“Oh, good—that’s a relief.”

Apélie Tiff moved uncomfortably and then approached hesitantly while on guard. She removed a small bag from her waist and handed it to Mitrof.

“This is my gratitude for our promise.”

“You’re a person of honor.”

“Is that so…?—Keeping one’s promise is only natural.”

That may be true, but Mitrof narrowed his eyes.

Some people break their promises. That’s why there are laws that use contracts and notaries to ensure that promises are kept.

Mitrof didn’t expect Apélie Tiff to keep her promise. That’s why he was so surprised that she had really appeared.

“Chief” said it had value and gave it to Mitrof.”

Mitrof received the small bag from Apélie Tiff. It was hard and heavy, like a rock. He was curious about its contents, but more curious about the words he heard.

“Chief”?—Do you have a leader?”

“…”

Apparently, Mitrof’s small surprise did not go unnoticed by Apélie Tiff.

“How many people do you live with?”

“…I don’t know. A lot.”

“A lot,” Mitrof repeated.

Apélie Tiff is a resident of the labyrinth and is referred to as one of the “people of the labyrinth”. There is the person she calls “the chief,” and she has many companions.

Without Mitrof realizing it, there are indeed many people living hidden within the labyrinth, in addition to adventurers and monsters. They live according to separate standards and create their own communities.

Mitrof proceeds along the path with the map of the labyrinth sold at the guild. However, it is impossible to accurately depict reality on paper.

There are paths with boards forbidding entry, narrow paths not shown on the map, and paths closed off by iron fences.

Moreover, rumors suggest that there are hidden paths connecting each floor that only monsters know about, which is very realistic. Mitrof discovered narrow paths hidden within the walls and also saw a hidden passage that the troll had used.

It is possible that somewhere in this labyrinth, people live without ever returning to the surface. Just thinking about it makes Mitrof feel curious.

Until recently, Mitrof only knew of the mansion, the small social world, and nothing else. The world is vast. It was a feeling of realizing his own insignificance, as if looking up at the vast sky.

“What kind of life do you have? Are you being threatened by monsters? How do you obtain resources?”

“Mitrof-sama.”

Canule quickly calmed Mitrof, who suddenly became excited. Apélie Tiff pulled back in surprise.

“…I’m sorry—I was just curious.”

Apélie Tiff tilted her head.

“Does Mitrof have an interest in us…?”

“Yes, I do.”

“It’s hard to understand unless you’re the chief.”

“I see. I hope I get a chance to meet this chief someday.”

“…Is this person a weirdo?”

Apélie Tiff tilted her head, and her beast ears above her head swayed.

“Well, he might be a little different.”

responded Canule instead, nodding.

“But he’s a good person.”

“Mitrof is a good person—I know—he helped me.”

Apélie Tiff stepped closer to Mitrof, looking up at his face.

“I still don’t think I’ve thanked you enough—I’ll bring you something else.”

“I’ve received enough gratitude—this is enough.”

The contents of the small bag in his right hand were still unknown. However, Mitrof believed that Apélie Tiff’s keeping the promise to meet him and coming to see him was in itself valuable. It brought a richness that couldn’t be obtained through things.

But Apélie Tiff shook her head.

“You saved my life; you gave me the tools to treat my wounds. I’m still grateful.”

Without waiting for Mitrof’s answer, Apélie Tiff turned around and walked away down the corridor. The pair saw her off as her figure disappeared into the distance.

“…She’s a very honorable person.”

“I’ve heard that the people of Labyrinth are frightening and hard to approach, but rumors are not always trustworthy.”

“Frightening?”

“Indeed, living in the labyrinth is something that those living on the surface cannot even imagine—there are stories that they possess strength that can conquer monsters, that they can converse with monsters, and that they have even tamed them.”

“I see.” Mitrof nodded.

It was difficult for Mitrof, who had been lurking in the labyrinth, to imagine such things. It would be even more difficult for someone viewing the labyrinth from the surface to understand. Ignorance nurtures imagination, and imagination magnifies things.

“At least Apélie Tiff is not too frightening to approach.”

Mitrof muttered as he looked at the small bag in his hand. It was wrapped in hemp cloth and tied with leftover fabric. When he untied the knot and opened the cloth, there was a fist-sized stone inside.

When he held it up to the wall’s light, it appeared yellow and translucent, as if distilled alcohol had solidified.

“Is this a raw gemstone?”

“I’m not sure—I don’t think there could be something this big…”

Mitrof was familiar with precious stones. However, while he could distinguish the types of gems from those that were polished and processed into works of art, it was difficult to determine their type from raw stones freshly dug from mines.

Mitrof tilted his head, then wrapped the stone again and tied it carefully with a string.

Chapter 58: The fat aristocrat thinks about what lies ahead

As one gets used to handling a small shield, dealing with the rabbit becomes easier. When facing the smallblade rabbits, observe their movements calmly and block with the shield. When facing the swordhorned rabbits, stand behind the wall and avoid them calmly.

Although heavier than a gauntlet and less agile, having a sense of security in being able to create a wall of protection is a significant advantage in battle.

Compared to Mitrof, Canule looks less vulnerable. Upon hearing that she was a knightess, Mitrof realized that Canule’s movements were indeed refined.

Having obtained some knowledge on how to handle a shield in a guild course, Mitrof was able to understand Canule’s movements to a certain extent.

In any case, the two of them can now handle the 10th floor with ease. They steadily advanced with the help of the map and entered a small room located about 70% of the way through. It was a resting place for adventurers, created by stacking bricks to divide the corridor and embedding a wooden door.

It may not be reliable on the upper floors, where aggressive ochre boars and trolls roam, but on the rabbit-only 10th floor, this place provides sufficient safety.

Inside, a group of three had already rested.

Mitrof raised his hand in greeting to them. Although he didn’t need to behave like a friend, it was important to show friendliness to demonstrate that he had no hostile intentions.

With each party holding weapons, tension inevitably rose. In order to rest well, a minimum of compromise and respect was necessary. Canule was hiding her face with a black coat and hood, so Mitrof also took on the role of trying not to alert anyone.

The room was separated by a narrow, dimly lit corridor. There were scorch marks on the end of the corridor and walls covered in graffiti that the previous adventurers probably made to pass the time. Such traces of humanity brought a small sense of comfort to the labyrinth.

Mitrof and Canule sat at a distance from the group of three.

Canule skillfully took out the tools and prepared tea. Mitrof spread out the map on the floor, thinking about what to do next and stroking his chin.

“We could go around the tenth floor for a while longer and deal with the rabbits…”

As long as they had a shield, rabbits were not difficult opponents. Of course, you cannot be too careful, but it is easier than dealing with trolls, which are strong enemies but not very profitable. By collecting ears, they could also earn money.

“Do you plan on going down?”

Canule asked while boiling water on a portable stove in a kettle.

“Yeah, even if it costs money, being able to use the great elevator is a blessing—besides, if we only hunt rabbits, ‘sublimation’ will become more difficult.”

One reason for Mitrof’s dilemma was the labyrinth’s mysterious power of “sublimation” that it bestowed upon adventurers. By absorbing the life force of monsters by defeating them, the body adapts to the labyrinth through prolonged stays…only speculations abound, and the truth is uncertain.

“I haven’t experienced ‘sublimation’ yet…but Mitrof-sama, you have done it once, right?”

“Ah, yes—it was when I defeated a kobold right after entering the labyrinth—since then, I haven’t felt that way at all.”

“I’ve heard stories of how fighting to the point of risking your life can lead to ‘sublimation.'”

“That seems like a reasonable story—however, we did not ‘sublimate’ even after the battle with the red-eyed troll…”

Mitrof couldn’t think of any conditions that were acceptable for kobolds but not for the red-eyed troll.

“I want ‘sublimation’ when exploring the labyrinth; however, I don’t know how to achieve it. If we need to defeat a certain number of enemies, we might as well stay on the 10th floor and make money. If not, we should move on quickly.”

Steam rose from the kettle. Canule poured hot water into a cup. She packed tea leaves into a small wire mesh and brewed them in the cup. She then removed the lid from the kettle and left it on top of the cup to let it steep. When she opened the lid, the scent of black tea filled the air.

Handing Mitrof the cup, Canule spoke.

“I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I think we should aim to get down to the 11th floor first.”

“Oh?”

Mitrof sipped the hot black tea. In the labyrinth, Canule’s tea was indispensable to calm his mind.

“I will be leaving Mitrof-sama’s side at the end of the month. It may be beneficial for Mitrof-sama to learn how to use the great elevator beforehand.”

Mitrof lowered his gaze.

Yes, that’s right. He needed to consider that.

If Canule were to leave, Mitrof would have to explore the labyrinth alone. Even though he could use a shield now, it would be difficult to handle a group of rabbits without Canule.

He would also have to carry his own luggage and have no one to watch his back.

Canule’s role was significant. Mitrof was reminded of this once again.

If Canule were to disappear, it might become difficult to even descend to the 10th floor. While she was still around, he needed to obtain the “wing emblem” to be able to use the great elevator. That way, it would be convenient to search for a replacement for Canule.

His calculating thoughts led to a logical solution. Mitrof acknowledged this, but he still felt heavy-hearted. Originally, descending to lower floors was supposed to be a sign of growth and achievement, something to be celebrated.

However, at this point, it was only an act to prepare for after Canule was gone.

Mitrof sipped his tea again. The hot water hit his tongue. He endured it and swallowed it. A light scent escaped from his mouth and nose.

He wanted to just stop and stay like this. A feeling that was almost like dependence rose in Mitrof’s chest.

Grace returned to her hometown, and Canule would also return home. Whether it was what they wanted or not, it was a way of life imposed on them.

‘What about my way of life?’

Mitrof was the third son of a noble family. The eldest son would inherit the family safely, and the second son was also doing well. They were both living splendid lives as nobles. However, when it came to the third son, there was no role or place for him.

If he were a high-ranking noble, there would be land to divide among children, and he would be asked to marry or be a son-in-law to connect families. But the Count Vansankai family was not rich, and being a new family, their status was lower compared to other Count families.

Even if Mitrof stayed at home, there would be no place or way for him to contribute.

Although, if he had any outstanding talent, he could have made a name for himself. But Mitrof, who devoted himself to eating and sleeping, seemed to be the model of a decadent nobleman’s child.

The only thing worth mentioning was his talent with the sword. However, aristocrats wielding swords were already outdated, and those who held dueling in high regard had long since disappeared.

By wielding a sword as an adventurer in the labyrinth, Mitrof became like a fish that got a little water. Fighting unexpectedly turned out to be an environment suitable for Mitrof himself. However, it did not seem like a path to follow forever.

Those who met each other eventually parted, choosing their respective paths or carrying things for the sake of others, leaving the labyrinth behind.

Mitrof stayed behind, gripping the rapier he had obtained and diving into the labyrinth under the guise of an adventurer. He aimed to improve his living standards by earning wages, eating good food, and sleeping in a large bed.

It seemed like the generous life he had always wanted

However, he felt scared by his immersion in thoughts with no answers, so Mitrof shook his head and cut off his train of thought.

“Yes, let’s head down—first, let’s go to the 11th floor and get the ‘wing emblem.'”

“Understood.”

Canule held a silence that seemed to express a desire to say something. However, she began to tidy up without saying anything.

Mitrof also felt like he should say something. But he did not know what to say. He was taught how a nobleman should treat a lady, but all of it seemed useless now. It was clear that none of it was helpful at this point.

Chapter 59: The fat aristocrat talks with his friends

While carefully hunting smallblade rabbits and occasionally swordhorn rabbits, the two of them made their way towards the stairs to go downstairs. Even if there were unexplored areas, they could quickly reach their destination as long as they had the map.

The path towards the stairs splits in two directions. According to the map, one of the paths leads to a square room with an X drawn inside a shield that extends downward in a triangle shape.

“That one leads to the room of the ‘Guardian.'”

The labyrinth, also known as the ancient heritage site, had many mysterious phenomena that modern people could not understand or explain. One of them was the powerful monster called the “Guardian.”

Every five floors, the labyrinth changes its appearance. The guild divides it into layers, and its symbol is the “Guardian.”

“I wonder what kind of monster serves as the ‘Guardian’ of this floor?”

“Well… there’s no doubt that it’s a formidable enemy.”

Compared to normal monsters, the “Guardian” possesses incomparable qualities and abilities. The guild strictly manages its doors and limits challenges to those who pass the screening process by appointment.

Mitrof remembers the story he heard from Grace.

He did not see the “Guardian” of the first floor, also known as the “Scarlet Bear.” Another monster, the red-eyed troll, used the “Scarlet Bear’s” arm as a weapon to defeat it.

That arm was the only glimpse of the “Guardian” that Mitrof knew.

“I didn’t even have the intention to challenge it, so I didn’t buy any information about the ‘Guardian.'”

“Is it common to buy information?”

Canule asked Mitrof, who tapped his finger on the map in his hand.

“Information about the labyrinth comes at a fee; the accuracy of the map also depends on the price.”

The map Mitrof purchased had missing side paths and blocked areas. It takes time and money to update a map that has already been printed with new discoveries. There is a reason why cheaper maps have lower accuracy.

“Information about the ‘guardian’ is particularly expensive.”

“I think such information should be widely shared… It’s a matter of life and death.”

“I agree with you, but I hear that guild is all about making money.”

“Furthermore,” Mitrof shrugged his shoulders.

“You can go down to the lower level without defeating the ‘Guardian.’ Many adventurers will probably ignore the ‘Guardian’ and move forward.”

“I also think so… Mitrof-sama, over there.”

Saying that, Canule pointed to the end of the passage. There was an open space ahead, and the ceiling was even higher. From here, you could see the door that led to the ‘Guardian’s’ room, as the area around it was brightly lit.

The door that was closed earlier is now open. It looked like the adventurers who had defeated the ‘Guardian’ had just come out.

Even from a distance, Mitrof could easily recognize them.

“Isn’t that Mikel and the others?”

Mikel was a boy who fought alongside Mitrof when he battled the red-eyed troll. His age hadn’t changed much, but now he was a young adventurer with a reasonable amount of fame as the leader of ‘Wolves Wind.’

They noticed Mitrof soon after. Mikel hurried over in his light metal armor, carrying a large sword on his back. Despite its weight, he moved with great ease.

“Hey, Mitrof!—You finally made it to the 10th floor!”

Mitrof nodded, a little perplexed by the warm greeting.

Mikel was Mitrof’s friend. However, as Mitrof had never had a friend until his age, he always struggled with how to behave around Mikel.

“Well, we’re about to go down to the 11th floor.”

“What’s with the formal tone?!”

He was tapped on the shoulder. It was a gesture that was impossible between nobles. Mitrof was confused, but he felt Mikel’s relaxed attitude relieve the tension that had built up on his shoulders.

“… Are you doing okay? I’m impressed you’re challenging the “Guardian” immediately after recovering from your injury.”

Mikel had suffered a severe injury, breaking both his legs in the collapse of rubble during a battle with a red-eyed troll.

“Thanks to Leona and the medical facility, I’ve been sleeping all the time, and my body has gotten dull—I haven’t fought against the ‘Guardian’ yet, so I thought it would be the perfect comeback match.”

Mikel’s companions approached from behind, a dwarven warrior with a large shield on his back, a petite magician in a crimson robe, and a woman wearing a pure white priestly garb.

“I don’t see anyone injured—you guys emerged unscathed against the ‘Guardian’.”

“Well, yeah—we had good compatibility this time—we knew that, so it was easy to come.”

The three quickly approached. Mitrof looked their way and saluted first. Although they had never spoken before, he felt like they were acquaintances, having relied heavily on them in the recent battle.

The dwarven shield warrior nodded lightly. The magician averted her gaze. The priestess smiled faintly and bowed.

“Come to think of it, I haven’t introduced them yet! This dwarf here is Viand, the magician is Sorbe, and the priestess is Leona.”

“I’m Mitrof—It’s nice to meet you—and this is Canule.”

Canule, who was standing a step away from Mitrof, also bowed. She was completely covered, even her face was hidden under her hood, making it clear that there was a reason for it. So, Mikel didn’t mention it.

Instead, he asked about the elf girl, who was not present.

“There was one more, the one with the weird accent.”

“Oh, Grace is out on a business trip—she went back home.”

“Haaaan?!”

Mikel squinted his eyes and smirked. He closed in on him and put his arms around Mitrof’s shoulder.

“Did you make her angry?—Did she reject you?—She’s incredibly beautiful, but she seems very strong-willed.”

He spoke softly.

“I didn’t make her angry, and she didn’t reject me—there are circumstances.”

“Alright, I understand—but I’m always here to listen to your troubles. I can even introduce you to a florist or something, just leave it to me.”

“…You seem experienced with that.”

“U shi shi.”

Mikel left with a strange laugh.

“Well, even if that elf archer were here, it’s better for you guys to stay away from this ‘Guardian.'”

Mikel quickly added a correction.

“It’s not because you guys are weak, it’s just a matter of compatibility. Arrows and rapier attacks won’t work on this ‘Guardian.'”

“Hard, you mean?”

“That’s right—thanks to Sorbe’s magic and Viand’s war hammer, we didn’t have a hard time.”

Looking closer, Viand had a one-handed war hammer hanging at his waist. It was a blunt weapon with a round head and a sharp beak.

Compared to that, Mitrof’s rapier was so unreliable. Though it was a durable thrusting sword capable of facing monsters, it lacked the destructive power of a war hammer or magic.

“Your great sword can’t land an attack either?”

Mikel’s great sword was as long as his body, and the sword width was just big enough for one hand to hold. It would have been challenging for Mitrof to wield it because of its weight. At that point, a blunt weapon would have had the same impact, and it would have been used to crush and slash enemies.

Mikel raised the corner of his lips slightly.

“I’m different.”

That was not boasting but rather unwavering confidence. Confidence sometimes emits the smell of looking down on others. But Mikel didn’t have that smell at all. He was refreshingly confident.

“…I’d like to see you fight.”

“Oh, then let’s have a match, shall we?”

“No, I’ll pass.”

“Aw, come on, I won’t hit you hard.”

Mitrof curled up at the corners of his lips.

“You just got out of the hospital—I don’t want you to get sent back to the medical center again.”

Mikel widened his eyes in surprise. Soon his eyes narrowed, and he burst out laughing.

“You actually said it!”

Mikel slapped Mitrof’s shoulder repeatedly. He wiped away tears of laughter from the corners of his eyes and took a deep breath.

“We can’t let Mitrof catch up to us—let’s continue our exploration—let’s go!”

Mikel called out to his waiting companions and passed by Mitrof’s side.

“Hey, Mikel—can I ask you something?”

Mitrof asked Mikel, tilting his head as he turned around.

“Why did you fight against the ‘Guardian’? It was dangerous and unnecessary, wasn’t it?”

“That’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Mikel laughed. His response could be likened to that of a boy who enjoys playing for the sake of fun, or a warrior who craves the thrill of danger.

“Because it’s fun!—That’s all!”

With that, Mikel raised his hand and led the way down the corridor.

“… Because it’s fun?—Is he stupid?”

Mitrof said dumbfoundedly.

Canule chuckled softly in amusement at his response.

Chapter 60: The fat aristocrat steps into a new hierarchy

They descended the stairs leading to the 11th basement floor.

The staircase passage was dimly lit, with some places beyond the reach of lanterns hanging on the walls. The staircase, which zigzagged down, made it impossible to perceive the sense of time or distance clearly.

Although the shape of the staircase was the same on each floor, this one was evidently longer than the ones before. As they descended deeper into the suffocating darkness, Mitrof suddenly realized that the view in front of him had gotten brighter.

Red light.

‘No, that can’t be.’ Mitrof furrowed his eyebrows. This is underground; it’s impossible.

Still, the closer they got, the brighter the light became. Mitrof was not used to such brightness after being accustomed to the labyrinth’s darkness. He shielded his eyes with his palm as he slowly moved forward.

Mitrof heard a clamor. People’s voices and noisy sounds symbolized human life.

They passed through the gate that opened in the wall at the end of the staircase.

Suddenly.

“…What is this place?”

Squinting his eyes in the brightness, Mitrof doubted whether this vision he saw was real or just a dream.

It was a vast…too vast—space. Despite being underground, the ceiling was high, and it was bright. The flames of lanterns didn’t light it. The room was tinted with a deep red light.

The fact that there was light in this underground area perplexed Mitrof. He looked around in all directions, and adventurers passed by in front of him. There were many people there.

It was like a street market on the surface world, with open-air stalls and adventurers casually shopping.

If he looked into the distance, he could see that the walls surrounded them on all sides. However, makeshift houses lined up along the walls. They seemed to include shops such as inns, restaurants, and weapon stores that adventurers needed.

“…so there is a city in the basement of the labyrinth.”

“Why is it so bright…it’s like just before sunset.”

Mitrof and Canule both stared in amazement at the sight. Under the dark and lengthy tunnel, a city of civilization that surpassed their expectations was built. It was like seeing a daytime dream.

“Hey.”

As they turned towards the call, a man in light armor beckoned to them. He was a guild guard, and behind him was a two-story building.

“You guys are featherless, right?—First, you need to complete the procedures here.”

As they were told, the two went straight to the building. Inside, the scene was similar to a guild on the surface. There was a counter, waiting chairs, and a receptionist sitting behind it.

The space and staff were, of course, smaller in scale. But there was an atmosphere that was no different from the surface. There was something like the smell of human life.

Still confused, they approached the counter. The receptionist, wearing the same uniform as the one on the surface, smiled at Mitrof and his company.

“How may I help you?”

“Ah, um…we want to receive the ‘feather’.”

“It’s your first visit, congratulations—welcome to the third level—can you please provide us with your guild card?”

Mitrof searched his pocket and handed over the silver guild card.

“I will take care of it—here, we will stamp the date and ‘wing emblem’ on your card as proof of your arrival.”

The receptionist inserted the card into a machine that looked like an industrial lathe next to the counter. She pulled down the handle, and a thick metal plate snapped into place.

The guild card, which Mitrof had been handed back with the words “here you go,” did have a date on it, as well as an additional design element resembling a feather-like design standing vertically.

Feeling bewildered by its unremarkable nature, Mitrof asked the receptionist.

“Sorry to bother you—you’ve probably been asked this a hundred times, but why is it so bright in here?”

The receptionist answered with an unwavering smile, reciting the same answer she must have given hundreds of times before.

“‘Labyrinth Moss’ grows abundantly in this floor. It emits a constant red glow, allowing us to move around without carrying lanterns.”

“I see.”

And Mitrof remained silent.

“Well——it’s very convenient.”

“Yes, it’s extremely convenient.”

Even with such a dull response, the receptionist’s smile did not waver.

Mitrof’s thoughts were still in disarray. He seemed to understand that he had not caught up with the shock of the city that appeared in the labyrinth and the sunset’s light.

For the time being, Mitrof thanked the receptionist and left the building with Canule.

They stood in front of the guild, gazing at the straight and stretching cityscape of dusk. It was a scene that seemed to have been brought directly from a section of the marketplace on the ground.

“I wonder how they built a city in the labyrinth?”

“We brought it here, with the great elevator.”

Unexpectedly, a response came to Mitrof’s murmurs. It was from the guild guard who had spoken to him earlier. He leaned against the wall, smoking a rolled-up cigarette.

As Mitrof and Canule’s gaze turned towards him, the man exhaled white smoke, looking bored. Mitrof could tell that the pungent smell coming from his nose was from cheaply rolled leaves.

“Don’t we need a base to advance?—The guild is investing money, effort, and personnel to establish a foothold in the labyrinth.”

Foothold. That word made Mitrof feel uneasy. A foothold?

“If you’ve managed to come down here, you must know about the vertical hole and the great elevator—thanks to those, you see.”

The guard took the end of the cigarette with his fingers and circled it around the city that lay ahead.

“Even in the middle of the underground tunnel, we can resupply—be grateful.”

“…But are you going to charge us?”

The guard laughed lightly.

“Of course. It’s about 30% more than the surface. Isn’t that fair?—Well, the deeper you go, the higher the price gets—but here you can eat, wash, sleep in a bed, and equip yourself—that’s why adventurers don’t complain and pay the money.”

The guard deeply inhaled his cigarette. The smoke he exhaled with his chin lifted dissipated into the ceiling, tinted with a crimson mottled pattern, even without any wind.

“Welcome, newcomers. I welcome you. From here on, it’s the third level, ‘Apelo.’ Stay alive as long as possible and spend your money.”

Chapter 61: The fat aristocrat thinks about what he wants to do

“I don’t understand why, but the food tastes good.”

Mitrof was devouring the food laid out on the table. Although it was all purchased from street vendors, the taste was better than what one would get from the ground-level stalls or the guild cafeteria. Mitrof felt it was because the meat was fresh and the spices were generously used.

Certainly, the prices were higher, but adventurers would not hesitate to pay for a warm meal, especially while exploring the labyrinth.

The two of them settled down on a table and bench that were lined up on a corner of the street.

Many adventurers were spreading out their meals bought from the street vendors, drinking alcohol, and laughing out loud. It was no different from the scenes on the ground above.

The vivid colors of the perpetual sunset made one forget that they were inside the labyrinth.

Despite feeling surprised by the evening streetscape, the aroma of the grilled meat from the vendors overpowered everything else. After fighting monsters, hunger was especially strong. Mitrof’s body was craving for nutrients.

As Mitrof and Canule went from one food stall to another, the four-seater table was quickly filled with various dishes. Canule watched as Mitrof devoured everything in sight.

“It’s amazing…”

Canule marveled and let out a sigh. Mitrof nodded as he wiped his mouth with the napkin hanging from his collar.

“I didn’t know there was a place like this in the labyrinth—the buildings are new; they must have been built in the last few years.”

“No, I’m talking about Mitrof-sama’s appetite,”.

“Is that so?”

Looking back, Mitrof and Canule had not had many opportunities to eat together. Canule, who was cursed, did not need to eat or drink. Knowing this, Mitrof never suggested going to the dining hall for a celebration.

During their exploration, Canule sometimes prepared light snacks, but for Mitrof, they were literally just light snacks.

“Last night’s dinner was the same, wasn’t it, Mitrof-sama?—You are quite a hearty eater—wasn’t our usual light snack not enough for you?”

“Indeed, Canule’s food is so delicious that I have always wanted to eat more.”

Mitrof said it sincerely.

In Mitrof’s perception, Canule was an excellent cook.

The main dishes were initially prepared meals that the guild sold, but as time went on, she started to choose dried goods and produce from the market.

Inside the labyrinth, during mini-breaks from exploration, she used a portable stove and small pans and frying pans with limited seasonings to make simple but appetizing dishes.

“…T-Thank you very much.”

Canule replied with a choked voice. In contrast to her usual calm demeanor, she was oozing with a childlike innocence.

Mitrof did not know Canule’s exact age. When they first met, she seemed like a young girl, flustered and in a panic. But lately, Canule has had the composure of a lady.

“You’re from a family of knights, yet you can cook.”

Cooking is an admirable skill. Most people do not cook at home. Gathering seasoning, fuel for daily cooking, preparation, and clean-up—all required money, time, and effort. It is cheaper and tastes better to eat at food stalls or restaurants.

Canule shrank her body, slightly embarrassed, and lowered her head under her hood.

“…I love cooking more than swordplay. When I was young, I was a picky child and hardly ate anything. Our family cook prepared meals with strong seasoning for my father and brothers, who engaged in strenuous physical activity. The food did not suit my taste—my nanny felt sorry for me and made a variety of dishes, hoping I would eat somehow.”

‘A nanny, huh,’ Mitrof nodded.

In noble households, it is not common for a mother to care for her child around the clock. They may not even see each other for an hour a day. The nanny takes on the role of the mother, and Mitrof has some fond memories of his own nanny.

“When the knight training began, I often cried—my family was strict, and the servants only kept their distance…Only my nanny was kind to me—whenever I ate her prepared meals, my heart became warm.”

Canule’s tone reminisced about the past, gentle and somehow lonely.

“When I asked, she always taught me how to cook secretly—when I held a knife, it was more fun than holding a sword.”

Mitrof narrowed his eyes. He knew the name of the emotion that surfaced within him. Envy.

“You know what you want to do.”

“Do you, Mitrof-sama?”

To Canule’s question, Mitrof could not answer.

What does Mitrof want to do? Of course, it’s adventuring. ‘To explore the labyrinth––really?’

There was no answer to his self-questioning. He didn’t know.

The reason Mitrof is crawling through the labyrinth is that he was kicked out of his father’s house.

When his father offered him to come back, he refused because he wanted to help Grace.

Still, Mitrof is in the labyrinth to earn money. It’s necessary to live.

But earning money is not necessarily what he wants to do.

Canule’s question is simple.

But Mitrof could not find a simple answer within himself.

Since childhood, Mitrof has been forced to do everything. He was instructed by private tutors, ordered by his father, and worked hard to meet expectations and gain recognition. All of it, however, did not lead to any results.

“… I don’t know.”

Mitrof answered.

“It’s embarrassing, but I don’t know what I want to do.”

Canule shook her head.

“It’s not something to be ashamed of—I think someday you’ll find the words you’re looking for—simple words.”

With a poet-like tone, Canule blinked, and Mitrof relaxed with a smile.

“Yes, I’m happy if that’s the case.”

“Yes, there’s no doubt about it.”

Canule also smiled. Even in the absence of proof, Mitrof was aware that receiving confirmation from someone could make one feel calm.

And he felt only loneliness for Canule, who loved cooking but was expected to fulfill her duty as a knightess. Even now, after running away due to a curse, and being brought back due to family circumstances.

Nobles sacrifice themselves for the sake of nurturing their big family. It might be their duty, their obligation, or even their fate.

To Mitrof, this way of life was the opposite of the adventurers, who left their survival up to fate.

Chapter 62: The fat aristocrat has no regrets

After finishing his meal, the two of them passed through the labyrinthine city. They were neither prepared nor equipped with enough information to explore the 11th floor. They had accomplished their goal of obtaining the “wing emblem,” so they agreed to turn back to the surface.

However, there was another reason they wanted to reach the 11th floor.

The Great Elevator

When they asked the smoking guard, they were told that the Great Elevator was located beyond the city. It was secured and considered safe to travel there, so they decided to visit it as part of their sightseeing.

As they passed through the streets, they approached a wooden gatehouse that looked like a fortress, set against a rough-hewn wall. The gate was open, but two guards stood watch. It seemed like they were checking everyone who passed through, regardless of whether they were coming or going.

Mitrof and Canule stood at the back of a line of adventurers. The inspection was not so strict, and the line moved quickly.

“Two of you?—Show me your cards.”

The middle-aged guard spoke.

When Mitrof presented his card, the guard glanced briefly at it.

Mitrof returned the card he received with a lazy gesture to his pocket before opening his mouth.

“Why is there a checkpoint here?”

“Ah?…Oh, I see, it’s your first time passing through here.”

The middle-aged guard clicked his teeth through the gap. He did not seem to be overly eager to perform his job, and his way of speaking and standing lacked strength. It seemed to be just a habit.

“There is the great elevator ahead—some people come up from there, and some people leave—we need to check, just in case.”

“Is it necessary?”

“What do you mean, is it necessary?—How should I know?”

The teeth clicked again.

“I’ll do what I’m told to do—that’s my job—as long as I get paid, nobody cares whether it’s necessary or not, right?”

“Go ahead,” he said, waving his hand to shoo them away. Mitrof and Canule left the gate.

“Nobody cares, huh.”

Mitrof stroked his chin fat. ‘If people were paid, would they not even consider the meaning of their actions?—Was that what it meant to live… to exist?’ Mitrof did not know.

Once you pass through the gate, you enter a circular plaza. The area is also filled with a crimson light, and there are places where the color of the sky changes abnormally when you look up, as if there’s a ceiling there.

Straight ahead from the gate is a vertical wall with a hole in it. It’s about as high and wide as three carriages could pass through, and there are rails on the ground with a movable iron fence that is now firmly closed.

About 10 people stood in a line facing the guards. Most of them were adventurers, but there were also a couple of merchants who had set aside their large packages.

“… Why are the packages so big?”

Canule suddenly spoke up.

Not understanding the intention behind the question, Mitrof tilted his head.

“No, I’m sorry—it’s just a trivial question, but… I understand why adventurers would return with a lot of baggage—but for merchants, they should bring their goods from the surface to sell here.”

“If they’re merchants, it would be unnatural for them to come back from the labyrinth with more baggage,” Canule added.

“Yes—there may be a reason, but it just occurred to me,” Mitrof agreed.

Canule had a valid point, and Mitrof couldn’t help but feel bothered when he looked around. One of the merchants had a backpack that was bulging from all the items inside.

What were the merchants bringing back from the labyrinth?

They thought about it, but couldn’t find an answer to the riddle. Mitrof was about to ask when suddenly, a dull golden bell attached to the wall began to ring.

——Tring, Tring, Tring, Tring, Tring…

The two of them looked around as the sound repeated at a regular rhythm. They were the only ones who seemed to be alarmed.

Then, a deep rumble gradually grew louder in the distance.

“Oh…”

Mitrof let out an exclamation as a gigantic box descended from the hole in the wall with a deafening roar. As soon as it had passed by, wind blew out of the hole, blowing the adventurers’ hair in a row.

“That is the Great Elevator… It’s amazing—is that what connects the underground and the surface?”

Mitrof murmured in amazement, and Canule nodded in agreement.

Several thick iron chains are currently hanging and moving in the hole. Mitrof guessed that those chains are in charge of running the Great Elevator.

However, Mitrof had no idea how it was being moved. Were there dozens of horses on the top floor?

Or was it magic? Or perhaps this was the mysterious technology called “labyrinth’s relic” that the genius inventor had created in a small room on the tenth floor.

Regardless of which one is true, Mitrof was thrilled to the point of numbness in his back.

Mitrof had never seen such a large and elaborate contraption before. He saw how the box descended earlier as if it were floating and how people and luggage were placed inside to move seamlessly to the next location.

No need to spend hours battling monsters to get here, no need to worry about safety on the way back, and no need to worry about carrying back goods.

It’s a magic vehicle that can efficiently explore the labyrinth in every way.

“——I want to ride it.”

The boyish curiosity in Mitrof’s heart is greatly stimulated. The giant structure alone is fascinating. He wants to experience what it feels like inside that box and how it feels to return to the surface in an instant through a hole.

He wants to find out…

Mitrof glanced around and blushed with his plump, round cheeks. There was a cabin at the edge of the square. The signboard displayed an illustration resembling a ticket.

“Mitrof-sama?!”

Leaving Canule behind, Mitrof rushed forward. Gasping for air, he jumped into the cabin, and a middle-aged woman was sitting alone at a small counter with a bored expression.

“How much does the Great Elevator cost?!”

The woman was surprised by Mitrof’s energy and backed away a little.

“Going down or up?—You can’t get it without the ‘mark’ to go down.”

“How much does it cost to return to the surface?”

Mitrof took a deep breath to calm himself.

“It depends on the number of people and the amount of luggage——.”

The proposed amount made Mitrof’s face turn difficult.

“I see… Thank you.”

He left the cabin with his arms crossed, groaning, and Canule was waiting for him there.

“How was it?”

“…It’s expensive.”

From Mitrof’s tone, Canule roughly understood the situation.

“That’s unfortunate.”

“I could ride it, but if I did, my earnings would turn into a loss, and I would have to dip into my unstable savings.”

He did have a desire to ride the great elevator. However, there was no reason to spend a day’s worth of earnings and further deplete his already precarious savings to do so.

Before, Mitrof would have impulsively bought the ticket, driven by his great curiosity.

However, he was now responsible for his own income and expenses. Keeping records and doing bookkeeping had caused the word “asset management,” which he had never even considered before, to take root in his mind.

The other day, he had cleaned his sword and purchased a new small shield. Both were necessary expenses, but not cheap. Money had to be spent wisely.

Now, was it really necessary to take the great elevator?

“…Canule, it’s regrettable, but let’s walk home—it’s really unfortunate.”

Mitrof walked off, looking visibly dejected. Canule smiled and suppressed a laugh, covering her mouth as she followed his hunched back.

“Walking is good exercise, Mitrof-sama.”

She called out to him and followed him closely.

He had bravely fought trolls, presented a magic book found in the labyrinth to Grace, and even abandoned opportunities to return home just to save money and take the great elevator, despite being a noble.

Canule was surprised but also fond of Mitrof’s character.

If she never became like this, she probably would never have visited the labyrinth or met Mitrof. She had jumped into an adventurer’s life without a clear future and without anyone to rely on, meeting Mitrof was simply fortunate.

Canule wished to keep this moment, that scenery, and his back in her memory forever.

If she did, she could continue to live with warm memories even if she returned home.

Chapter 63: The fat aristocrat is scared of stone

‘How did they even build such a grand bathhouse?’ Mitrof thought to himself.

Taking a bath after returning from the labyrinth had become an indispensable habit. Mitrof had lived as a nobleman up to this age, but he barely remembered the experience of soaking in hot water. It’s a hassle and expensive to boil a large amount of water for baths every day, and it’s just not a habit.

The climate in this area is dry, and the air is always crisp. There was no sweating or stickiness, and it was customary to take a shower after exercising and sweating.

Of course, they bathe two or three times a week, or before events.

However, bathing for nobles is still not familiar to them. It is a process of sweating in a small room made of stone with steam and herbs, scrubbing off dirt, and then bathing in water. Immersing the whole body in hot water like this is not a familiar practice among nobles.

However, Mitrof was completely fascinated by it and found it better than a steam bath.

Next to him, two men sank their bodies into the water, revealing their tanned and toned muscles.

“Ah, I love it!—I have to take a hot bath after work, or I won’t be able to relieve my fatigue.”

“It also helps to wash away the sweat—I don’t mind, but my mom keeps telling me to go.”

“Same here—if I don’t take a bath before going home, I’ll be criticized for smelling bad and having dirty clothes—well, now I come even without being asked.”

“No difference.”

The men laughed and continued in the hot water.

‘I agreed,’ Mitrof nodded.

Physical laborers and adventurers sweat and get dirty a lot. Citizens are accustomed to bathing more frequently. And once you experience this comfort, you can’t help but continue. Mitrof knows this from personal experience.

It seems that the bath-loving king built such a large bathhouse, anticipating acceptance by many citizens.

“The king’s foresight is terrifying.”

“What, are we talking about politics today?”

Next to Mitrof, a large man with the head of a majestic lion made a splash. He was a regular at the public bath and had become quite familiar with Mitrof, almost like the master of the place.

Today, Mitrof looked up at the man’s high position.

“Well, I think the king who built this bathhouse really understands the people.”

“Oh?—I’ve heard some people scoff at him as a flippant and superstitious king.”

“Aren’t you afraid of being accused of disrespect?”

Mitrof frowned in exasperation.

Openly criticizing the monarchy is taboo. Depending on the situation, you could be thrown into prison and beaten with a stick.

But the beatman laughed heartily.

“Well, we are free to speak our minds in the bathhouse—besides, facts are facts—since taking the throne at a young age, he built an observatory for astrology, the palace is filled with music every night, and he had paintings made on the ceilings—promoting culture is fine, but I hear that many nobles are rebelling against it.”

“… You have good ears.”

Mitrof was impressed. At the same time, he understood that this man was not an ordinary person.

Previously, Mitrof was introduced to an “acquaintance” of this man. The man claimed to be collecting “Labyrinth’s relics” for his hobby, but when they met, he was clearly a nobleman.

Since the man did not reveal his identity and seemed to want to make transactions only as a personal hobby, Mitrof did not inquire any further.

If he had connections with aristocrats and could detect indications of involvement in the capital’s politics, then he was too great a person to be just an adventurer.

The lion-headed man stepped forward while moving only his golden eyes to look down at Mitrof. He smiled, showing his fangs.

“Having many people you can rely on when in trouble is better—by connecting these relationships, “rumors” will naturally gather.”

“…That’s instructive.”

For Mitrof, this was a distant matter. As a noble, it was necessary to expand one’s network of relationships to live as one. But Mitrof was unable to establish relationships, even among gatherings of noble children.

As memories of failures at social events such as tea parties and evening parties flooded in, he wanted to scream. He pinched the flabby, loose meat on his arms to calm himself down.

“When you find a thread of connection, treasure it. It can save you in unexpected ways. There are things you can’t understand and things that can go wrong with your own narrow insight, but just having someone you know you can rely on will make things much better.”

It was a casual way of speaking, but to Mitrof, it sounded like words of wisdom.

“…Narrow insight. That is certainly true. I don’t know anything about Labyrinth.”

He took some hot water and splashed it on his face.

“Today was eventful in the labyrinth again—I saw the great elevator—I have no idea how it works, and I got a stone from an acquaintance, but I’m not sure what they are—the labyrinth really is a place where you don’t get bored.”

“Oh, stone?—What kind of stone?”

The lion-headed man showed interest only in the passage about the stones.

“I don’t know what kind of stone it is—it looked like some kind of raw stone, with a mysterious transparent yellow color…”

“Hey, you haven’t shown them to the guild staff, have you?”

Suddenly, the lion-headed man lowered his voice.

“N-No. I was planning to confirm them with the receptionist, but I forgot about it after seeing the great elevator.”

Usually, anything obtained within the labyrinth must be reported. Failure to do so results in severe penalties. The receptionist had repeatedly emphasized this before entering the labyrinth for the first time.

“…Do we have to report something that we received from someone else?”

“It’s usually not a problem—however, that stone may be a problem.”

“A problem with the stone?—Is it a gemstone or something?”

Mitrof tilted his head.

“More importantly, the story becomes complicated… You said you got it from an acquaintance—what kind of person gave you the stone?”

The lion-headed man was not joking. Mitrof could tell that he was asking in all seriousness.

“…It was the people of the labyrinth—I helped her when she was in trouble, and it was a token of her gratitude.”

“That’s troubling.”

The lion-headed man gave a curt response and crossed his thick arms.

Somewhere in the dark and steamy bathhouse, the boisterous laughter of the men could be heard echoing.

“This is just speculation—I’m not sure if it’s true.”

With a preamble, the beatman looked down at Mitrof.

“That stone is probably what’s called ‘amber’.”

“‘Amber’?—I’ve never heard that name before.”

“That’s right, it’s still a new name—”Amber” was just discovered in the labyrinth.”

“Why did she have such a precious thing?”

Mitrof murmured to himself. When Apélie Tiff handed him the stone, she didn’t seem to know its value.

“The guild uses the ‘people of the labyrinth’ to mine ‘amber.'”

“…Oh?”

“The guild doesn’t want its existence to be known as much as possible—if the people find out, it will become a big deal—that’s because it deceives people’s hearts.”

The lion-headed man sighed mournfully.

“If the guild starts digging holes in the labyrinth out in the open, it will cause commotion and suspicion—besides, digging blindly for holes is inefficient—the challenge is to find where the ‘amber’ is buried. It is also important to keep it a secret from others as much as possible.”

The lion-headed man shrugged his shoulders.

With his serious demeanor, Mitrof swallowed his saliva nervously.

“Sometimes, the people known as the ‘people of the labyrinth,’ who live in the passages of the monsters or dig through the collapsed walls of the caves, are found—the guild may secretly buy the ‘amber’ that they find or even assign them work—it is just my speculation.”

Suddenly, Mitrof remembered something.

When he and Grace had just entered the labyrinth, they found a shallow cave. Later, when they passed by, the cave was guarded by guild soldiers. Finding that side passage earned them a reward from the guild.

Something seemed off, as it was an elaborate reward for just finding a shallow cave.

It might have been a precaution if they were worried about finding ‘amber’ in that cave. That side passage remains sealed even now.

“Hmm, so it is possible that the ‘people of the labyrinth’ have a contract with a guild and are residing in the labyrinth as part of their job.”

Well, I don’t know.

The lion-headed man said, as he stood up, splashing water everywhere.

“Be careful—If it’s known that you have ‘amber’, you won’t be able to walk the streets at night with ease.”

Upon hearing this, the blood drained from Mitrof’s face.

It may sound like a joke to scoff at, but assassinations and murders are common among nobles. It is a well-known fact that during disputes over succession, strange illnesses and accidents occur. To Mitrof, the words “assassination” and “attack” carry a chilling sense of reality. Something that could happen.

“Wait, I haven’t asked yet… what is ‘amber’? Is it a jewel?!”

Mitrof stopped the lion-headed man, who had already gotten out of the hot water. The lion-headed man turned his face back over his shoulder and laughed heartily.

“Well, find out for yourself—it’ll be a good experience.”

Leaving his words behind, the lion-headed man walked towards the steam. He always took long baths. Mitrof knew he was just going to soak in another hot spring.

But unable to get a clear answer, he couldn’t follow up to ask him.

What was the “amber” that Apélie Tiff gave him? The lion-headed man had warned him about its danger, yet he didn’t tell him anything important and left.

Mitrof submerged himself in the water up to his shoulders. The unknown stone bore the name “amber,” and only mysteries remained.

Mitrof crossed his arms and growled, his throat rumbling like a wild animal.

Somewhere, the men burst into laughter.

Chapter 64: The fat aristocrat finds the knight at the night market

After returning from the bath, Mitrof headed towards the night market.

Lost in thought, he had taken a long soak in the bath. Although he had tried to cool down by plunging into the cold water, his face and body retained some heat. Feeling the cool night breeze, he felt like taking a walk.

Several ropes were strung between the buildings, where lanterns, decorative cloth, and occasionally laundry were hung.

The street was not particularly wide, but stalls were crammed together, with non-stall vendors spreading their wares and merchandise on the ground.

The constant smells of meat and fish being grilled and the smoke mixed with various dried goods, vegetables, fruit, and other items piled up in crates made it hard to choose.

The items for sale were not much different from those sold during the day, except for the increase in the number of stalls selling alcohol at night. Large wooden barrels of sake were placed here and there, constantly being poured and handed to customers.

While some people walked and drank, others sat on the edges of the street or gathered for drinks on chairs or tables that had been pulled out of somewhere.

When Mitrof saw this sight for the first time, he thought it was a holiday, but now it was a completely familiar sight. This place was a festive place every night. People drank, ate meat, and sometimes danced and sang.

The brightness of such a lifestyle was like wealth, but it also seemed like a way to escape the anxiety that crept up behind them.

The labyrinth made the city rich. Its products became trade goods, materials for manufacturing, and food. The labyrinth gave birth to resources, producing work and money. While the city has been getting richer year by year, excessive changes have also become a source of distortion and inequality.

Mitrof’s gaze fell on a narrow path between the buildings, where he saw emaciated (skinny) children. Men holding alcohol and meat skewers passed by, oblivious to their presence.

When a city is enriched by the discovery of a labyrinth, people are drawn to its light like moths. Eventually, the city becomes a melting pot, where light and shadow, wealth and poverty, happiness and misfortune are all mixed together.

Mitrof’s eyes met the children’s. They stared back at him with dark, cruel eyes.

Unable to grasp their gaze, Mitrof turned his head abruptly forward.

Mitrof was born into nobility.

He never had to worry about his home or food, and he never had any trouble learning. Even worrying about his own way of life was probably a luxury for him.

Now he was an adventurer, and his life was no longer peaceful, but the experiences he acquired from living as a noble supported the foundation of his current lifestyle.

He learned how to handle a sword, allowing him to fight monsters.

He learned how to read, allowing him to investigate the labyrinth’s information.

He spent time studying a variety of subjects, enabling him to think deeply.

Until now, his life seemed entirely empty. The value of an existence without any purpose for the knowledge he acquired, the unrecognized swordsmanship, and a person that nobody wanted.

After being kicked out of his house and becoming an adventurer, Mitrof’s world has expanded. There are various people living in this world, and with that, there are just as many different ways of life.

Everyone is not peaceful. They have their troubles, circumstances, and sufferings and are struggling to live.

‘If only my life were different from what it is now, things would be easier…

‘I was probably wrong to think so in the past.

‘That’s how I feel now.’

“Hey, don’t wear armor in the city, you’re getting in the way!”

Suddenly, a man in front of Mitrof started to make a commotion.

If he looked up, he could see the flow of people in the crowd changing. They were shifting to the side, trying to avoid the tense atmosphere of the argument.

Mitrof slowed down behind the people as the man in armor, a knight, came into view at the center of the disturbance. He recognized the armor and helmet.

He is a knight.

The armor and helmet are familiar.

“Well, I beg your pardon—this dish is really interesting.”

“It’s strange for a knight to be at the market!”

With these reasonable words, the red-faced man avoided the knight and elbowed his way through the crowd.

People walked around the knight who stood in front of the food stall, keeping their distance.

Adventurer-like people were also commonly seen at the night market, but no one was wearing armor on top of their swords.

In the midst of all this, it was natural that it was difficult to approach someone with a decorated coat hanging over their shoulder armor. There was also a sword at his waist, and a red decorative cord hanging from it.

“Shopkeeper, can I get a serving with this?”

“Eh…sorry, Sir. Even if I receive the silver coin, I do not have change…”

“But I have nothing less than this. I will forgo the changes.”

“I cannot let you do that! Receiving a silver coin from a knight is too much honor! I do not need any payment, please take as much as you like!”

“Mm…no, it cannot be. Sorry if I can trouble you, but can someone exchange coins for me? Or perhaps tell me where to find a money-changer?”

The knight turned his helmeted face towards his surroundings, but of course, no one stepped forward. It was apparent that a knight in armor at a night market was clearly out of place, and no one had thought of helping kindly.

“…”

Mitrof felt a sense of melancholy in the silver helmet as he stared silently at the dishes lined up on the stalls without help.

Despite trying to blend in with the crowd and sneak past the stall, he suddenly stopped and sniffled.

He turned on his heel and headed towards the knight.

“Shopkeeper, I will pay for it.”

“! You are…”

A voice echoed inside the armor. Although he seemed slightly surprised, Mitrof did not even turn his face towards the knight. After giving the payment to the relieved shopkeeper, he received the goods and handed them over to the knight.

There was no mistaking this armor. He was the older brother of Canule, whom he had met in the labyrinth.

“Here you go.”

The knight compared his own food to Mitrof’s and accepted it with an apology.

“I’ll pay you back the money as soon as I find an exchange shop.”

“No, thank you—Canule has always taken care of me.”

It was a difficult reason, but it would be awkward to continue to travel with the knight until he repaid the money. Rather than being stingy with his coins, Mitrof wanted to leave this place.

“Well, then, I’ll be going now.”

He turned on his heel to walk away, but a hand was placed on his shoulder before he could take a step.

“By the way, could you tell me where we are?—I don’t know how to get back to the inn.”

Mitrof slowly turned around. His expression was complicated, looking like he was about to cry, be frustrated, or be disappointed.

Chapter 65: The fat aristocrat drinks austere wine

“It was fortunate for my sister to have met someone like you—she has always been earnest, and it must be hard for her to live in this diverse city.”

Mitrof thought to himself, ‘Why am I with a knight?’

If they had been sitting at the dinner table of some mansion, it might have been more understandable. However, the two of them were sitting on a curb off the beaten path of the market street.

The sight of a knight in armor sitting with a wine-filled wooden cup, holding his knees, was quite conspicuous. People passed by in a hurry, staring wide-eyed, as if saying they didn’t want to get involved.

The knight was talking to Mitrof, either intentionally ignoring or not noticing the strange looks.

“There is a role that one is born with—kings become kings, knights become knights, aristocrats become aristocrats, and carpenters become carpenters—just as I cannot make wine even if I wish, there are those who cannot become knights even if they long for it.”

Saying nothing, the knight drank wine from a wooden cup, and of course, he did not take off his helmet. He inserted a long, thin metal pipe from his pocket into the gap in his helmet, and drank it that way, making a relieving sound.

Next to him, Mitrof also drank the wine. He did not expect much from the wine sold at the stall, but it tasted exceptionally bad.

Although he had become accustomed to the life of an adventurer, he could not seem to get used to the poor quality of the wine. With low-quality wine, it was difficult to escape reality.

“However, the food from the food stalls is delicious—the spices are well used.”

The knight skillfully inserted the sliced meat from his small knife into his helmet.

As they walked along, the knight became interested in certain dishes and tried to buy them with silver coins. Each time, the shopkeeper had a troubled expression, and the other customers moved away. Mitrof reluctantly paid, and before they knew it, both of their hands were full, so they sat on the side of the road to eat.

Although he regretted his reckless behavior, Mitrof nodded in agreement that the food from the food stalls was indeed delicious.

The seasoning is simple, but the ingredients are fresh, and the taste is rich, favored by physically active people such as knights and adventurers and those who love drinking.

“To tell the truth, I have also dreamed of living in a city like this.”

Suddenly, the knight spoke up.

“Youth makes people foolish. I once left home and tried to live in the city. I had a feeling that my true life was there.”

“It’s not good to speak of foolishness as if it were a bad thing.”

“There are things that you cannot achieve if you’re not foolish; however, you should not remain foolish forever. It was a good experience for me back then—that girl will learn from this experience too.”

The skewers enter the helmet, and when they come out, the meat at the tip has disappeared. As if it were magic, the knight ate the meat.

“… Then, what about Canule’s will?”

Mitrof asked. The knight paused, then nodded as if he had just remembered.

“I am still not used to that name—yes, Canule—that’s a fake name appropriate for the kid.”

The knight chuckled.

“Will. Is it really that important? You can do what you want, and if you don’t want to do it, you can stop. That’s allowed only up to the age of a toddler—you cannot lead a successful life just by running away.”

“…But isn’t it up to the individual to choose?—Even if their life becomes unbearable after making their choice, it could be what they wanted.”

Mitrof said. He knew that it was a painful argument to make for himself.

The knight’s words pierced Mitrof’s chest. He knew he shouldn’t blame himself, but he felt like he had been punched.

“If you’re a commoner, that may be fine, but I am a knight—Canule is also a knight—if you were born into a knight’s house, you must live as a knight.”

“Why? Do we have to live our entire lives bound by our family from birth?—Do we have no freedom of choice?”

“No.”

The knight asserted

“We must protect our family’s honor; we have a responsibility to uphold what our ancestors have been protecting; we can’t simply reject it because of our selfish desires—our way of life has been firmly established since birth—like this sword.”

The knight placed his hand on the sword he carried on his shoulder. For the knight, the sword was an important symbol. When he was appointed a knight, swearing loyalty to his master was done by holding up a single sword.

“But…being locked up until death is not the duty of a knight.”

Mitrof hesitated but spoke his mind anyway. He knew it was presumptuous of him to speak out.

“Every family has its own problems—It’s none of your business.”

“Of course, I know that—but I can’t help but say something.”

“I suppose because you are her employer.”

The knight remembered the previous argument. He replied with a sarcastic tone, and Mitrof nodded in agreement.

“Besides, she is my “companion.” And… I don’t know if it’s okay to say this, but I consider her my “friend.”—I can’t stand to just accept a future where Canule is unhappy.”

“I don’t understand.”

The knight spoke honestly.

Mitrof’s throat tightened. He didn’t know what to say to someone who didn’t understand.

“No, I’m sorry—I understand what you’re trying to say—It’s a splendid spirit.”

The knight said this as he inserted the metal tube into his armor and drank the wine with a swoosh.

“But with just that splendid spirit, do you think things will always go your way?”

Mitrof closed his lips. The knight wasn’t looking at Mitrof. The helmet was facing the passing people on the street.

“Everyone has their own ideals—even though we say we should do it that way, there are many things that cannot be achieved. Why is there still conflict? It’s because ideals clash with each other.”

The helmet faced Mitrof. No expression was visible on the hidden face, and yet Mitrof understood that those eyes were firmly fixed on him.

“A knightess who has received a curse and fled in an inhuman form cannot be left unattended forever. “If she is not coming back home, then she must be killed,” my father said—that’s how to maintain the honor of a knight’s household.”

Mitrof’s eyes widened. He felt the cruelty of living as a knight.

“If you don’t have the determination and strength, you can’t even stick to your selfishness—do you understand?”

The knight stood up and put down his cup. He readjusted his sword to his waist and secured it with a red cord with tassels. He continued to speak.

“That child is not of a fierce temperament and fears opposing others—but… you know what I’m talking about—please think about it carefully.”

With a suggestive tone, Mitrof furrowed his brows.

However, the knight did not say anything more and left behind the words, “Gratitude for the meal will always be given.”

Even after the clanging sound of the knight’s armored footsteps fade away, Mitrof sat there, licking the wine.

There is such a thing as a predetermined way of life when you are born. There is honor and responsibility in it. Certainly, that is so.

Then he thought, ‘should I have done something too?’

Should he not have simply followed his expulsion, bowed to his father, and fulfilled his duties as a noble?

As a noble, could he have done something?

As an adventurer, what was he doing?

As Mitrof, what did he want to do?

He didn’t know anything. The answer wasn’t something that could be bought at the market or at the bottom of a cup.

Mitrof drank the rest of the wine in one gulp. Only bitterness and astringency remained.

Chapter 66: The fat aristocrat fights ants

Even though they had the right to use the Great Elevator, not many people actually did so because the usage fee was high. Even if they had hesitated a little bit, the answer was still clear. Mitrof and Canule ended up walking down the labyrinth.

Even if they reached the 11th underground floor as quickly as possible, it was unclear whether they could earn enough to pay for the use of the Great Elevator.

Even with the rabbit hunt, they would only make enough for a one-way trip on the Great Elevator. Since the difficulty of the monsters and the rewards below the 11th floor were unknown, they decided to save money while observing the situation, even if it took more time.

If they could reach the 11th floor without unnecessary battles, they would not even need lanterns due to the overall brightness. Without getting used to the crimson light, the two of them advanced beyond the checkpoint.

Unlike the upper levels, the third level corridors were high-ceilinged and wide in width. Yet the walls were made of smooth rock like that of a giant hole. They felt like they were crawling into a huge nest.

(TL: Ever 5 floors is a Level)

“…It’s nice to have good eyesight, but I can’t seem to get used to it.”

“Yeah, a labyrinth filled with brightness is unsettling—I get confused about whether I’m on the surface or underground.”

“On this floor, there are monster ants, right?”

When reaching the 11th floor, Mitrof had gathered information from the guild.

“A giant ant called ‘paraponera’, apparently—It seems to act alone.”

“A giant ant…”

Canule muttered in a flat voice.

“I’m not good at it.”

“I can’t say I’m good at it either—just thinking about it gives me the chills… Mitrof-sama seems to be completely unfazed, though.”

“I have less imagination than Canule—it’s hard to say until you see it in person.”

They’ve seen small ants lined up in the garden or by the window. However, it’s difficult to clearly imagine them being magnified.

The information he purchased from the guild included simple drawings and size information, but they were just flat fragments. Imagination always exceeds or falls short of reality.

“It seems they have very strong biting power, and their stingers have poison in them.”

“Is that why you bought an antivenom potion ?”

In Canule’s bag, there was a small bottle that Mitrof had just purchased from the guild store. It was an antivenom potion specially formulated for the paraponeras.

“It’s not an instant death poison, but it causes quite a bit of pain—even big men will cry and scream, according to what was written.”

Mitrof grimaced as he spoke.

He didn’t know who wrote the information, but it provided more explanation about the poison than the paraponera itself.

Even though the poison of the paraponera did not cause death unless ingested in large quantities, it caused severe pain at the site of the sting. As a result, the collected poison from paraponera was also heavily used for torture purposes.

The enormous ant’s venomous sting was unpleasant enough, but no one wanted to experience the agonizing pain of torture. If there was an effective antidote available for sale, there was no reason not to buy it.

“I hate the poisonous stinger alone, but what’s even more depressing is defeating the paraponera…”

With that, Mitrof stopped and gripped the handle of his thrusting sword.

On the gently sloping walls of the cave, where the shades of red and pink overlaid each other, a black shadow was sticking out.

The smoothly connected body had six disproportionately thin legs. The antennae that stretched out from its head were constantly moving, and while there was no expression on its face facing towards them, the sharp jaws clacking together clearly showed that it was trying to intimidate them.

“…I’m getting chills.”

Canule murmured quietly from behind.

Agreeing with her, Mitrof drew his sword.

“Mitrof-sama, let me——”

Canule, who had set down her luggage, stepped forward with a round shield made of metal. As the smallbade rabbits usually act in groups, each of them has to handle the battle individually when it comes to combat.

However, there was only one Paraponera. With Canule holding the shield and Mitrof wielding the sword, they could use their original fighting style.

In the cave, with a peaceful sunset created by the luxuriant light moss on the walls, Canule, dressed in all black, advanced with her shield in hand.

The paraponera ran swiftly along the wall, without making any noises, and leapt towards Canule like a bouncing ball.

Compared to what rabbits were used to seeing, it was a slow movement.

Canule was waiting and prepared for its approach, and he sent the paraponera flying with a punch in midair. The collision sound that was between dullness and lightness was unlike any animal or metal.

The paraponera hit the wall and fell, turning over on the ground.

Although the impact seemed to send shivers down Mitrof’s spine, the paraponera got up immediately. It crawled closer to Canule, trying to thrust its jaw into Canule’s leg.

Mitrof chased and passed Canule, and he swung his sword towards the paraponera.

The sword hit the paraponera’s back and bounced back. The hard feeling made Mitrof’s hand tingle.

The paraponera shook its head to drive Mitrof away. The movement without fangs or horns was not terrifying.

Mitrof calmly stepped back, adjusting his stance to stand next to the paraponera. He aimed and struck the joint connecting its body.

The sharpened blade cut sharply and severed the paraponera’s body in two.

Mitrof quickly stepped back to assess the situation. He looked at the body of the paraponera split in half on the ground and sheathed his sword.

“The only part of the paraponera that can be sold to the guild is the poison needle, but it is difficult for amateurs to collect poison, and the purchase price is not that high.”

“…I see. So it’s all risk and no reward.”

Canule held her round shield with both hands and watched the paraponera from a distance.

“If you get stung by the poison needle, the exploration will end there, and if you have to return through the Great Elevator, you have to be prepared for a deficit.”

Fighting monsters always involves a risk of life, but in the case of the paraponeras, there is also a financial risk. A single sting of the poison needle could bankrupt them, and defeating it would bring no benefits.

Mitrof advanced along the path with a folded map in one hand, and the paraponera was seen on the walls and ceilings.

Thanks to the light moss, the path was clear, and even from a distance, they could easily spot any obstacles.

If there had been only the unreliable light of lanterns, as on the upper floors, the vigilance would have slowed down the pace of their steps considerably.

Even so, it cannot be said that the search is progressing as smoothly as on the upper floors.

“… I’m sorry, I wish I could be of more help.

Canule says as they continue down the straight passageway.

“You’ve done more than enough.”

Without nodding to Mitrof’s response, Canule’s hood swung gently from side to side.

“Attacking with a shield doesn’t work on Paraponera.”

Up until now, Canule had primarily used an attack method involving a shield.

Due to the curse, Canule’s strength exceeded that of a human. With this extraordinary strength, she could usually send monsters flying by hitting them with a metal shield.

However, the paraponera was tough and light. No matter how hard she hit it with her shield, the impact would just bounce off.

“… I wish I could hold a sword.”

From the way she spoke, as if spilling words at her feet, it could be inferred that there was a reason behind it.

Mitrof is at a loss to decide how far to go.

While he had learned negotiation tactics for seeking profit and conversation etiquette that avoided offense, he didn’t know what words to say in times like these.

Should he speak up, or should he meddle in Canule’s circumstances?

Thinking about such things, he hadn’t brought up the approaching end of the month. He hadn’t even talked about meeting Canule’s brother last night.

“…”

“…”

“…Can’t you use a sword?”

“…!”

Mitrof asked with determination while gazing at the dent in the wall.

Although there was no need to ask, he felt an uncharacteristic nervousness.

Canule nodded and drew closer to Mitrof from behind.

“In fact, following an old tradition, a knight dedicates their sword to their lord—of course, unlike in the past, knights are now employed by lords for their services, but it is still a ritual to show trust.”

“…It’s like something out of a knight’s tale.”

“Does Mitrof-sama know about it?”

“I vaguely remember seeing a play when I was young—a kneeling knight offered his sword.”

Canule nodded in agreement.

“If the lord takes the sword offered and taps the knight’s shoulder with its tip before returning it, it indicates recognition of the knight as their vassal.”

“Will Canule do the same?”

“Well… in my case, it was something that happened when I was a child, so I don’t remember it vividly because of nervousness.”

“If you were a child, does that mean you didn’t choose your own lord?”

While talking, Mitrof continued to search for any dark shadows around him without stopping his gaze from moving left, right, up, and down.

“It’s kind of a family relationship—you could say—when I was born, it was already decided that I would serve as a knight.”

“Like an engagement.”

Mitrof found something to relate to unexpectedly and chuckled.

Noble families think of their children’s engagements in a politically meaningful way. There are even stories of signing formal engagement contracts before a child is even born.

“Did it happen to you too, Mitrof-sama?”

“Engagement? Yeah, I had one. But it was annulled many years ago.”

Engagements can be arranged for family convenience, and if circumstances change, the contract becomes a mere piece of paper. It is a common story.

“So you are still subject to a contract with your lord?”

Mitrof brought the conversation back.

“No. On the day we parted ways, I was released from my position as a knight. Since my brother came to retrieve me, I believe that the contract was formally dissolved. The sword that was offered has already been returned. But to wield a sword that I swore to protect in the labyrinth is related to the dignity of being a knightess…so I am resisting.”

“I think that’s a good reason.”

Just as nobles value appearances and decorum, knights cannot ignore their honor. The symbol of this is, of course, the sword.

Even if they don’t have much money, aristocrats must serve the highest quality tea to their guests. There are even families that cannot marry off their daughters because they don’t have enough money to cover the necessary preparations.

You must walk beautifully with a calm face, even if your shoes are covered in blood. If that’s impossible, then you shouldn’t let anyone see you walk. Even though it may seem irrational and foolish to outsiders, that is the society of the aristocrats.

“I honestly don’t know how much a knight must invest in a single sword, but if Canule feels that this is the way it should be, then I guess it’s okay.”

There was no response from Canule.

Turning around, he thought it was unnatural and saw that Canule had stopped.

Although it was a labyrinth, the bright reddish color that filled the area made it easier to see the white bone fragments hidden inside Canule’s black hood.

“…Mitrof-sama is a strange person.”

“What’s wrong suddenly?”

“Knights were required to make sacrifices like offering their swords, or else they wouldn’t be trusted.”

“I’ve heard that in the past there used to be a lot of saddling up.”

Canule nodded.

“…In the past, knights were merely tools for fighting. Knights were like mercenaries who would flow to places where there was better treatment and better lords. It was a strategy to survive, but it was also an act of betrayal that lacked trust—to pledge a sword for the vow of never betraying no matter what, the ritual was born.”

Canule cut off her words there. She breathed in, thinking about how to continue.

“To earn people’s trust, such evidence and compensation are necessary—yet, Mitrof-sama trusts me, even though I am not even human.”

Canule gently stroked the edge of the round shield she held in her hand. Her hand was covered in black leather gloves.

“I am no longer a knight—I have received a curse upon me, and I can no longer live as a knight—I was raised to live as a knight from birth, but the curse has killed me as a knight… I no longer have a role or a place.”

Mitrof stroked his chin, picking at the soft, sagging flesh as he remembered talking with the knight, who was Canule’s brother.

“So, the person you were serving let you escape?”

“Yes, she did—she said there might be a way to lift the curse here in this city’s labyrinth.”

“Did she say anything else?”

Canule chose to remain silent, her mind wandering through memories as she tried to recall the words she had heard.

“…She said not to come back.”

“And you interpreted that as being dismissed from your duties.”

“Yes.” Canule nodded.

“Hmm,” Mitrof also nodded in agreement. Until now, Canule had never revealed her lord’s identity. From her evasive mannerisms, Mitrof speculated that the person was someone who held a position of power and should not be known by too many people.

“It’s possible that your Lord wanted to protect you. If she let you escape, then there must have been a compelling reason—perhaps someone with more authority than your lord, like the head of the family, wanted you eliminated.”

“…”

“Nobles are always concerned about their appearance—I don’t know the details of why you ended up in that state, but it’s not something nobles would willingly accept.”

It was a harsh way to put it, but it was the truth. When they first met, Canule was being chased by people, and had a strong aversion to monsters.

From Mitrof’s cultivated values as a noble, no matter how much gratitude you owed, placing a knight who had taken on a skeleton’s appearance beside you was impossible.

“Perhaps your Lord learned something. At that point, it might have been a matter of bringing you back home, or something worse—regardless, she would have understood that your future was limited if you stayed like that.”

Mitrof looked at Canule. It was difficult to read her emotions from the faintly bowed hood over her head. Underneath the hood was a skull, and her appearance was no different from that of a monster.

However, it was Canule’s character that allowed Mitrof to trust her without feeling aversion.

“Your lord trusted you—that’s why she wanted to help you—but there were limits to what she could do.”

Mitrof spoke from the perspective of a nobleman.

“That’s why she secretly let you escape and told you not to come back—it’s not because of what you’ve become; you’re trusted because you’re a good person.”

Canule looked up with her hood slightly.

“…I still think Mitrof-sama is a strange man, after all.”

“You think so?”

“Yes, I do—I have never received such kind words before.”

Canule laughed softly.

Mitrof felt embarrassed by her warm laughter and averted his gaze.

Although he had just said it himself, he began to wonder if he had done the right thing. He was not used to such conversations.

Even so, he thought it would be too empty if Canule remained at cross purposes with her former lord, who probably missed Canule as much as she could.

——A sound of something running on the ground was heard.

Chapter 67: The fat aristocrat moves quickly

Mitrof instantaneously pulled his face back. He quickly surveyed his surroundings, but the paraponera was nowhere to be found.

‘No, it’s out there somewhere.’

The calmness honed by “sublimation” turned his thoughts.

Even Canule senses it. She looked behind Mitrof’s back. However, her actions were hesitant and lost.

Then, Mitrof reached for the sword on his waist, trying to push Canule aside, but he saw a paraponera jump behind her.

The paraponera had been hiding behind the hem of Canule’s long robe and had come close unnoticed. Mitrof’s mind calmly assessed the situation.

The paraponera changed its position in the air and pointed its large, swollen buttocks with a sharp poison needle towards Canule. The needle was obvious and visible.

Canule is blocked by the wall and cannot avoid or cut down the paraponera.

Mitrof made a quick judgment.

He thrust his arm, already extended to grasp the sword, forward. He stepped forward, grabbed the collar of Canule’s robe, and pulled her towards him.

“——Ahh!”

Inadvertently, Canule fell into Mitrof’s arms.

The paraponera was already approaching from behind, but Mitrof inserted his small shield with his left arm between the poison needle and Canule’s back.

There was a brief impact, but there was no weight that would make his arms numb.

As Mitrof swung his arm, the paraponera fell while adjusting its position in the air.

The sharp, thick needle was stuck in the small shield he had swung. The needle glowed with a crimson light and reflected a dark red liquid that could be poison.

Just as Mitrof thought, ‘So, this is the poison,’ his left arm suddenly jerked.

“What?!”

Suddenly, a sharp pain swelled. Mitrof only later realized that the needle attack that had escalated into an explosion had poisoned him.

The pain transformed into a burning heat beyond what he could tolerate. Mitrof could not even scream due to the overwhelming heat. He bit down on his molars and collapsed to his knees.

“Mitrof-sama?!”

Canule quickly assessed the situation and knelt next to Mitrof. The toxin-tipped dart was stuck in a leather-covered wooden board and had pierced through it, with the tip still lodged in Mitrof’s arm.

Canule grasped the poison-tipped dart firmly with her black leather gloves and quickly pulled it out.

“Ugh… Canule, I will lose weight because of this…”

Mitrof’s face was rapidly breaking out in a greasy sweat.

“What are you talking about?!—We need to neutralize the poison immediately…!”

At that moment, the paraponera that had been bouncing off the wall approached them. Despite losing its poison-tipped dart, it still remained aggressive.

Canule knocked down the paraponera with a hand chop. Her enhanced strength, due to her curse, sent the paraponera’s head flying.

Without turning her attention, Canule removed her black leather gloves, soaked with venom, and tossed them aside to reveal her white, bony fingers. She untied the straps of her bag with those fingers and took out a vial of antivenom.

Impatiently smashing the opening of the vial with her bony fingers, Canule pour the liquid onto Mitrof’s wound, causing it to bubble instantly.

“Uoooo?! Isn’t this more painful than poison?!”

“Endure it.”

Canule tightly pushed down on Mitrof’s arm, which was thrashing uncontrollably in pain. Canule did not let him go while also taking care not to injure his joint by gently directing his struggling strength.

Mitrof could only grit his teeth and endure.

His entire body was tense. It wasn’t Mitrof’s will, but rather an automatic reaction of his body.

The foaming medicinal liquid applied to the wound was certainly effective. The burning pain gradually subsided, leaving only a thorny lump throbbing in his arm.

“…That was a quick response. Thank you.”

Despite the numbness spreading from his core with every pulsing beat of his blood, Mitrof managed to talk through the pain.

He was drenched in sweat. His vision was becoming clearer. He looked at Canule’s hand, which was holding his arm.

Noticing his gaze, Canule quickly released his hand and hid it under his robe.

“… I’m sorry. It was my fault.”

“No, it was the mistake of both of us—we were too careless and underestimated the paraponera.”

Mitrof stood up, elegantly wiping the sweat off his face with a handkerchief from his pocket.

“——Mitrof-sama, please do not protect me.”

Canule spoke firmly.

“I am a knight, and I am cursed—poison does not affect me—I should be the shield.”

Her voice was filled with solemn seriousness.

“I understand your opinion.”

Mitrof neatly folded the edge of the handkerchief.

“If you are a knight, then I am a nobleman—a gentleman must protect a lady.”

“A-A lady…?!”

Canule was choked up.

“I-I am a knight!”

“Regardless of whether you are a knight, a lady is still a lady.”

“And I am cursed, with a skeletal appearance!”

“Even if you are a skeleton, a lady is still a lady.”

“I am stronger and more resilient than Mitrof-sama!”

“That may be true, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt you.”

Canule was at a loss for words.

Mitrof picked up the black leather glove that had fallen nearby. He carefully wiped off any poison that had come from the needle with a handkerchief.

Fearlessly, Mitrof took Canule’s hidden right hand under his own and gently slid the gloved fingers over the bones.

“If you’re in trouble, I’ll help you. If I’m in trouble, you’ll help me. Isn’t that what being comrades is all about?”

Canule didn’t respond for a while.

She stared intently at her own hand, which was now held in Mitrof’s plump, round hand.

When Mitrof started feeling anxious with the prolonged silence, Canule spoke softly.

“Mitrof-sama, I have a request—if it’s inconvenient for you, please don’t hesitate to refuse.”

“Uh-huh?—Let’s hear it.”

“Will you—hold my hand just a little longer?

Mitrof didn’t reply to Canule’s words. He didn’t ask why or laugh it off, either.

Sometimes, there are feelings that cannot be entrusted to words. Mitrof knew this well.

That’s why he tightly squeezed Canule’s bony hand, which was within his reach.

Chapter 68: The fat aristocrat goes sideways

It is a matter of who is stronger in disagreements between the person and the one who worries.

Mitrof insisted he was fine and wanted to continue exploring the labyrinth.

Canule, though feeling embarrassed under the hood, insisted on giving up exploring while avoiding eye contact with Mitrof.

In reality, Mitrof’s left arm still felt numb and painful. His arm felt awkward to move, as if he had strained his muscles from strenuous exercise. Applying force caused a dull ache, and his arm’s mobility was restricted.

Mitrof tried to keep this a secret and wanted to continue forward.

“The antidote has worked well—thanks to the rest, the pain has subsided—let’s move forward.”

The harvest after going down to the 11th floor is small. Hunting paraponeras without any gains from defeating them would put today’s balance in the red, just from using the antidote.

“I am sorry, Mitrof-sama. If we want to explore unknown territories, we should be in perfect condition—we should not underestimate the effects of the poison.”

Mitrof pursed his lips, feeling that his protector was being overly cautious.

Just as they were about to leave, a group of adventurers came up behind them and passed by them at the end of the corridor.

It seemed like they overheard what was being discussed, leaving behind lukewarm glances.

“On the way back, please use the great elevator.”

Canule said after seeing the adventurers off.

“The great elevator?—It’s going to put us in the red.”

“Only Mitrof-sama will be using it—I will walk back—with that being said, I do a little more exploring.”

Mitrof pulled his chin back. The excess fat overlapped, creating a blob of fat around his neck.

“If you don’t like the great elevator, let’s just walk back now while we still have energy to spare.”

Mitrof agreed, acknowledging that Canule was right.

It would be too late to turn back after running out of energy. There may be situations where Mitrof must fight monsters on the way back.

Even if he feels alright now, it’s possible that the poisoning will flare up again in a few dozen minutes.

Mitrof could insist on continuing and force his way through, but Canule is watching him.

She blocks the way with her hands on her waist, standing in a warrior stance. Canule’s determination was unwavering.

Mitrof groaned and reluctantly nodded.

“…I understand—let’s turn back today.”

“Really? Mitrof-sama is a good boy.”

Canule said cheerfully. Her voice was light and airy.

Mitrof didn’t know how old Canule was, but she couldn’t be much older than him. He blinked his eyes at her childlike way of speaking.

On the way back, Canule showed her caring side. Of course, she led the way, but she also turned back to Mitrof from time to time to check if he’s okay and if he was following properly.

Even when encountering a paraponera, Mitrof stopped drawing his sword and let Canule fight alone.

Mitrof had been prepared to join the fray, but Canule showed no signs of being weak against paraponeras and fought valiantly, unlike before.

It had been proven that hitting a paraponera with a shield was ineffective.

However, just now, Canule had defeated the paraponera with a karate chop. Even without a sword, Canule was a knight and a professional trained in combat and knowledge.

She used her shield to deflect the paraponera’s attacks and corner it against the wall. She used the edge of her shield to trap the paraponera’s neck and cut it off. She stepped on the paraponera, which was crawling on the floor, to immobilize it and swung her shield down like a guillotine.

Her fighting style was completely different from the mild impression Mitrof had of Canule. It was filled with the dignity and coldness of a fighter. It was not terrifying, but rather comforting.

‘It seems like I won’t have a chance to participate…’

He felt relieved, yet a little sad. He felt like he couldn’t keep his dignity as a man, but the fact was that it would be safer and faster for Canule to fight instead of Mitrof, who had injured his left arm.

As Mitrof walked behind Canule, he quietly loosened the belt of his shield.

Because a poison needle had stung him, his arm was swollen. Just as he thought the pain had settled down over time, it started to throb again, like melted iron flowing through the core of his arm and bones.

It was not as intense as the pain he had felt when he was stung. He could endure it.

Without stopping Canule, Mitrof continued walking. As a nobleman, or rather, as a man, he could not show any weakness or despair.

“——Mitrof-sama.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

Reflexively responding to the voice that called out to him, a suspicious atmosphere returned. It seemed that he had missed the voice due to his unconsciousness of the pain.

On closer inspection, Canule was facing a side passage that intersected at right angles with the corridor.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”

“I can hear a voice from ahead.”

“Really?”

The side path had a low ceiling and was a familiar labyrinth-like passage on the upper floors. A metal gate was placed at the entrance, blocking the way. This was a path that had been closed off and unseen on the map.

Mitrof also listened carefully but could only hear a wind-like sound from somewhere.

“What kind of voice is it?”

“A man’s shout and…”

Canule fell silent. Mitrof suppressed his breath, making no sound. As a human changed into a monster, Canule also acquired acute hearing.

“I could be mistaken, but…”

Canule prefaced.

“I think I heard another voice of that beastman girl—Apélie Tiff.”

Mitrof did not ask if it was true. If Canule said so, then it must be true.

The more important part was the earlier statement about the man raising his voice. This meant that Apélie Tiff was probably in conflict with the man.

If Mitrof had known nothing, he would have remained calm, but he had concerns about the “amber” stone that Apélie Tiff gave him, not about his own arm.

It was precious and something the guild wanted to keep secret, and there seemed to be people who desired it.

The beastman didn’t tell Mitrof the important details, which only made everything seem even more mysterious to him.

“…Let’s go and see.”

“Then I’ll break it.”

Canule, without any further questioning, acted on Mitrof’s words. It was Mitrof who was confused.

“But, are you sure that’s the best choice? There might be more options, like asking about the circumstances and stopping it.”

Canule tilted her head in confusion.

“Mitrof-sama is close to that girl, right?”

“…Yeah, I am.”

“I knew that if Mitrof-sama got involved in the commotion, he would go—but considering your arm, please don’t force yourself.”

Without waiting for Mitrof’s response, Canule put her hand on the door in the center of the iron gate. There was a large lock on it, which she planned on breaking.

However, contrary to their expectations, the door creaked open.

“It doesn’t seem to be locked.”

“That’s convenient.”

It was an area that was prohibited to trespassers, with the door locked to prevent entry. The feeling of breaking in with a destroyed lock and the feeling of entering through a door that happened to be open were somewhat different.

The two passed through the iron gate and made their way into the lateral cave.

Chapter 69: The fat aristocrat finds merchant

The tunnel is narrow and winding. If they stood side by side, their shoulders would touch. It was a suffocating feeling in the darkness, but thanks to the light moss of the labyrinth, the view is clear.

As they continued to walk through the narrow, crimson hollow, their senses began to shift. Their sense of distance became vague, and they lost track of how far they had gone.

Once they entered this side passage, Mitrof could finally hear a voice that sounded like Apélie Tiff’s. It echoed on this narrow path and sounded distant.

They could also hear a man’s voice. They couldn’t waste any more time and quickened their pace.

As they approached, the voice became clearer, and Mitrof realized that the man was not shouting in anger but rather pleading for something. It was a strange feeling.

Soon, they reached an open space at the end of the narrow path, and they quickly found Apélie Tiff.

“…What is it?”

They hurried to Apélie Tiff, thinking that she was in danger, but the scene they encountered was different from what they had imagined.

The man knelt before Apélie Tiff, pleading with his hands clasped together.

“I understand your circumstances!—But please try to do something about it.”

Apélie Tiff had already noticed Mitrof and the others. Since she had previously found Mitrof by scent, she quickly realized they were approaching.

“…Mitrof.”

“Hey, Apélie Tiff.”

Even though he didn’t understand the situation, it seemed like there was no immediate danger.

“You can’t come in here…you’ll get in trouble.”

“I know that—I just heard Apélie Tiff’s voice and thought maybe I could help.”

“What are you guys doing here?—This is a ‘special zone’.”

The man spoke with a sharp gaze and a stern voice as he glared at Mitrof. However, he still maintained a posture of praying to Apélie Tiff, and his intimidating presence was non-existent.

Knowing it was off-limits, yet still entering, Mitrof was at a loss for how to behave, even though he understood he was in the wrong.

“… special zone?”

“What are you, an amateur?—Get out of here, it has nothing to do with a fat kid like you.”

The man suddenly lost interest and shooed Mitrof away with a swishing motion of his hand.

He was probably in his mid-twenties. There was a sloppiness that could be seen in his face, with a scruffy beard and dull blonde hair that touched his shoulders. His aura and voice were still youthful.

The man switched his focus as if he had not seen Mitrof and put his hands together again for Apélie Tiff.

“Just a little more!—I want one bag, or even just one piece, right now! I’m being pestered by my regular customers; I’m at my limit!”

“… If the ‘chief’ doesn’t allow it, there’s nothing I can do; I can’t say anything.”

“I want you to somehow get Missy to talk for me. She’s the one who found the ‘amber,’ right!”

Mitrof couldn’t miss the word that the man said.

“Do you know what “amber” is?”

When Mitrof interjected, the man narrowed his eyes, seeming annoyed.

“What’s the matter? It’s something you don’t need to know.”

And with that, the man spoke rapidly. However, he took a moment to scan Mitrof from head to toe, and his eyebrows furrowed in surprise.

“… Wait a minute, you… Oh, no, I apologize.”

Instantly, the man’s face lit up with a smile.

“I didn’t realize it was you in that state. Please forgive my rudeness… I never expected someone of your status to be in the labyrinth.”

The man quickly changed the direction of his knees. He lowered his head and rubbed his hands together, looking up at Mitrof with a smile that seemed to trust anyone.

Mitrof recognized that appearance, expression, and manner of speaking; he had been familiar with them since childhood.

“A merchant, I presume.”

“Hahaha, I’m just sitting here in the corner. If you have anything you’d like to purchase, I would be happy to prepare it for you. Please let me know if you need anything.”

The polite attitude seemed to be because the man had recognized Mitrof as a nobleman.

Mitrof had not yet shed his noble demeanor, so the man likely saw Mitrof as a nobleman’s son.

while impressed by the man’s insightful observation.

“I am indeed a nobleman—however, I am neither in a position to inherit the family nor am I currently welcome at home.”

“What the hell man, you could have said that sooner!—You wasted my time!”

The man suddenly changed his attitude again. He lazily stood up, sighed, and slapped the dirt off his knees.

Mitrof couldn’t help but chuckle at the man’s candid and swift change in demeanor, which gave him a good impression.”

“Are you here looking for ‘amber’?”

“…Wait, were you really a nobleman?—You don’t know what ‘amber’ is?”

“Yeah, I don’t know.”

Mitrof nodded, and the merchant sighed in exasperation.

“Well, then you must be really at the end of the line—eventually, you’ll know the name of ‘amber’, but it may be out of your reach.”

The man picked up his luggage beside him, seemingly uninterested in Mitrof, and turned back to Apélie Tiff.

“Anyway, when you sell ‘amber,’ give me a call—I’ll pay more than anyone else.”

“I have no right to decide.”

“All right,” the merchant said, raising both hands.

“The `chief` will decide everything—then please convey my regards to that `chief`. My name is Poisson. I won’t cause any losses.”

Poisson gave a splendid bow, even in Mitrof’s eyes, and went back down the narrow path.

“…I don’t think you’re close enough to know each other.

Mitrof said to Apélie Tiff. Her beast ears twitched a bit before she turned her gaze towards Mitrof.

“Various people come here—people who claim to be merchants… they all want `amber`.”

“Do you know what `amber` is?”

Apélie Tiff shook her head.

“I don’t know—but “chief” says it’s valuable—that’s why we were asked to find it and sell it to obtain money for our livelihood.”

“I see.”

Mitrof nodded in confusion.

If Apélie Tiff didn’t know about it either, the mystery of the ‘amber’ would only deepen.

It was a gem-like lump found in the labyrinth. Merchants were willing to pay high prices for it. From the conversation with the merchant named Poisson earlier, it seemed that only a limited number of people knew about it.

And it seemed that the ‘people of the labyrinth’ made their living from it.

“Mitrof, do you want more ‘amber’?”

Apélie Tiff asked, and Mitrof honestly nodded.

“I do—it seems like it could fetch a good price.”

Merchants are the most adept at seeking profit. If they are willing to enter the labyrinth, even on forbidden paths, just to buy from the “people of the labyrinth,” then the goods must be exceptional. Poisson said he would buy them at high prices as well.

It would surely be more efficient with better returns to deal with them, rather than risking their lives to defeat monsters in the labyrinth for meager profits…

“I understand. I will ask the ‘chief’ and try to find more.”

Apelie Tiff said it so easily that Mitrof was perplexed.

“Didn’t you say you couldn’t sell the goods to the merchant earlier?”

“Mitrof is different—he saved my life. Apelie Tiff still needs to show her gratitude.”

Mitrof admired Apelie Tiff’s sincerity, knowing that the beastmen were a species with a strong sense of gratitude and obligation.

“Also…”

Apelie Tiff hesitated to continue.

Lowering her gaze slightly, she gently touched her thigh and stroked it. There must still be unhealed scars there.

“Chief wants to meet with you.”

“Why me?”

He was interested in the lifestyle of “people of the labyrinth.” However, he was a mere adventurer, and the chief wanted to meet him, which was more suspicious than curious.

“I don’t know—but, she said it’s okay if Mitrof refuses.”

It seems that Apélie Tiff was not informed of the circumstances, and the decision is left to Mitrof.

Mitrof fell silent with a sullen expression and twisted his head.

“Canule, what do you think?”

“Whatever pleases you, Mitrof-sama, I will protect you no matter what.”

Canule replied in an unwavering tone. She seemed to have changed her mood after being protected earlier. She stood behind Mitrof like a knight.

Feeling uneasy but making the decision first, Mitrof said, “Alright, let’s meet—what should I do?”

“…Wait here—I’ll get the chief.”

Mitrof called out to Apélie Tiff, who had turned her body towards the narrow path leading further inside.

“What kind of person is the ‘chief’?”

Apélie Tiff tilted her head.

“What kind of person…?”

After pondering the question, she suddenly shook her shoulders. The fur on her tail and ears stood up on end and clung to her body tightly.

“…A very reliable…and scary person.”

Chapter 70: The fat aristocrat is asked to do it

In the time before Apélie Tiff and the “chief” returned, Mitrof explained to Canule about the “amber”. However, even she has little idea what it is.

Only certain people knew about it, and it seemed to be expensive and in high demand…

“Why did Mitrof-sama decide to meet with them?—It doesn’t sound like a very… wholesome discussion.”

‘A wholesome discussion.’

Mitrof chuckled at Canule’s choice of words. It might be more relieving than suspicious.

“It seems they want to propose some kind of ‘business deal’ with me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because Apélie Tiff gave me the ‘amber’. At that time, she said that the ‘chief’ said it had value.”

Although he thought it was just a pretty stone at the time, the meaning behind the words “had value” has changed over time.

“That was probably a preliminary gift—they give us something of value to pique our interest and then get to the point—It’s a tactic often used by merchants.”

“I see, I understand.”

Canule nodded, but her voice did not show much interest in the conversation.

As a knight with integrity, Canule may have felt that the roundabout way of talking, involving such procedures, was cumbersome.

“So, Mitrof-sama, do you intend to negotiate?”

“That depends on the contents of the discussion—I can’t imagine what they might want from me in the first place…”

At that moment, a figure walking down the hallway came into view. It was Apélie Tiff, along with another shadow behind her.

Until the two stood in front of them, Mitrof and Canule remained quiet.

“Thank you, Apélie.”

After speaking with a soft voice to Apélie Tiff, the “chief” stepped forward and turned to face Mitrof.

“Nice to meet you—my name is Blanc Manje. Everyone calls me ‘chief.’ You must be Mitrof-san—It seems like we could become good friends.”

Blanc Manje laughed, and Canule was standing on high alert.

“…I heard you wanted to meet me.”

“Ara, aren’t you going to mention my appearance?”

“It’s fine—I’m used to it.”

Mitrof replied, and Blanc Manje laughed again.

In front of him stood a small woman, covered in a robe dyed with plants. The hood was covering her face. She was just like Canule. It was clear that there were some circumstances involved.

“I thought only a naive child who yearns for adventure would venture into the labyrinth with nothing but a slim sword—but it seems you have wisdom.”

Mitrof raised his eyebrow. Blanc Manje’s voice was elegant and pleasant to listen to. Even her sarcasm sounded refined.

“As expected, being called the “chief” and living underground for so long must have made you used to it—it’s alright, I don’t mind—it’s troublesome to bring the above-ground etiquette up in the great elevator anyway.”

Blanc Manje laughed gracefully, Mitrof stood confidently, and Canule remained motionless. Only Apélie Tiff was restless, and her gaze wandered between the two.

“… Chief and Mitrof, are you fighting…?”

Apélie Tiff asked in a concerned tone.

Suddenly, Blanc Manje let out a pathetic voice and grabbed Apélie Tiff’s hand.

“I’m sorry, Apélie, you were worried, but there’s a reason for this, we’re not fighting.”

Mitrof watched Blanc Manje’s rapid excuse-making, her previous mature composure replaced with unexpected youthfulness.

Apélie Tiff looked up at Mitrof with her ears folded against her head.

“…Mitrof, are you angry?”

“Ah, I’m not angry—this is, well, one of the greetings.”

“Greeting…? That’s weird.”

“I think so too.”

Exchanging sarcastic remarks is one of the pleasures of nobles. By exchanging light talk, they show that they can talk openly with each other.

Of course, there are also social gatherings where no negativity is expressed. Conversation skills change depending on the situation. No one knows who started it or why it continues today. It’s simply because of tradition.

Apélie Tiff probably had the right idea. However, there are convenient aspects to this way of talking, and many things can be communicated in just a few words.

“Apélie, could you give Mitrof-san and me some time to talk?”

“…Okay.”

Observing this, Canule whispered to Mitrof.

“I’ll also step out.”

“…okay.”

Although it didn’t bother him, Mitrof had no choice but to nod at Canule’s resolute response.

As a former servant of a lord, Canule could roughly understand the meaning of their conversation.

The current exchange between Mitrof and Blanc Manje was like an appetizer for a negotiation between powerful people.

Canule judged herself to be an outsider and left the scene so as not to interfere.

After Canule and Apélie Tiff distanced themselves, Mitrof faced Blanc Manje again.

“… I apologize for earlier—I just wanted to confirm something.”

“It’s fine. So, let me ask you straight out, what do you want?—I am a man who has been kicked out of his own home—there is little I can do.”

Blanc Manje smiled. Mitrof’s frank way of speaking was too direct for a noble or a merchant.

So Blanc Manje also got straight to the point.

“I have a request.”

Mitrof narrowed his eyes. He could not believe that someone overseeing “people of the labyrinth” would have anything to ask him.

Blanc Manje placed her hands in front of her body and stood up straight with a dignified posture worthy of the high society.

“I would like you to exterminate a single ant.”

Blanc Manje spoke to Mitrof in a manner that was reminiscent of inviting someone to dance.

Chapter 71: The fat aristocrat is troubled by the content of the request

Mitrof frowned slightly and nodded.

“The ant is not a paraponera, is it?”

“Yes, of course—what I want to request from Mitrof-san is the extermination of a ‘dinoponera’.”

“That’s a name I’ve never heard before—there should only be paraponeras on the 11th floor.”

“That’s true on the ‘surface’.”

The phrase ‘surface’ left Mitrof with doubts.

“Mitrof-san, I heard that you exterminated the red-eyed troll.”

“…You know a lot.”

“It’s been a rumor for a while.”

“It’s good to hear a good rumor.”

“Of course, it’s a good rumor.”

The way she said it, leaving a sweet aftertaste, was both delightful and suspicious.

“Is there a connection between the red-eyed troll and the ant?”

“No, not directly—however, have you ever wondered how the red-eyed troll moved between floors?”

“…There’s a rumor about a loophole in the monster’s system.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

Blanc Manje nodded gracefully while spreading both hands.

“And here it is.”

What Mitrof remembered was the word Poisson, the merchant he spoke with earlier, mentioned.

“The ‘special zone’?”

“Ara, you already know that name—we also call it the ‘loophole’ or the ‘back,’ but outsiders all refer to it as the ‘labyrinth special zone.'”

“…I’ve never heard of it before.”

“Well, that’s to be expected—knowledge and information are not meant to be shared with those who don’t need to know.”

Blanc Manje placed a hand over her mouth. Her fingers were invisible due to the length of her robes.

“The ‘back’ has a completely different ecology than the ‘front’ of the labyrinth. It connects top and bottom and even allows monsters to move about. And as for the blocked side passages on the ‘front’?—All of them lead to the ‘back.'”

‘I see,’ Mitrof understood. The reason why the upper floors’ side passages remained closed for so long was not only due to unexplored areas.

It seemed that it was connected to the back of the labyrinth, which the guild did not openly disclose, so it was left as is. The side tunnel that Mitrof and Grace had found before was also a “back road.”

Waiting for Mitrof’s understanding, Blanc Manje continued speaking.

“There are monsters in the ‘back’ that are different from those in the ‘front.'”

“So, that’s the dinoponera.”

Blanc Manje nodded.

“Dinoponera are superior species of paraponera—they are large, have strong poison, and have sharp mandibles. Ordinary people like us have no chance of winning against them.”

“Why do you want to subjugate it?—Won’t it just go somewhere else if left alone?”

“Of course, if it were a normal monster, there would be no problem—but that one——it’s a ‘winged’ one.”

The term “winged” is familiar to Mitrof. It refers to adventurers who have obtained the mark of wings. Mitrof descended to the 11th floor to obtain those wings.

Blanc Manje shook her head as if she had just thought of something related to what Mitrof was thinking.

“The ‘winged’ I refer to is the ant queen—it literally has wings growing from its bodies.”

“…So it can fly?”

“No, it cannot—the ‘winged’ ant eventually sheds its wings, builds a nest, breeds many ants, and reigns as queen.”

Mitrof is not familiar with the ecology of insects. He only has general knowledge. Bees and ants have a “queen” as their leader. The queen gives birth to offspring and forms a colony. Gradually, the nest becomes huge… What would happen if ants of that size built a nest?

The vivid image is that of the paraponera that poisoned him. His arm still hurts. The dinoponera is even larger than that. Just imagining them swarming caused a chill to run down his spine.

“Wouldn’t that be a major undertaking?—Shouldn’t we ask for assistance from the guild?”

“Of course, that would typically be the appropriate course of action, but there are some circumstances—I don’t mind explaining, but I don’t want to waste Mitrof-san’s valuable time.”

Indirectly, she meant she didn’t intend to provide further details, and Mitrof was skilled at picking up on such conversations.

“Why ask us?—There are plenty of suitable adventurers out there, aren’t there?”

“Apélie Tiff regards you as a good person—she has a good eye for judging character.”

While not untrue, that wasn’t the only reason. That was Mitrof’s assessment of the situation. However, it didn’t seem like she was trying to trap him or use him for any nefarious purposes.

If Mitrof had status, money, or power, he would have been more suspicious. But as a third son, a disowned noble, and a fledgling adventurer, he had no value for time-wasting schemes. Mitrof was objectively calculating his usefulness.

“We’re terribly troubled by the ‘winged’ ones lurking near our residence—If found, we would be attacked, and residents may have no choice but to flee to the ‘front’, which could cause a commotion—and if a nest is made, we would lose our place to live.”

Mitrof thought Apélie Tiff was being referred to when she mentioned fleeing to the ‘front’.

Blanc Manje raised a finger hidden under her robe’s hem. The fabric was smooth like silk, allowing the shape of the finger to be visible.

“The extermination of the ‘winged’ dinoponera… and the reward is a small bag of ‘amber’. What do you think?”

‘Is it a gain or a loss?—Should I accept or refuse? Is there any other intention?’

Mitrof thought about it. However, even after thinking, a quick decision was not possible. There were too many unknown factors. Mitrof didn’t possess most of the information Blanc Manje had. It was impossible to compete.

“Truly, this is a difficult business negotiation.”

“Oh, this is not a ‘business negotiation.’ A ‘business negotiation’ would be something pursued by merchants seeking mutual benefits.”

“So what is this, then?”

“Mitrof-san is an adventurer, and I am a troubled citizen—this is a quest request.”

Blanc Manje laughed like a ringing bell.

Mitrof rolled the word ‘quest’ around in his mouth. ‘Quest, huh?’

“May I ask one thing before I answer?”

“Feel free.”

“What exactly is ‘amber’?”

“Ara, don’t you know?—It’s like sweet nectar,” Blanc Manje answered easily, interjecting a word.

Chapter 72: The fat aristocrat consults his friends

Without answering whether he would accept or not, Mitrof went up the labyrinth.

Blanc Manje said, “Please do so as soon as possible,” but the poison needle was just stuck in Mitrof’s arm. The needle of the paraponera is more frightening than the thorns of words.

After returning to the surface, he went straight to the healing institute for treatment. The healing institute is not just staffed with physicians and pharmacists, but also with priests, and the treatment one should receive varies depending on the severity of the injury. It is said that a skilled priest can even reattach severed limbs.

It is not free, of course, and the height of the accumulated gold and silver coins determines the weight of one’s life. If you do not have money, even a minor injury can lead to death. This is a fact that every adventurer faces.

If you asked a priest, Mitrof’s arm would be completely healed without any effort. Of course, he had no money, so he received treatment for the venom and ointment. However, the treatment itself was not cheap. Since the poison stinger had hit the bone, it seemed to take some time to heal completely.

If he asked the doctor, he would be advised not to bathe for a few days. When Mitrof insisted if a half-body bath would be okay, the doctor nodded in agreement.

As a result, he visited the bathhouse as usual, sat on the ledge of the tub while taking a half-body bath, and looked up at the ceiling. Grace called it “washing away the dirt of life with the bath.”

Mitrof thought that was exactly right. By taking off his heavy clothes, scrubbing away the mud and dirt, and soaking his body in hot water, his tiredness and worries seemed to melt away.

Taking a bath had become a habit for Mitrof to think things over. If he thought about it in the dimness full of steam, his troubles would be erased like steam. He couldn’t shake off the worry about money that was stuck in his head.

In Mitrof’s mind, the concern about money remained unresolved.

There had been no significant gains since entering the 11th floor. Even defeating paraponeras did not yield any income. On the contrary, it ended up poisoning him, and his household finances ended up in the red due to the cost of medicine and treatment.

He wanted to hurry up and blaze through, but he couldn’t push himself too hard in a party with only him and Canule. And even Canule would be gone by the end of the month, which was only a few days away.

‘It’s lonely when Canule is gone, but I probably don’t have the right to stop it,’ Mitrof sighed.

After Canule’s departure, the only option was to dive alone. Alternatively, he could join some party somewhere.

Whatever the case, he needed money to survive, and he had to find a way to earn it.

In that case, Blanc Manje’s request might be attractive. The reward was a bag of “amber”. Poisson, a merchant, had wanted it so badly. If he sold it to him, he would get a good price.

Even without Canule, he wouldn’t have trouble paying for living expenses for a while. He could stay in clean, spacious, and quiet inns. He wouldn’t have to suffer from stomach aches caused by unhygienic food from street stalls.

He wouldn’t have to wear rash-inducing worn-out clothes either.

If he had money, everything would come to him. He could solve what he was currently seeking if he had money.

When asked what “amber” was, Blanc Manje said, “It’s like sweet nectar.”

Mitrof thought it was a clever metaphor.

Insects gather around sweet nectar. People gather for “amber.”

“Oh, we finally meet!”

A cheerful voice echoed. Mitrof was looking at the ceiling, and someone splashed next to him.

“Hey, don’t ignore me!”

Then he finally realized that he was being talked to. When he turned his face in surprise, there was Mikel.

It has been since they met in front of the “Guardian’s” room. Mikel seemed to frequent this bathhouse, but it was often difficult to meet each other due to the disrupted lifestyle of adventurers.

“Sorry, I was just thinking.”

“What, do you have any problems?—You want to talk about it?

Mikel laughed lightly. His casual smile seemed to have the effect of making people’s hearts lighter, and Mitrof smiled wryly.

“It’s a problem, to be honest.”

“I don’t understand difficult talks, so don’t expect too much.”

“…No, let’s not. I don’t think I’m going to get any answers from you.”

That was Mitrof’s consideration. However, Mikel protruded his lips and raised his voice, saying, “Huh?!”

“Who said anything about getting an answer?—I said I would listen—just listen, that’s all!”

“…Just listen?”

Mitrof widened his eyes.

“Of course, you’re smarter than me, aren’t you?—Can I solve problems that you can’t figure out?—You can tell me.”

“Am I being praised honestly or insulted…?”

“I don’t know the answer, but I said I would listen to what you are troubled about—maybe it’ll make you feel a little better, right?”

Mitrof found Mikel’s proposal strange.

He had thought that consultations were meant to solve problems. Talk about the problem, listen to the problem, and even if the problem is not solved, you’ll feel better. Are there such things?

However, since Mikel was so confident, Mitrof decided to talk about what he had been thinking while tilting his head in confusion.

“I wanted to earn money.”

“Money, huh? Well, who wouldn’t want to earn some.”

“I received a request for a quest. If it goes well, I should be able to receive a good amount of money.”

“That sounds great—take the job.”

“Oh… yeah, that’s right.”

“What’s wrong? Is the client suspicious or something?—Is it a criminal case?”

“No, it’s not like that.”

“What kind of request is it?—A subjugation?”

“Yeah, it’s subjugation quest.”

“Is it worse than the red-eyed trolls?”

Given a comparison, Mitrof thought for a moment about how tough the dinoponera would be. It was an upper-class species of paraponera, undoubtedly a formidable enemy, but he didn’t think it would be as tough as the time he dealt with that enemy.

“No, not that far.”

“Hmm—then what’s bothering you?”

Asked why, Mitrof stuttered.

“…Why, I wonder?”

“What?—You don’t even know why you’re hesitating?”

Mikel, looking exasperated, scratched his head.

“I’m not sure why you’re hesitating so much, but for what purpose are you even diving into the labyrinth?”

“——For what purpose?”

“If you want to make money, you should take the quest, right?—Because it pays well.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“If you want excitement, you might decline—fighting weaker than a red-eyed troll seems boring.”

“…I see.”

“After all, since you haven’t decided what you want to do, why do you have to worry about every little thing?”

Mitrof felt as though lightning had struck him while he was in the hot spring. It seemed like he had touched the heart of the problem he had been wrestling with for some time.

“Mikel, have you decided what you want to do? Do you have any criteria for making decisions? Tell me.”

“Of course I have—whether it’s interesting or not, that’s it!”

Mikel stood up and declared with his arms crossed. His bare-naked standing posture was comical, yet he looked cool for some reason.

It might be because an unshakable pillar seemed to run through Mikel’s back.

Whether it’s interesting or not… that’s not the point. Mikel acts with conviction and does not let it waver. Mitrof thought that a supportive person like Mikel enabled him to make decisions and move forward without hesitation.

“…I don’t understand.”

Mitrof drooped his head listlessly.

“I don’t have that kind of conviction—I don’t know why I became an adventurer or why I delved into the labyrinth—I don’t have any guiding principles for making decisions.”

“Hey, what the hell… Don’t be so down.”

Mikel rubbed his cheeks in concern.

“You know, don’t you have things you want to do or things you find enjoyable? It’s your own thing, so others won’t understand—It’s that kind of thing.”

Mitrof groaned at the perfectly reasonable words.

“I’ve just been doing what I’ve been told to do all this time, so I don’t really know what I want to do or what I find enjoyable—the only thing I’ve chosen to do is eat.”

As a result, Mitrof’s body became remarkably heavy.

No matter how much he walked, fought, or sweated in the labyrinth, Mitrof ate based solely on his hunger. The act of eating protected his heart, and the time spent consuming food was time spent safeguarding his soul.

“Oh really?—Then why don’t you search for it?”

“Search?”

Mikel’s unimpressed response caused Mitrof to tilt his head.

“Don’t give me that round-eyed look—It’s easy.”

Mikel sat on the edge and sharply pointed at Mitrof’s face.

“You don’t know because you’ve never done it, right?—So just do it.”

“But, what should I do…?”

“Do what you want to do—you know, no one is ordering you to do anything anymore, right? So just decide for yourself.”

“Well, that’s true—but, how do I make that decision…?”

“Why not roll a dice?”

Mikel flippantly suggested while waving his hand.

“If you don’t do anything, you won’t know what you want to do—just decide if you’re going to do it or not, and eventually you’ll figure it out.”

As if it were philosophy, the problem circled around. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he knew that he had to do something to figure it out. He didn’t know how to decide what that something was, so he left the first step up to fate.

“Is it okay to be so throwaway…?”

Mikel slapped Mitrof’s shoulder, which still didn’t feel quite right. The sound of the slap was wet and resonant.

“If it doesn’t work out, you can always think about it again.”

Mikel’s upbeat attitude made an impression on Mitrof. His way of thinking about things was never something that Mitrof had considered before, where success and failure were both taken lightly.

“…Yeah, you’re right. Maybe, that’s just the way to do it.”

Mitrof nodded several times and pondered the words in his mind.

What he wanted to do…

He thought deeply about it. He would no longer be commanded by anyone. He no longer had to strive to meet someone’s expectations or disappoint himself for not meeting them. He no longer had to suffer in everyday life from not having anyone’s expectations of him.

He could make his own decisions. About himself.

Until now, Mitrof couldn’t fully understand this feeling. What does it mean?

However, for some reason, his arms and legs feel light. Heat spreads from his feet soaked in the hot water, warming his chest. In the bathhouse, Mitrof felt an indescribable feeling, as if his body would float up and turn into smoke.

He looked up at the ceiling. Yes, there is a ceiling here. Walls and floors surrounded him, but he wasn’t trapped.

He can leave anytime he wants, and entering is also free.

“I see, I have already decided.”

Small hints fell into place in his mind.

He chose to soak in the bathtub because he liked it. He chose to drink milk ale after his bath and to delve into the labyrinth.

Perhaps this was the moment when Mitrof truly felt “liberated.”

The world does not suddenly shine beautifully. He is not filled with omnipotence and overflowing power.

He seemed to have calmed down a bit. He could feel his feet on the ground. So, he thought he could just move his feet forward. It seemed like such a simple thing. He may not know whether it was easy or not, but he had the freedom to choose it.

“Mikel, thank you.”

“Hmm?—Did you figure something out?”

“Yeah. I like you, Mikel.”

“——Did you hit your head in the labyrinth or something?”

Chapter 73: The fat aristocrat challenge winged ants

“Canule, I like you.”

“——Mitrof-sama, has the paraponera toxin gotten to your head…?”

As soon as they met at the guild’s plaza in the morning, Mitrof declared his feelings.

Canule covered her mouth with her black leather glove and sighed sadly.

“Let’s go to the medical facility right away—I will accompany you.”

“I’m sane—I believe that the days I spend delving into the labyrinth with you will be enjoyable.”

“… Is this a farewell?”

Suddenly, Canule’s shoulders slumped in dejection.

The end of the month was approaching rapidly. The day when Canule’s brother would come to pick her up was almost here.

Despite knowing this, Canule has been avoiding the approaching day—Mitrof, too, had been averting his gaze. The moment they put it into words, their separation would draw nearer.

“No, it’s not.”

Mitrof shook his head.

“Last night, I thought deeply about what I really wanted—lately, I’ve been thinking about making money—with money, one can have a good life. That’s what I need—but making money isn’t an important factor for me; if I were to adventure for money, exploring the labyrinth would just become labor.”

Canule listened quietly to Mitrof’s words.

“The reason I started was for my livelihood—even now, I dive into the labyrinth for money—but I find joy in challenging the labyrinth with you—meeting Mikel, meeting other adventurers, seeing things I never imagined, struggling against monsters, training myself, and then challenging again… I love this daily routine. For the first time in my life, I feel alive when I enjoy doing something.”

Mitrof asked Canule if she felt the same way.

“Yes,” Canule replied with a smile. “I never thought I would have such enjoyable days—my time spent exploring the labyrinth with Mitrof-sama was like a dream.”

Canule’s voice trembled faintly.

Though she lost her human body due to the curse, her voice shook.

“I forgot about my own situation and selfishly wished for days like this to continue forever. It was really fun—all thanks to Mitrof-sama and Grace-sama.”

“I see—If you also think that way, then I’m glad.”

Mitrof nodded in satisfaction. The conversation was over, and Mitrof turned his face towards the guild.

“Well then, let’s go, Canule—let’s clean up quickly.”

“Clean up?—What do you mean?”

“Defeat the ‘winged’ dinoponera.”

“…Yes—It sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”

Canule’s voice masked her loneliness with a forced cheerful tone. Her brother would come to pick her up soon. She knew this would be her last labyrinth exploration with Mitrof.

However, Mitrof denied Canule’s question, saying, “It’s for the sweet nectar.”

The two descended to the 11th floor and arrived at the same side passage as before. They placed their hands on the iron door, but it was locked.

After waiting for a while, as expected, Apélie Tiff appeared from the other end of the corridor.

Hanging from her neck was a worn-out key. She unlocked the door and invited the two of them inside.

“Mitrof.”

“Hey, Apélie Tiff, I came to see Blanc Manje.”

“I know—she’s already expecting you. Will you take care of the dinoponera?”

Apélie Tiff tilted her head with an anxious look.

“Is dinoponera that scary?”

“Yeah, it’s dangerous; there aren’t enough adults here; we can’t defeat it.”

“Not enough adults?”

As they were about to ask if they had gone somewhere, Blanc Manje walked towards them from the back passage.

“Mitrof-san, you came.”

“Yes—I was thinking about accepting the quest.”

This time, without any sarcastic remarks, the conversation moved forward honestly.

“That would be a great help—actually, it has been digging nests nearby since last night. In a few days, things would have become dangerous.”

“If they’re nearby, it’s convenient—show me the way.”

Following Blanc Manje, who walked ahead, Mitrof followed.

The side road, which had been a straight path, gradually widened, and the number of forks in the road increased. Turning right, advancing, turning left… the path became complex, and Mitrof had no confidence in returning to the original road. It was a journey that was more suitable to be called a labyrinth than the “front.”

He felt as though he had come a long way. Suddenly, Blanc Manje stopped walking. Pointing with the hem of his coat, he indicated what was there.

It is a flat, elongated, bowl-shaped space. There is an ant digging a lateral hole on the far wall.

“… It’s certainly big.”

Mitrof rubbed his chin.

The ant was at least two sizes larger than the paraponera, and its total length seemed to be the same size as or even larger than Mitrof. Its jet-black body was proud of its hardness, and its hands and feet had golden short hair. The pair of wings on its back made the dinoponera look even larger.

“Canule, are you alright?”

“…Of course.”

There was no vigor in her voice. With such a large ant, it was certainly nauseating. Even Mitrof’s back has been tingling since earlier. If he relaxed a bit, he might tremble.

“…We’re here. If you get hurt, we’ll come to your aid immediately.”

“You? Apélie Tiff?”

“No, the adults are waiting in the back—we may not be able to defeat the dinoponera, but we can help and give the fatal blow when it is down.”

“That’s reassuring news.”

Mitrof looked around, but he didn’t know where these adults were being talked about.

‘Well, no matter,’ Mitrof thought, switching his attention.

“Canule, I have a request.”

“Yes, what is it?”

“I want you to protect me so that I do not get injured—I want to avoid getting knocked out.”

“I understand.”

Although her response was short, there was a fiery determination in Canule’s words.

After checking her shield’s handle, Canule adjusted the clasp at her neck to keep her hood from falling during battle.

Mitrof tightened the belt of his small shield. He unsheathed his thrusting sword and used his fingers to adjust the guard’s looseness.

“Shall we go, Canule?”

“Yes, Mitrof-sama.”

The two of them ran out at the same time.

Chapter 74: The fat aristocrat holds the glove

It took a long time to settle.

Mitrof was cautious of the dinoponera’s poison, and did not recklessly jump into combat. He steadily attacked with caution, relying on Canule’s shield and slowly but surely, like sticking a needle, to the point of saturation.

It was not a flashy or elegant way of fighting, but it was the most effective tactic when facing this monster.

Compared to the paraponera, it was certainly a terrifying ant. However, it was not as intense a battle as when they defeated the red-eyed troll known as a mutant.

Cutting off its wings and slicing off its legs, Mitrof finally decapitated the dinoponera’s head.

“… That was a good fight.”

Mitrof muttered with a sense of emotion. Canule, with her shield, and Mitrof, with his sword, relied on and supported each other. Even against the strong enemy dinoponera, there was no fear.

“… I feel fulfilled.”

Canule also had thoughts. The sense of accomplishment achieved by entrusting one’s life to one another in the labyrinth and fulfilling their own roles… It would never have been possible alone.

Through cooperation, they were able to reach places that they could never have reached alone. By contributing to such a mysterious phenomenon, both Canule and Mitrof were filled with a quiet exhilaration, like a blue flame.

“Well done.”

Blanc Manje walked towards them after the battle had ended.

Mitrof sheathed his rapier and turned around.

“Is the quest complete now?”

“Of course. Your teamwork was even better than I had imagined—you make a great party, and I am looking forward to what comes next.”

Mitrof nodded at Blanc Manje’s words.

Canule looked down. She didn’t mention that this was her last adventure.

“I wonder why you entrusted us with this quest…You won’t tell us, will you?”

Blanc Manje responded with silence, slightly tilting her head as if Mitrof’s suspicion was conveyed through the hood.

‘There must be some reason’—Mitrof thought.

Blanc Manje knew that Mitrof had picked up on something.

Regardless, there was no point in dwelling on it if Blanc Manje wouldn’t talk. It was simply something that Mitrof did not need to know at the moment. Either way, when he decided to take on this request, Mitrof had already decided not to delve too deeply.

“The reward, is it that?”

“Yes, let me hand it over to you here—Apélie.”

Apélie Tiff was standing behind her with a burlap bag on her chest.

Apélie Tiff approached Mitrof.

“… Mitrof, I am also grateful. I can now walk on the road.”

“Be careful not to be attacked by rabbits again.”

“I won’t be attacked—I’m not that foolish.”

Apélie Tiff pursed her lips, and her animal ears also showed signs of discontent.

Mitrof laughed. Apélie Tiff, who had seemed unfriendly when they first met, had become much more expressive.

“You are aware that amber is valuable—please be careful with handling it.”

“Yeah, don’t worry—I already have plans for it.”

“Ara… just for reference, may I ask about your handling of money? They say that it tells a lot about a person’s character.”

Mitrof laughed as he received the bag from Apélie Tiff. That was his answer to Blanc Manje.

After completing the procedures at the guild’s reception counter in the labyrinth and before heading outside, they crossed the hall. That was where they found him.

A fully cladded armor stood in the center of the hall. The mirror-like polished silver knight armor looked majestic, but it seemed out of place in the adventurer’s guild.

“… Brother.”

Canule’s voice was small. It was a delicate voice that contained more resignation than surprise.

There was no doubt that the knight was waiting for Mitrof and Canule. The two headed towards the knight.

“Surprisingly quick.”

The knight spoke calmly.

“How long have you been waiting?”

“What, just two hours ago.”

It seemed like he had been standing in public for two hours. Mitrof was amazed at his nerve.

“We still have time until the promised day, don’t we?”

“Of course, I remembered—but I forgot to specify the location and time. I was waiting to finalize the details.”

It was true that they had not specified the location or time. Both Mitrof and Canule thought that it was best if the knight did not show up. There was no reason for them to set the conditions themselves.

“So, what do we do now?”

The knight asked Canule.

Mitrof turned to Canule.

Canule was staring at the ground with clenched fists.

Their adventure, their dream-like reality, was coming to an end. The future that she had run away from had finally caught up with her.

“——Now, let’s go.”

Canule said.

“Is that what you want?”

The knight asked.

“Yes—I’ll start feeling nostalgic if I don’t.”

Adventurers are coming and going around them. Although some glance at Mitrof and his companions, no one stops to speak. Everyone has somewhere to go and somewhere to return to.

That is true for Canule too, as she has a place she must return to. Mitrof understands this.

Canule turned to Mitrof.

“Mitrof-sama…I…”

Her words caught in her throat, and she swallowed as if trying to suppress something welling up inside her.

“…I’m sorry—I don’t have the right words to say.”

Why were tears mixed in her voice? Was it because of sadness, pain, or not joy but pain?

“You cry more easily than I thought.”

Mitrof said this and pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket, offering it to Canule.

“…No, I’m not—I’m not crying.

“Take it.”

Canule received it, given to her with a forceful push, still confused.

Mitrof took a step closer to Canule.

“I hate to ask for a replacement, but can I have one of your gloves?”

“Gloves?”

Despite her confusion, Canule obediently complied. She hid her hands inside her robe, took off one of her gloves, and handed it to Mitrof.

“I guess this is an exchange of parting gifts…”

Without answering her suddenly disheartened voice, Mitrof’s expression became serious and his gaze sharp. Canule noticed that the atmosphere was much more tense than when they fought against the dinoponera.

“I think I owe you an apology—from now on, I’ll behave selfishly on my own.”

“Mitrof-sama——?”

“I hardly know what I want to do—but I know, without a doubt, that this is what I want to do.”

Mitrof turned on his heel, walked towards the knight in full armor standing in the way, and stood directly in front of him. He stared up at the helmet hiding the person’s face.

“The contract end date is not yet due, but there shouldn’t be any problem, right?”

The knight said.

“Yes, it’s actually perfect timing.”

Mitrof nodded in agreement.

“Hmm…?”

Mitrof lifted Canule’s glove beside his face.

It was a mannerism that Mitrof was taught repeatedly as a child, but he never had the opportunity to use it throughout his life.

His heartbeat was so intense that it felt like his heart was being pushed up his chest. Cold sweat broke out on his hand and back.

The person in front of him was a knight.

One who was born to fight, raised to fight, and wielded a polished silver sword. Compared to the knight, monsters were nothing. There was a sense of what was to come, just standing there facing each other. Even before the challenge, the result was obvious.

Still, there are times when you cannot back down, and Mitrof knew that.

Mitrof threw the glove he was holding at the knight’s feet.

“…I challenge you to a duel.”

The sound of Canule gasping came from behind him.

Chapter 75: The fat aristocrat stands his ground

“Hou.”

The knight nodded without any sign of surprise.

“What are you betting on by holding the sword?”

“If I win, I get Canule. ”

“It would be so—then, what if I win?”

“A small bag of ‘amber.'”

“What…?”

At that moment, the knight’s voice was mixed with surprise and suspicion.

It was a small conviction. Mitrof didn’t know the true identity of ‘amber,’ but he knew its value.

Considering that Canule did not know about ‘amber’ and from Poisson’s words, it could be inferred that ‘amber’ had recently become popular among the powerful and only among aristocrats.

Mitrof knew that nobles and those in power had a keen eye for rare things and never missed the latest trends. They were always looking for something new and valuable, and they spared no effort to get it. By showing it off to other aristocrats, they demonstrated their status and power.

‘Amber’ was undoubtedly valued as a tool for that purpose.

And considering that Canule had most likely been the servant of a powerful person and the beauty of the knight’s armor before him, he thought that this knight must be connected to a powerful person.

Therefore, he must recognize the value of “amber.”

“Can I ask where you got it from?”

“I had a ‘business discussion’ with Blanc Manje.”

“Do you have proof?”

Mitrof took out the “amber” from the small bag on his waist. It was the one given to him as a gift from Apélie Tiff. He threw it, and the knight caught it without any trouble and examined it carefully.

“I see—it doesn’t seem to be fake.”

But as he tried to catch the “amber” thrown back to him, Mitrof missed, and it hit his protruding belly before falling to the floor.

“…”

“…”

Mitrof bent down, picked up the “amber,” and put it back in the small bag.

“If I win, I get Canule—If you win, I’ll give you a bag of this.”

Mitrof repeated the conditions as if nothing had happened.

“It’s an intriguing proposition, but do you think you can win against me?—A duel is different from facing a monster.”

“I understand that—how about conceding to come closer to agreeable conditions?”

“Conceding, you say?”

“If my sword touches your body, you’ll admit defeat.”

Mitrof boldly declared—shame and honor were cast aside. He proudly stood there with his chin up, arms folded, and exuded an aristocratic aura.

“Ha ha ha ha.” Laughter echoed inside the knight’s armor. It hardly stopped, causing his shoulders to shake.

“Do you not have any honor?—I’ve never heard of a challenger setting such conditions for a duel.”

“Honor? Such a thing does not exist—I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

The knight laughed again. He kneeled and picked up a black leather glove, tossing it at Mitrof’s feet.

“That condition will do—if your sword reaches me, I’ll accept my defeat.”

The knight stopped laughing.

Suddenly, he realizes that the atmosphere has changed. It’s become cold. There is no sense of ambition, passion, or hostility. The knight is simply icy cold, still, and quiet, like the surface of a lake at night.

“——Now, let’s have a ‘duel.'”

The location changes. It is now the courtyard of the guild. The place where Mitrof took the small shield course is a suitable location for dueling because it’s secluded from public view and the ground is well prepared.

Mitrof tells the receptionist a small lie about wanting to take another course before being escorted to this location.

The instructor, Sonn, is brought in again, but when Mitrof briefly tells him the situation, Sonn snorts and says, “Do whatever you want,” and lounges against the wall, claiming he will be working until the end of the allotted time.

The knight is already waiting, without preparation or stance. Mitrof recalls the phrase ‘the battlefield is always at hand.’

Mitrof is preparing to face him, but Canule won’t let him go.

“It’s impossible. Mitrof-sama, my brother is a monster.”

“Is he stronger than a red-eyed troll?”

“It’s foolish to compare.”

Mitrof was trying to tease, but Canule answered seriously, causing Mitrof to change his attitude.

“…I understand that he’s strong—no, I mean, I understand that he must be strong.”

“With all due respect, Mitrof-sama, you couldn’t even get close with a sword.”

“That’s what you think.”

Mitrof said it with a calm expression. While he looked reliable, to Canule, it seemed like the smile of someone who overestimated their own power.

“Indeed, Mitrof-sama may have achieved “sublimation” in the labyrinth!—However, my brother cannot be dealt with at that level!”

“I understand that you are afraid—your concern is appreciated, but please sit down.”

“Mitrof-sama!”

“Hey, Canule—what do you want to do?”

“Huh?”

Mitrof tapped Canule’s shoulder as he brushed past her.

“I’ll be back.”

“W-Wait, please!”

Without looking back, Mitrof headed towards the knight.

My brother is a monster.

Canule’s voice echoed in his ears—Canule was strong. If she even called his brother a monster, then the knight was even stronger.

There was no way he could win.

Mitrof knew this himself. He could hear his own voice telling him it was impossible.

He was scared—just plain scared.

His hands were shaking.

His legs were shaking.

He was about to wet himself.

It was foolish of him to challenge an opponent he believed he couldn’t beat. He asked himself multiple times why he was doing something so foolish.

Mitrof stepped unsteadily on the sandy ground. He stood in front of the knight and tightened the strap of his small shield.

“You can still withdraw.”

The knight spoke with a gentle voice.

Perhaps it was an act of mercy.

Mitrof sensed that his fear had been noticed.

His bluff, his smallness, and his weakness had been exposed.

Of course it had.

Compared to a knight, how was he?

His body was slack and untrained, with nothing accumulated, a thin backbone supporting him, and little experience.

It was evident before the fight even began. This was a useless endeavor.

That was precisely why Mitrof grasped his sword.

He drew it, performed a low sweep, and made a sharp sound cutting through the air.

Drawing an arc, he took a stance before him, holding the slender sword vertically. The sword raised was proof of nobility.

It was a fighting spirit, a stance taken to bet on one’s life and face the opponent.

“Very well.”

The knight nodded and drew his own sword, which was an ordinary straight sword. The knight also took a stance for the duel ceremony, and then he relaxed. His natural stance was either due to him being underestimated or it was his real stance.

Mitrof didn’t know which one it was. So, he had no choice but to move forward.

Chapter 76: The fat aristocrat never gives up

Mitrof stomped his trembling foot and aimed his sword thrust at the knight.

The knight evaded it.

Mitrof swung his sword recklessly with slashes, stabs, and strikes, but all of them missed.

The knight simply dodged the attacks with footwork alone. If Mitrof’s sword touched him, he would lose. Even knowing that condition, the knight stood close to the tip of the sword. He was perfectly reading the swordsmanship.

As time passed, Mitrof became short of breath, and sweat dripped down his face.

When he dodged a thrust with Mitrof’s weight on it, the knight’s arm moved. Mitrof instinctively set up his small shield.

Impact.

“Gah!”

He couldn’t withstand it. The sword from the lower side bounced Mitrof up with the shield. His feet floated. Then his body was pulled towards the ground, and he rolled over.

He immediately stood up, wielding his sword. The knight remained motionless, waiting.

“Are you still going to fight?”

“——Of course.”

Mitrof charged forward.

He thrust and swept his sword, as it was the only thing he could do—but his sword did not reach the knight.

The knight swung his sword as if recalling something. Mitrof, on the other hand, obstinately tried to block it with his shield. Every time, his body was thrown back and rolled miserably on the ground.

Covered in sand and dirt, Mitrof rubbed his limbs, yet he immediately stood up again.

Four times, five times, six times… before he lost count of how many times he had rolled.

His breath was unsteady.

His throat was hoarse, his shoulders were rising and falling, and sweat was pouring down his face and dripping off his chin.

He rolled again, then lay face down, pressing his shield against the ground to lift his body. The knight stood and looked down at Mitrof.

He whimpered, “Buhiii” and made wheezing noises.

He had dirt in his mouth and couldn’t even spit out saliva.

His breath was rough and fast, with his nose and mouth wide open. Foam appeared at the corner of his mouth, and even the snot flowing from his nose was left as it was.

Mitrof stood up with his heavy body, but he still readied his sword.

“You…”

The knight opened his mouth.

“Your way of fighting is not noble enough—who did you learn it from?”

“…Haa, a-adventurer. Buhi…”

“An adventurer, huh? No wonder you use a dirty sword.”

When Mitrof was young, he was obsessed with swords. Previously, dueling etiquette was considered a necessary education for the nobility, but in the present world, no one values it anymore. The nobility no longer dueled.

Therefore, Mitrof’s private tutor was probably a man that the steward had found somewhere.

The man, who was said to be an adventurer, trained Mitrof well.

Countless times, without reserve, the man knocked Mitrof down.

“Buhi, buhi… snort, snort…”

Mitrof couldn’t help but laugh.

‘Ah, how nostalgic,’ Mitrof thought. His tired body, lack of oxygen, and pain throughout his body made his consciousness loosen. Memories of the past that he usually couldn’t find were unexpectedly vividly resurrected.

Back then, he also rolled on the ground like this but still stood up and fought. He didn’t stop even though his father frowned at him, his nanny worried about him, and the steward subtly advised him to quit.

“That must have been… because I liked it…”

‘The sword? No, that’s not it…’

Words were dancing inside Mitrof’s head, floating aimlessly.

Dragging his heavy feet, Mitrof challenged his opponent. He thrust his sword towards the knight, who evaded and struck back.

Unconsciously, he put his shield in front of him, something that Sonn had taught him in great detail during their training sessions.

Come to think of it, Sonn was also strong, just like this, as Mitrof was once again sent rolling across the ground.

He thought of something insignificant as he tumbled over. The pain and the impact were indistinguishable by now.

He rolled and rolled until he finally laid flat on his back.

Looking up at the sky, he thought to himself, ‘Ah, it’s evening.’ The color of the sunset in the labyrinth was different. But there was something familiar about this particular evening. It was the same sky from long ago.

He was incredibly sleepy. He felt as if his entire body was melting into the ground like mud.

‘I think I’ve done enough,’ he told himself.

——Suddenly, someone’s face loomed over him as he lay on his back.

It was a man. A man with a bearded face and a menacing stare stood against the setting sun, looking at Mitrof in disbelief.

“What’s wrong, young master?—Are you done already?”

“… My body is heavy, and I’m sleepy.”

“Well, then, you can’t use this sword.”

The man was holding a thrusting sword. ‘No, wait, that should be my sword…’

“…It’s impossible—I’m just a child—there’s no way I can beat an adult like you.”

“I didn’t say you had to win—just graze the tip, and you’re the winner.”

“…That’s still impossible.”

“This is why young nobles are troublesome—let me teach you a useful phrase: ‘One thrust for retaliation.’ No matter how difficult it is, one thrust will always reach its target—the most important thing is…”

“…What’s the most important thing?”

“Willpower.”

“…The willpower theory? That’s irrational.”

“——Sama! Mitrof-sama!”

The images overlapped. The contour of the bearded man turned into a black hood.

The girl was looking down at him. Her long platinum hair hung down, and the tips tickled Mitrof’s nose. Tears streaked down the girl’s smooth white cheeks. Her transparent yellow eyes, like water, were just like…

“Your eyes are like ‘sweet nectar’.”

“——Mitrof, sama?”

Suddenly, the image became clear. There was a skull inside the hood.

“…Canule, you are quite beautiful.”

“What are you saying?! Keep your wits about you!—Please stop, I beg of you…!”

“Right.”

Mitrof answered and stood up. His knees were shaking. Even so, his hands could still grip the thrusting sword.

“Mitrof-sama! It’s impossible!—You cannot defeat my brother!”

“Yeah, I can’t win.”

“Then, why…!”

Canule’s voice was trembling. Mitrof seemed to see tears streaming down her cheeks like an illusion.

Canule clung to Mitrof’s arm.

“I know.”

Mitrof said. Blood was flowing from his chafed cheeks. His left eye was swollen from the impact of hitting the shield, and his field of vision was closing up.

“Even if I can’t win, I can at least get in one blow.”

Mitrof showed his sword, a crude thrusting sword.

A unique sword made to strike monsters, although it was a noble’s sword. It was an unadorned lump without any beautiful ornamentation. It was the same sword that the man who was once Mitrof’s teacher had wielded.

“This is my proof—I had completely forgotten. This sword was the only thing I had ever grasped with my own hands… It will reach—no matter how impossible it seems, no matter how unsightly it may be, if you try, someday it will reach—one blow, that’s enough.”

Mitrof looked at Canule’s hand. Her single gloved hand still rested in Mitrof’s pocket, while Canule’s bony hand was bare. Mitrof gently rested his own hand on Canule’s.

“I… had given up. I didn’t even try to do anything. I only lived in the given world. But I have always wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to do what I couldn’t do. I learned at that time that if I challenged myself, even if I couldn’t win, even if it seemed impossible, there are things that I can obtain.”

Mitrof looked at Canule. He could no longer see that hallucination, but he knew Canule’s eyes were still there.

“Canule, you don’t have a ‘sword’. That’s why you give up… I will show you. A thrust can hit. We can challenge it. We don’t have to give up on anything, no matter who tells us… So watch me.”

Mitrof’s head was fuzzy. He didn’t even understand what he was saying. He was spilling out what overflowed from his heart.

Mitrof pushed Canule aside and approached the knight. The knight remained unchanged, unshaken, and standing still.

“Sorry for the wait.”

“No problem.”

Mitrof brushed his sword. He swung it in an arc and raised it in front of him. His hand shook from the sword’s weight, and the sword clattered.

“Why do you fight for others like that?—Your behavior is like that of an old knight rather than a nobleman.”

“I don’t know.”

Mitrof replied curtly.

“I don’t care if you are a nobleman or a knight—I am just doing what I want to do.”

Mitrof stepped forward. He had no strength left, but there was something still residing within him.

“——What matters is willpower.”

“Just relying on willpower won’t solve everything.”

The foil pierces through the air. The knight swings his sword. Mitrof sees it all. The calmness of his thoughts gained through “sublimation” instructs him to raise his shield.

However, his arm is too heavy. He can’t make it in time…

“——Huh.”

A shadow suddenly intervenes. It was Canule.

She deflects the knight’s sword with her round shield and pushes him back. The knight quickly steps backwards.

“What kind of knight interferes in a duel?”

“——I’m no longer a knight.”

With her round shield in hand, Canule stands between Mitrof and the knight. Mitrof’s small back trembles as he watches.

“I… still want to be here—not as a knight, but as Canule—to protect this person!”

Canule removes her remaining glove, revealing both of her bony hands. She throws the glove at the knight’s feet.

“I challenge you to a duel—I am Mitrof-sama’s shield—let’s fight together.”

“So you want to fight me, your older brother?”

“Yes.”

“What do you wager?”

“My life.”

It was a firm voice.

The knight fell silent for a moment, then picked up the glove. He stared at his hand, and after barely clenching it once, he tossed it away.

“Very well—come at me together.”

That was when the knight first held up his sword.

“Please forgive me for this, Mitrof-sama.”

Canule called out while holding her shield.

“But this is your fault, Mitrof-sama.”

“…My fault?”

“Because you gave it to me.”

“I don’t remember giving you anything.”

“No, no—I received many things from you—I saw hope in you—I want to see it with my own eyes, Mitrof-sama, your sword reaching my brother.”

“I see.”

“Therefore, please allow me to serve as your shield.”

“Understood. I leave it to you.”

You are not alone. That’s why there are things you can do.

Mitrof felt a surge of energy boiling up from within his exhausted body.

He had thought it impossible.

But now he felt he could still do it.

He felt his heart becoming lighter with the realization that he didn’t have to carry everything on his own, and a burning passion ignited within him.

“…We are a party.”

“Yes!”

The knights came, his sword gleaming sharper than before. However, Canule accurately and calmly deflected his attack. The metallic sound and sparks flew. Despite the knight’s fierce strikes, Canule did not retreat.

“——Hmm.”

doubts or discomfort. The knight changed the trajectory of his sword. With a step forward, he put all his strength into a single blow. But even that, Canule took head-on. Her feet were firmly on the ground.

The two had fought countless battles before, but Canule had never won even once.

But now, Canule was a cursed being. In exchange for losing her human form, she gained the power of a monster. Her strength supported her shield, turning Canule’s will into an iron wall.

“——Aahh!”

The clash of shield and sword. Canule pushed forward and gained the upper hand. The knight took a step back, his boots thudding against the ground.

Mitrof, who had been gathering strength behind Canule, jumped out.

He positioned himself on the opposite side of the arm holding the sword, aimed for the shortest distance, and thrust with sharpness, but it was avoided.

Canule swung her shield in time with Mitrof’s rhythm, but she was pushed back with a sword.

‘Not yet,’ thought Mitrof. Ever since the battle began, he knew there was only one chance of winning.

Mitrof lowered his posture and stepped forward, clashing with his narrow, needle-like sword.

The knight dodged and aimed his sword at Mitrof.

‘Not yet——’

Canule interfered, deflecting the sword. Mitrof stepped in from the other side and struck with his sword.

The knight dodged again, pushing Canule’s shield away with his fist to create an opening between her and Mitrof.

Canule wielded her shield as the knight attacked with his sword. Mitrof aimed for the knight’s leg, but the knight lifted his leg. Canule tried to strike the knight’s face with her shield, but the knight lowered his posture. The knight’s sword deflected Mitrof’s attack as he was aiming for the stomach. The battle was an intense exchange of offense and defense, with the knight successfully preventing and dodging all attacks.

Canule blocked all of the knight’s sword strikes aimed at Mitrof.

‘Not yet——’

In the midst of the fight, where they couldn’t even let their guard down for a moment, Mitrof and Canule’s thoughts were connected. Canule sensed Mitrof’s intentions, and Mitrof responded to Canule’s movements.

They knew each other so well. They shared the same rhythm, matching their steps and movements, supporting each other, and synchronizing their breaths, as if they were dancing a waltz together.

Mitrof’s mind sharpened as the battle continued, but his physical stamina was drained. However, his mental and emotional strength kept him going.

The movements of the two became refined. Attack and defense became one. Canule with the shield and Mitrof with the sword. Their breathing finally became one, and then…

In a moment when Canule deflected the knight’s sword, Mitrof’s strike threatened the knight.

“——”

The knight reacted. It was not his rational mind, but instinct. The instinct of a trained fighter senses danger and acts reflexively. He countered Mitrof’s attack while deflecting his sword.

The movement that he had practiced unimaginably for so long had become ingrained to the point that it was no longer related to his intent. ——The sword swung faster than he could think; it was a sure strike to take down Mitrof.

The knight’s counter-attack was infused with a sense of impending death.

——Here it comes, finally.

This was precisely what Mitrof had been waiting for.

He knew that the knight would hold back. Against someone like himself, there was no need or intention to go all out.

Holding back is a sign of composure. There are no weaknesses in a composed person.

It only takes a moment. Can he take away the opponent’s composure? Can he force the knight to unleash an “unrestricted attack”? There was no other way for Mitrof to find a chance to win.

The knight’s attack is fearsome. However, Mitrof confronts him.

With a cold and ruthless mental strength strengthened by “sublimation,” the fear was overwhelmed, and he stepped forward.

Gritting his teeth, he tightly gripped the handle with all his remaining strength, ready to endure the pain.

He looked at the knight’s sword. Calmly and quietly, his accelerated mind gave him a moment to accurately determine the trajectory of the sword.

He placed the small shield where he thought the attack would come. That was how to use it.

Mitrof raised his small shield and stepped forward, thrusting his arm and his entire weight into the thrust with the stab sword. It was an attack that had nothing to do with elegance.

A shock ran through his left arm. The unreserved blow exceeded Mitrof’s imagination. The small shield broke with a blunt sound.

It didn’t matter to Mitrof. He knew it from the beginning. Whether his arm or shield would break, the opportunity only existed in the gap where they both got hit.

‘Deliver,’ Mitrof shouted.

Just one thrust.

——And then Mitrof’s consciousness ended.

Chapter 77: The fat aristocrat snores

He was waving a branch.

Mitrof dreamed of a distant memory from long ago.

The morning after a stormy day, branches from the trees were scattered in the yard. The gardener and some of the idle servants were gathering the branches.

Mitrof found a suitable branch and picked it up.

——Mother, look at this.

Mitrof waved the branch and showed the swordsmanship form he had just learned.

——Well, Mitrof, that’s brave of you.

His mother smiled, or at least he thought she did.

Even in his dreams, Mitrof could no longer picture his mother’s face.

——I will protect you with this.

——Then you must become strong. Strength is necessary to protect others.

Someone placed his hand on Mitrof’s head as he spoke. Looking up, it was his young father, his face soft. He hadn’t seen that expression in a long time.

——I have heard that you have a talent for the sword. Keep working hard.

——Yes, Father!

Mitrof laughed at these words.

So he wields the sword.

Everything is connected to the present.

It seems that the words left behind in a distant memory have been completely forgotten.

Suddenly, his consciousness awoke.

When he opened his eyes, he was in a sickroom. The only light came from lanterns on the wall, and the room was immersed in a deep blue. The curtains hung on the window were swaying gently, pregnant with the night breeze. Outside the window, the night had already deepened, and the moon was covered by clouds.

“——Mitrof-sama, you’re awake.”

At the sound of the voice, Mitrof turned his gaze.

Canule was standing on the opposite side of the window.

“Canule, I…”

“You lost consciousness after receiving my brother’s sword—you were reckless.”

Her tone was scolding, but her voice was gentle.

“Your left arm was almost torn off.”

Canule spoke softly, saying something unusual.

“…You’re joking, right?”

“No.”

“May I see my left arm?”

“Of course.”

With fear in his heart, Mitrof slowly raised his head and looked at his left arm. It was wrapped in a bandage and covered with a cast.

“…For now, it’s still attached.”

“I asked the priest to connect it with healing magic.”

“…That must have cost a lot.”

“There’s no other way—it can’t replace Mitrof-sama’s arm.”

With a nod, Mitrof sank his head into the pillow.

He had a vague sense of something.

“I couldn’t reach it, could I?”

Looking up at the ceiling, Mitrof murmured.

Canule was too calm. His arm was almost torn off. This was a sickroom. He didn’t think he had won.

“I’m sorry, Canule.”

As Mitrof apologized, Canule placed her hand above Mitrof’s head. She wore black leather gloves that were clenched like a fist.

Visible on Mitrof’s frowning forehead, Canule opened her hand. She was holding something like a red tassel.

“There’s a message from my brother—you were excellent.”

“Huh?”

Mitrof quickly sat up and screamed in pain from his left arm.

“Mitrof-sama! The magic worked, but you need to rest for a week—does it hurt?”

It felt like a spiked iron ball was mixed in with the plaster that encased his left arm. Mitrof was holding up his upper body with his right arm while tears streamed down his face.

“I guess my left arm is complaining about the way it’s been treated… But what about it? Did my sword reach him?

Canule nodded.

“This is the tassel of my brother’s sword belt—your thrust reached him.”

The tassel was the final proof of Mitrof’s sword. The knight may have evaded it, but the sword’s tip cut the tassel that bounced with the knight’s sudden movement.

Mitrof smiled. A sense of calmness that permeated his entire body overcame him.

If you touch the knight, you win—is the tassel of the sword belt considered a part of the knight?

It’s doubtful, but the knight acknowledged his defeat. Therefore, Mitrof could accept this as his victory.

“Canule, your brother is terribly strong.”

“Yes. I have never won even once.”

“But this time, we’ve won.”

“Yes, I witnessed Mitrof-sama’s strike for sure.”

Finally, joy mixed with that voice.

Mitrof looks at Canule. His expression is hidden below the hood, which is inconvenient, but he is used to it.

“Canule, you are now free. Do as you please. If you can, explore the labyrinth with me—It would be helpful.”

“May I really do as I please?”

“Of course. There’s no one here to give orders, control you, or tell you where to live.”

“…In that case.”

Canule stood up from the chair. She takes the round shield leaning against the wall and returns to kneel before Mitrof.

The clouds covering the moon passed by, and a bright light shone through the window behind them, illuminating Mitrof’s back and Canule kneeling in front of him.

“I just want to be a shield for Mitrof-sama, as a simple Canule—my greatest wish is to see what you will do and how far you will go from the closest distance possible.”

——May I have your permission?

Canule held the round shield with both hands, like a knight’s ordination ceremony. Though there was no sword, which is a symbol of a knight, offering the shield was very fitting for Canule, making Mitrof laugh.

Mitrof received the shield with his right arm. Normally, he would tap the knight’s shoulder and congratulate her, but the shield was too heavy for Mitrof to do that.

“Sorry, I don’t look the part.” Mitrof returned the shield with a wry smile.

“——forgive me. Work hard.”

“——Yes.”

“But we are comrades and equals.”

“Understood.”

Canule nodded while still kneeling, speaking stiffly. Mitrof was unsure if it was Canule’s ingrained personality or if she simply did not want to change.

‘Well, it’s okay.’

“I’m glad you’re here.”

Mitrof conveyed his gratitude and laid down on the bed once again. As if sinking to the bottom of the water, he fell into a deep sleep.

Soon, a snoring sound echoed in the room. From Mitrof’s slightly upturned nose, a loud noise that couldn’t be described as a peaceful breath came out.

Again, clouds were obscuring the moon. Slowly, the room grew darker. Soft silver light spilled through the gaps in the clouds.

Mitrof’s snoring echoed in the room.

Beside him, a girl watched over Mitrof’s sleeping face for a long time.

Chapter 78: The fat aristocrat knows the answer

It wasn’t difficult to find him.

After all, his entire body was clad in magnificent silver armor. If you asked some townspeople, they would say they saw him over there or that he was spotted here. Therefore, if you walked around, you would find the knight standing in front of a food stall in the daytime market.

“Sir knight, I cannot accept silver coins!”

“It’s okay; changes are not necessary.”

“You are too modest!”

Mitrof smiled a little and approached, paying with copper coins from the side.

“Oh, it’s you—are you feeling better now?”

“Yes, thanks to you—if you hadn’t stopped me, I would’ve lost weight.”

“It’s better to exercise if you want to lose weight—it’s good for your health too.”

‘That’s not what I’m talking about,’ Mitrof chuckled.

“I was looking for you.”

“Do you need something?”

“No, I came to see you off.”

He had heard from Canule that the knight would be leaving the city today. Although he was still in considerable pain and fatigue, he managed to walk around after a good night’s sleep.

The knight chuckled softly.

“It’s lonely to leave without a send-off—I’m grateful for this.”

The daytime market had a different kind of liveliness compared to the night market. Many young people and women were shopping. The narrow roads were congested around this area, mainly because people avoided the knights standing in front of the food stalls.

Mitrof called out to the knight and started walking, heading towards one of the narrow paths leading away from the market.

They stopped and faced each other. Mitrof bowed.

“…Thank you.”

“I’ve already received your gratitude earlier.”

“No, that’s not it—I was wondering if you never intended to bring Canule back from the start.”

“That’s a strange thing to say.”

“When I first met you, I used an old contract as an excuse to avoid going with you.”

“Yes, contracts are to be upheld.”

“But if you really had the intention to bring Canule back, you could have just ignored me; you could have said you’d pay a penalty for breaking the contract; you could have beaten me down; there were plenty of means available, but you didn’t consider them.”

“Hmm.”

The knight neither acknowledged nor denied it, he simply nodded. It was an unresponsive reaction, but Mitrof continued speaking without minding.

“When we talked at the night market, there was a word that bothered me.”

“What did I say?”

“If you don’t have the resolve and strength, you can’t stick to your selfishness… and you asked me, ‘Do you understand?'”

That became the trigger for Mitrof to come up with the idea of challenging him to a duel.

“It sounded like you were saying that if you have the resolve and strength, you can stick to your selfishness.”

“I see—words can have different meanings depending on how you interpret them.”

Mitrof looked up at the knight, but his expression was unreadable, just like Canule’s. Therefore, Mitrof couldn’t confirm the answer, and maybe it was just Mitrof’s wishful thinking.

If that’s the case, it’s all good.

That’s what Mitrof thought, and he even put those feelings into his question.

“You didn’t want to bring Canule back—but you couldn’t abandon your duty either—so, you wanted someone to stop you—you wanted to set aside some time to think; you instigated me, and I accepted the due—you really wanted to free Canule, didn’t you?”

There was a brief silence.

The knight chuckled.

“Do you think I intentionally lost then?”

“…Yes, I do.”

“That’s quite disrespectful to me—and to you, as well—I certainly held back, but at that moment, I was serious. I cut off your arm, and your sword reached me. It was amazing.”

Although out of place, Mitrof felt a tremble of excitement from the knight’s praise from high up above. At the same time, he became curious.

“…Cut off?—Was my arm cut off?”

“——Oops, slip my tongue.”

“Wait, cut, cut off? My arm?”

“It’s okay. It was quickly reconnected. That local priest has good hands and seems to be accustomed to connecting adventurers’ arms. Ha ha ha.”

“No, not ‘hahaha’, but my arm, you know…”

He alternated between looking at his left arm and the knight. He put pressure on it out of anxiety. It hurt, but his fingers moved without discomfort.

“That girl made me promise not to say anything—she said it’d be too much of a shock—come on, you’ll be fine, you’re a man—It’s just an arm.”

Mitrof was about to protest, but he relaxed his shoulders. ‘No, it’s okay; it’s still intact…’

The knight extended his hand towards Mitrof, who was trying to come to terms with reality. It was holding a short sword.

“What is this?”

“A meal gift from the food stall.”

“You’re very kind, too.”

Although Mitrof couldn’t appraise weapons, it was clearly not a cheap one. There was no way he could accept it.

Before Mitrof could refuse, the knight spoke up.

“——Please take care of my sister.”

“…I understand—leave it to me.”

Mitrof nodded and accepted the short sword. It was heavy, not just because of the iron.

Nodding in satisfaction, the knight then said, “Well then, I should be going now.”

In the end, Mitrof did not answer the knight’s question. He was skillfully dodged. Sighing, Mitrof then held out the bag he had been carrying on his shoulder.

“Take this with you.”

“Is this a parting gift?”

“It’s ‘amber’.”

The knight tilted his head. It was supposed to be something Mitrof would hand over if he was defeated.

“Money is power.”

Mitrof said.

“To stick to your selfishness, you need power, right?—Please give it to Canule’s father. A foolish noble child who pretends to be an adventurer in the labyrinth wants to hire Canule. If you tell him that, it should be convenient for you too. I want you to leave a place for Canule to come back to someday when she says she wants to return.”

The knight remained silent, staring at Mitrof for a while.

Eventually, he let out a sigh and took the bag from Mitrof.

“You really are an ordinary boy.”

“What do you mean all of a sudden?”

“Your sword skills are not bad, but not extraordinary; your intelligence is not necessarily sharp either; you are a rough gemstone without money, power, or status.”

“Are you trying to praise me or insult me?”

“While it may not be apparent to others, you seem to possess a ‘golden spirit’.”

‘Golden spirit’—the knight had uttered those words before.

“What is a ‘golden spirit’?”

“Well, if I were to use your words, it would be ‘willpower’.”

“…Do knights really need such ornamental language for even a single word?”

“He he he, don’t be like that—it’s better to have some decoration.”

The knight holds up a bag.

“I thank you for your consideration, and I’ll gladly take it—I should refuse, but I want it so badly.”

“Can I ask one thing? What is ‘amber’? I only know it as a euphemism for ‘sweet nectar’.”

“A euphemism?—That’s exactly what it is.”

The knight spoke with ease and without affectation.

“This is the ‘sweet nectar’ that is only mined in the labyrinth, so to speak; it’s like ‘maple syrup’.”

“Um…what?”

Mitrof opened his mouth, looking puzzled.

“Its supreme sweetness is said to be like a ladder to heaven with just one lick—the queen is particularly fond of it—now, noblewomen are making a big fuss to get their hands on ‘amber’ from all over.”

“Is it…syrup?”

“Yes. It looks like a stone, but It apparently melts when heated.”

“I see…sweet nectar, huh.”

“Yeah. What’s wrong?”

“No, it’s fine—I also love ‘sweet nectar.'”

Mitrof took a deep breath, slowly.

Chapter 79: The fat aristocrat is still in need of money

For the past week, Mitrof has taken a break from exploring the labyrinth.

Although his arm had been severed once, the pain had gradually subsided, and he felt no difference in sensation. However, his anxiety remained, and he had no intention of violating the doctor’s orders to rest for a while.

After finally receiving the doctor’s approval that he had fully recovered, Mitrof could once again return to being an adventurer.

The small shield, which had been quite useful, was now completely broken. He now wore leather gauntlets on his left arm, which had been repaired and were now providing protection.

As he headed towards the plaza in front of the guild, he noticed someone standing out in a black robe, carrying a large bag and a round shield on her back.

“Canule, sorry to keep you waiting.”

“No problem—how was the check-up?”

“I’m completely healed now—the doctor said I’m back to normal.”

Despite the turbulent times they had gone through, life seemed to have returned to normal. Mitrof and Canule were standing together, ready to dive back into the labyrinth as adventurers.

Mitrof’s dwelling was still at that cheap inn partnered with the guild.

What a terrible place. Every day, morning and night, it’s noisy with someone’s voice, it’s unhygienic, and the bed is small.

The only meals available are from food stalls, but lately Canule has been taking care of the cooking.

The clothes are secondhand, but he bought them again. After all, they were torn and bloodied in a duel with a knight.

Things gradually change, yet stay the same. That seems to be Mitrof’s wish these days.

The two head towards the guild counter. They greet the receptionist, whom they know well, and ask for assistance.

“Oh, it’s been a while, Mitrof-san.”

“I got injured a little.”

“Is your health better now?”

“I’m completely better now—I received a lot of care at the infirmary—and my left arm is also happy.”

“I see. Ah, yes, the bill from the infirmary is here.”

“…That’s right. I haven’t paid for the medical treatment yet.”

To Mitrof who casually asked how much it would cost, the receptionist returned an awkward smile.

“Mitrof-san, did you receive a very serious injury?”

‘I couldn’t say that my left arm is a little off.’

As if trying to gauge Mitrof’s reaction, the receptionist hesitantly announced the cost of treatment.

“——Oh, I see. Well, that’s probably right. My arm has been reattached. It’s pretty…… cheap.”

“Mitrof-sama, please be careful.”

Canule supported Mitrof, who was unsteady on his feet, from the side.

Mitrof held his head in his hands. It was a significant amount of money.

Mitrof realized that he had to face a terrible problem. There was none more challenging than this.

Should he sell the “amber” that he had left as the only remaining option to pay for the treatment cost? Or should he melt it down and eat it? That was the problem.

‘Do they tell me to give up the supreme sweetness of the nectar loved by the queen, which creates a ladder to the heavens?’

Mitrof looked up at the sky with an agonized expression.

“Money. I want money—money is everything in this world.”

And Mitrof murmured.

End of Volume 2

Chapter 80: The fat aristocrat continues to have money problems

Click, click, snap.

Scratch, scratch, click, click.

——It’s all because you got scared over there, right?!

——Am I always to blame only when it’s inconvenient for you?!

Through the thin walls, the sounds of men shouting in the next room could be heard.

Thud, slam, rip, tear

Click, click, snap, scratch.

“Hmm—this week’s earnings are not bad—let’s allocate some extra for reserves.”

Stopping his hands from tapping the worn-out abacus he’d bought at a flea market, Mitrof wrote the numbers in his notebook.

The small room in the shabby inn arranged by the guild had no chairs. Mitrof sat on the coat spread on the floor, using the bed as his desk.

The pages were neatly lined, detailing expenses and income from daily life and exploration in fine print.

At the same time as a muffled scream, a loud thud was heard from the upper floor, and dust and sand rained down.

Brushing off the sand from his hair and shoulders with one hand, Mitrof pressed the tip of his pen to his lips.

“The repayments are going well—Canule said she plans to buy more cooking utensils… I wonder how much I can lend her.”

Mitrof is a son of a nobleman. Not only the management of the estate but also the money account is an indispensable skill.

Having had strict tutoring from a young age, bookkeeping is not a burden. His tutors probably never thought it would come in handy like this.

Currently, Mitrof is in debt.

Last month, Mitrof dueled a knight for personal reasons. As a result, he had to ask a priest at a medical facility for treatment since he was injured.

Priests are known to have magic that can heal even severe injuries, and it is called a “miracle.” But it comes with an incredibly high price tag, called a “donation.”

Although they won’t engage in shady business practices like lending at high-interest rates to those who can’t afford it, they cannot default on their payments.

Therefore, Mitrof is repaying his debt in installments.

Many adventurers like Mitrof are in debt to medical facilities and priests. Some are even forced to continue as adventurers to pay off their debts.

Adventurers burdened with medical expenses become more cautious. They cannot afford to accumulate injuries. Mitrof was no exception and had been taking a steady and safe approach to labyrinth exploration lately.

Mitrof found the signature written in the lower right corner, and widened his eyes in understanding.

Suddenly, the wall next door shook with a loud noise. It seemed like something big had collided.

“Well, I’d like to pay it off once and for all.”

Although there were some savings, they were reserved for emergencies. He couldn’t use them all for repayment.

Mitrof, however, believed that there was a way to earn a large sum of money.

Blanc Manje. She is the “chief” of the people living in the labyrinth. She oversees the production of “amber,” a very rare sweet nectar generated in the labyrinth.

Recently, Mitrof received a request from her and was rewarded with a small bag of amber. He entrusted it to someone else, so he didn’t know how much it would sell for, but he knew it would be helpful for repayment.

However, the “people of the labyrinth” and a woman named Blanc Manje were both unfathomable. Mitrof was a little scared of getting actively involved with them and what effect it would have, as there was clearly some motive behind Blanc Manje’s actions.

For now, all he could do was chip away at the numbers bit by bit. It was the only answer that Mitrof could come up with, no matter how much he thought about it.

And so, Mitrof held up his notebook in front of him.

The decreasing numbers of his debts. Watching them go down had become Mitrof’s recent source of enjoyment.

It was a tangible result that he could see with his own eyes.

A loud noise echoed from the wall. A fight had finally broken out in the next room. Upstairs, the floorboards were creaking non-stop. Complaints about the noise could be heard from somewhere.

But Mitrof had already become accustomed to the noise of the cheap lodgings.

He let out a yawn and snuffed out the lantern before slipping into bed.

Chapter 81: The fat aristocrat looking for medicinal herbs

At first, it was so surprising that it made them feel dizzy, but they got used to it just like everything else.

As Mitrof and Canule entered the third level, they saw an adventurer party who seemed to have visited here for the first time, making a commotion in the crimson-red area with the ceiling visible.

They thought back to when they were like that too and smiled a little bit.

After passing through the checkpoint in front of the Great Elevator and continuing down the path, the two were aiming for the 14th floor underground.

Just walking alone would take time, and they couldn’t ignore the monsters along the way. By the time they returned, if they stopped for breaks, it would be nighttime.

They were always worried about whether they should use the Great Elevator or not, but the price was still the main issue.

Once they reached the third level, beginners were considered graduates. As proof, the wing emblem was stamped on their guild card, allowing them to use the Great Elevator.

Mitrof and the others were aiming to use the great elevator that could compress the travel time for their exploration, but reality doesn’t always go as planned.

As the levels go deeper, the purchase price of items collected from monsters increases. The danger and profit also increase, but so does the price of the great elevator proportional to it.

They knew they would have to make a decision to convert money into time at some point, but they couldn’t bring themselves to make the decision easily because of the burden of medical expenses.

“Canule, are you tired?”

Mitrof turned around and asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Is there any problem with its ease of use?”

“No, everything is fine.”

Canule carried a large backpack on her back. The backpack was made of the same material as the sails of a sailboat.

It was sturdy, resistant to dirt, and could hold a large amount of luggage. If one overlooked the disadvantage of its weight, it was the best material for adventurers.

As the exploration time extended, the necessary supplies and materials to bring back increased. Thanks to Canule’s proposal, they made a good purchase that prioritized convenience over the amount of expenditure. The two of them nodded in agreement that it was a good deal.

The sight of petite Canule carrying a bag wider than her body looks awkward to outsiders.

Even when carrying the collection items from the monster back to Mitrof, who struggles under the weight, Canule appears untroubled and carries them effortlessly.

This was not only because she had trained as a knight but also because she was cursed by an ancient relic produced by the labyrinth.

Through the inexplicable magic that modern magicians cannot decipher, Canule lost her human body and transformed into a skeletal figure. At the same time, she gained inhuman strength and the ability to go without eating or sleeping.

Due to her appearance, Canule could not register as an official adventurer with the guild. However, she demonstrated her strength as a porter and shield bearer, moving around freely.

On the 12th and 13th floors, which were already familiar to them, the two of them progressed without any danger.

Thanks to their careful exploration of each floor and the loss of money for Mitrof’s injuries and treatment, they became accustomed to dealing with the monsters on this floor.

Without hurry or exertion, they still increase their pace slightly as they aim for the 14th floor, where Mitrof’s desired item is said to be. It’s about money.

“Is it really there?”

Canule’s doubts slipped out, and Mitrof nodded in response, keeping his gaze around cautiously.

“I’m worried too—but there are documents and information. I can’t believe it until I see it with my own eyes, but there are medicinal herbs on the 14th floor.”

“It seems strange that plants can grow in such an underground place.”

“I agree. However, it’s the labyrinth after all…”

In the labyrinth, nothing is surprising, and adventurers eventually come to share that awareness.

In simple terms, the labyrinth is a cave deep underground. Since sunlight cannot reach it, it’s hard to imagine an environment where plants like medicinal herbs could thrive.

However, monsters are still alive. They must be feeding on something to sustain themselves. Mitrof couldn’t help but wonder how they were able to live.

“It’s hard to believe that there’s a light like dusk on this third level.”

“That’s true—we’ve gotten used to it without even realizing it.”

Up to the 10th floor, they challenged the labyrinth in the dark, relying on lanterns to light the way.

On the 11th floor—the third level—the view is clear, like on the surface. The labyrinth’s luminous moss grows on the walls, always glowing a bright red.

“It’s not that surprising that the herbs are growing in abundance now. It’s actually a good thing. It’s ideal for earning money.”

“Herbs are always in high demand for ointments, potions, etc.”

“The treatment center said they would accept repayment with medicinal herbs instead of money—let’s collect as much as we can here and repay the debt quickly.”

“Yes, we will definitely do that.”

As they approached their destination, they sped up their pace, remaining vigilant and not letting their guard down. The two of them steadily filled in the map.

Crossing the days while repeatedly saying “tomorrow is the day,” they finally descended the stairs to the 14th floor today.

Chapter 82: The fat aristocrat buys rumors from informants

Although they were both eager to explore, they understood that rushing would be of little benefit.

In the labyrinth, how one conserves their physical and mental strength directly affects the exploration time.

In the rest areas, which are the safe zones of the labyrinth, adventurers can be categorized into those who maintain good manners and those who are sloppy and relaxed. This division is usually between beginners and experienced adventurers.

Although the sloppy adventurers may seem like careless slackers, in reality, they are the ones who truly understand how to explore the labyrinth.

When there is a chance to rest, they rest as much as they want. They recover their mind and body and try again, minimizing injuries and achieving better results. Mitrof gained this knowledge through observation.

That is why he enjoyed Canule’s large dish of food to his heart’s content in the plaza before the stairs to the 14th floor.

It is not because of his own gluttony.

Without making any excuses or addressing anyone in particular, Mitrof finished eating the last piece of meat and carefully wiped his mouth with a napkin.

“It was delicious—the fig sauce was fantastic.”

“Yes, I saw some early-picked figs at the market—they still seemed too hard, so I used them for the sauce.”

“Oh, is it already fig season?”

Canule’s large bag was filled with portable cooking utensils and ingredients.

Normally, these items would be left out due to their weight, but Canule loved cooking and Mitrof loved eating.

As a result of their shared passion, every break, Canule would set up her cooking equipment, and Mitrof would tuck a napkin into his collar, creating a restaurant-like scene within the labyrinth.

New adventurers who saw them for the first time would be amazed, but many others who were used to them would remain unfazed. Although they may have never spoken, they would still recognize each other’s faces, becoming familiar with one another over time.

Many adventurers have their own personal difficulties. As an occupation, it is not considered very respectable. They may have been expelled from society due to their inability to adapt to rules, becoming a refuge for outlaws. However, even these individuals naturally begin to follow rules as they delve deeper into the labyrinth. They don’t despise rules; rather, they detest having to follow others’ rules.

Adventurers each establish their own rules that they then follow.

Perhaps it is for this reason that they have an atmosphere of inviolability toward others.

Everyone values their own rules. Therefore, adventurers seem to have a consciousness of respecting the rules held by others.

Canule spread out tools and ingredients from her large bag and began to cook, while Mitrof elegantly devoured it with his knife and fork. The adventurers were indifferent and went about maintaining their own rules. Mitrof began to think that this thoughtfulness and indifference towards others was what made adventurers so special.

Dirty dishes were wrapped in cloth and divided into small bags. Canule poured tea into the teacup after the meal. When Mitrof received it, a man approached.

“Hey there, you guys—oops, I’m not a suspicious person—I’m an information broker—how about it, do you need any information?”

With a cup in his hand, Mitrof looked up to see a man with a friendly smile on his face.

With a face that seemed to be sitting between a young person and an adult, pencils behind his ears, and his strong chestnut hair tied up in a single knot. He had no weapons or armor, and his atmosphere did not suit the image of an adventurer.

“An information broker?—Are you selling information here?”

“Tsk tsk tsk—we gather the freshest and most delicious information within the labyrinth—both information and food are best when freshly made, don’t you think, Mitrof-kun?”

With his name called so casually, Mitrof frowned.

“…Where is my name being sold?”

“We have clients all over the place, selling and buying—but don’t worry, even though it’s called information, I specialize in rumors, providing a service to entertain bored adventurers during their breaks.”

“So you’re like a jester in the labyrinth?”

“As expected of a noble, straight to the point—’Labyrinth’s Jester’ has a nice ring to it, thanks.”

The man took his pencil from behind his ear and made notes in his notebook.

Mitrof squinted his eyes, realizing that his background was also known.

The job of a jester working in the royal palace was to entertain bored people in power. They sometimes performed tricks and told funny jokes, collecting exciting stories from the streets and whispering them into their ears.

“Okay, this is good… Now, Mitrof-kun, do you want fun information from me?”

“This tea has a fresh aroma.”

Mitrof said, enjoying the scent of the tea with his eyes closed without looking at the man.

“It appears to be the trendy tea among the people.”

“Oh, this type of tea is popular in the town?”

Mitrof sipped his tea and then put down the cup.

“… Hmm, the serenity is impressive—is this what a noble’s manners are like?”

“For example, how would they entertain someone?”

The standard response of a noble is to show no interest in the person trying to sell them something, calmly enjoy a cup of tea, and then continue the conversation with complete indifference.

The man chuckled at Mitrof’s calm demeanor, flipping through his notebook.

“As for the latest recommendations… the guild receptionist’s popularity ranking… oh, no good?—Then how about the 13th floor’s female ghost… that’s not it either? How about the continuous record-breaking failures of the battle axe wielder Rosso’s party interview? We’re a little tight on information, aren’t we? No, no, there’s more… What about the rumors surrounding the magic sword… Oh, it seems like you’re interested.”

Mitrof tried to maintain his composure, but it seemed like the man had seen through him. In truth, Mitrof was a little intrigued. Since he had been found out, there was no point in pretending anymore.

“… How much does that information cost?”

“It’s a special price for the first rumor, I’ll make it cheap for you.”

The given price was certainly low. Well, it was just pocket change anyway, so Mitrof untied his purse strings.

After confirming the copper coin, the man pocketed it and flipped through his notebook.

“Now then… just to make sure, do you know what the magic sword is?”

“Is this a ‘Labyrinth’s Relic’ shaped like a sword?”

“That’s a precise description—it’s a mysterious sword imbued with magical power made by the ancients, and the method of creation and material used remain unknown to this day—even the dwarves have no idea, leaving everyone stumped.”

“…It’s been reported that five magic swords have been found so far.”

Canule tells Mitrof, capturing his attention.

“Very well informed—to be exact, there have been reports of five magic swords—three of them are managed by their respective countries and one is in the tower of magicians, and one is in the temple of the Church.”

“Does that mean the sixth magic sword is found here?”

“There’s such a story going around.”

The man squats down and looks Mitrof in the eye, lowering his voice suddenly. It’s an incredibly confidential conversation that’s not meant to be heard by anyone around…or so it seems.

“That adventurer was on the 14th floor of the labyrinth…Yes, a crystal lizard that appeared from a side passage suddenly attacked him while he was exploring this floor. This is a formidable monster that typically inhabits a deep floor. Somehow, it had gotten lost and made its way up through the ‘back road.’ As its name suggests, its body is covered in crystal, making it completely impervious to slashing attacks—for the purpose of defeating it, adventurers bring along a mace.”

The man looked at Mitrof to gauge his interest. Mitrof was listening, albeit only slightly.

“The adventurer was alone and armed only with a sword—even though he knew he had to flee, he was injured in the leg during the attack. When he tried to fight back, his sword was deflected, and he lost hope.”

“…What happened then?”

Mitrof couldn’t help but ask when the man paused.

“——The adventurer was blinded by the setting sun.”

“The setting sun?”

Mitrof narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

“It seemed like a reddish light, just like the evening sun, caught his eyes—the next time he opened his eyes, the ‘crystal lizard’ was cut in half. The crystal that shouldn’t have been able to be cut was cut.”

“Oh really?”

“You doubt me? Well, at least listen to the whole story. The adventurer said he couldn’t see well because of the bright light, but there was definitely someone standing there—he had a sword in hand.”

“And that was a magic sword?”

“With blinding light and cut crystal, it can only be a magic sword, right?”

As the man spoke, his eyes sparkled with excitement.

Mitrof was a bit skeptical.

“Couldn’t it have been done with magic?”

“Are you talking about a magic sword? That’s when you imbue magic into a sword—only a few knights who have trained enough can do that.”

At the mention of knights, Mitrof glanced at Canule. She remained unresponsive, her hood still covering her face.

“That adventurer believes that person is definitely a ‘magic sword user.’ Someone has found a new magic sword and is keeping it secret.”

“…Indeed, an interesting story.”

Magic sword.

For some reason, those words tickled the hearts of men. Those who wield swords as adventurers can understand the desire for a sword that holds great power.

“But it’s just a rumor—it’s not like magic swords are easily found.”

There are labyrinths of various sizes throughout the continent. For decades, adventurers have been delving into the labyrinths, and only five have been found.

With a suspicious gaze, Mitrof watched as the man leaned in and put his hand into his pocket, apparently alert to his surroundings.

“…This is something I obtained for my personal pleasure.”

What he took out was the crushed crystal of a crystal lizard’s corpse.

“I thought no one would believe my story without evidence.”

It was a deep blue crystal, composed of a cut surface that was so beautiful that it didn’t look like a natural object at all. However, only one face showed an unnaturally wide surface. The cut surface was oblique, and there were unnatural marks as if it had melted.

“This is the evidence of a magic sword’s cut.”

It captured Mitrof’s attention. Of course, there was a technique to process crystals. They were cut, split, and polished to create decorations.

However, the cut of the crystal in front of him was different from what could be achieved by processing… He knew it for some reason. The impact of the cut made it seem like it was “slashed.” The remnants of an extraordinary power seemed to linger there.

“Try thinking about it. Even if you report that you found a magic sword, the church or the tower of the magicians will forcefully take it away from you. It’s better to keep it a secret…Everyone would think that way, right? There have been stories of many magic swords found that were never reported. Such tales have been around for ages.”

The man returned the crystal to his pocket and left with a smile. Mitrof followed him with his eyes and saw that he was talking to another adventurer, showing the crystal in a crouched position.

Mitrof was curious about whether he was really selling information or just eagerly wanting to share it with someone.

“…A magic sword, huh? It sounds like something out of a story—if the rumors are true, I would like to see it for myself.”

But rumors are not always trustworthy. Canule chuckled at Mitrof, who was sipping his tea, thinking it was just suspicious talk.

“If it’s real, I would like to see it too—however, many people may not want to get involved.”

There is one very famous rumor about the magic sword that even that man didn’t need to speak of.

“The magic sword brings ‘death and misfortune,’ doesn’t it? It’s probably just curiosity that makes people interested in it—It might be better not to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong…”

Mitrof thought hypothetically.

Suppose the rumored magic sword really existed. Then someone must already be using it. If the owner was a good person, then it would not be so bad. But if the owner was a wicked person, then it would be a dangerous situation.

“…Is it true that the common belief is that the magic sword takes over a person’s personality?”

“I don’t know; there are always fanciful rumors associated with the magic sword story.”

Legends of wielding magic swords still exist, but they all seem to have major flaws. Nowadays, the magic swords are carefully hidden and stored for decades, kept and displayed like divine objects.

Perhaps those who are dissatisfied with their dull lives are spreading the rumor that magic swords have incredible power.

Mitrof drank his now lukewarm tea.

Slowly, Mitrof took out a notebook from his pocket, flipped through the pages, and wrote down some numbers with a small pencil.

“Mitrof-sama, what is that for…?”

“I spent some money, so I need to keep track of it—let’s use ‘information fee’ as the accounting item.”

After writing it down in elegant handwriting, he folded the notebook with the pencil still in it and put it back in his pocket.

“Indeed, a magic sword is really attractive—but a single silver coin moves a person’s heart more than fantasy—let’s go look for some herbs.”

Canule smiled slightly at Mitrof, who had become accustomed to the common people’s ways in a slightly unusual direction.

Chapter 83: The fat aristocrat is grumpy

There’s a problem with the assumption that medicinal herbs grow on the 14th floor—where exactly?

Perhaps it was thought that this floor alone might have rich soil, but upon arrival, it was still a cave tinted with reddish hues. There must be a special place on this floor where only certain parts have medicinal herbs growing.

“I guess it’s all about the money—information about medicinal herbs is quite valuable…It’s best to find it ourselves, but…”

Most of the information about the labyrinth can be solved within the guild without relying on information brokers. The guild itself buys information from adventurers, scrutinizes it, and sells it to other adventurers.

There are also self-proclaimed information brokers who resell information purchased from the guild, but such people are quickly punished by adventurers seeking rewards for tipping off the guild.

However, even at the appropriate price, bankrupting oneself by buying any information from the guild is a problem, and the freshness of the information is lost from the time the guild sends out people to investigate until the time it is sold.

Therefore, information brokers are still a sought-after profession that has not become obsolete.

Deciding how far to search on their own and when to buy information is also a quality required of adventurers.

This time, Mitrof came without buying any information. They decided to try on their own first, and if that failed, they would buy information at a higher price.

“In this level, snake-like monsters appear.”

“Snakes? That’s different from boas, isn’t it?”

Snakes can also be found on the surface, but they are all small. It is said that there are giant snakes feared as boas in the southern forests, but both of them only have second hand knowledge.

“It seems like it’s a barrel-shaped snake called a tsuchinoko—it’s a strange picture.”

“The name also sounds mysterious—I wonder what language it is from.”

“Well, the discoverer has the naming rights for the monster—It could have been discovered by someone from some foreign country.”

The path in the cave gradually sloped upward. It was only a small uphill step, but as they continued, the burden on Mitrof’s bodies grew. He could feel their breath becoming heavy.

‘It’s strange, my weight should have decreased compared to before… Yesterday, I even held back from asking for seconds to save money… It’s strange that my body feels heavy… Could this be the influence of the labyrinth…?’

As Mitrof tilted his head and proceeded up the slope, a small shadow suddenly rolled towards him.

It was round like a carriage wheel and yet wide, sticking to the ground as it rolled towards him.

Mitrof squinted his eyes. Despite the fact that the first sight of this thing confused his thoughts, he had previously encountered similar situations several times. He thought about what it could be and immediately came to the answer.

“Canule!—It’s a tsuchinoko!”

Mitrof quickly unsheathed his rapier. He sat back and waited for it, but as the tsuchinoko increased in momentum, his cheeks began to twitch.

Canule had placed the large bag at the end of the passage, taken her shield, and returned to stand in front of Mitrof. As soon as she got into position, the tsuchinoko was just around the corner.

It was clear that the tsuchinoko had reached tremendous speed after coming down a long slope.

“Mitrof-sama, please step back—I’ll try to stop it.”

“… Are you sure about this? It’s like trying to stop a carriage.”

“Next time, let’s try stopping a carriage too.”

Canule replied with a joke as she checked her footing. She pounded the ground with her black leather boots to secure her stance, then lowered her body and held up her round shield.

Mitrof had some lingering worries as he pressed his back against the wall.

Rumble, rumble… Before he knew it, the sound approached, and then it collided with Canule’s shield.

“—Uh.”

It was a dull sound, as if someone struck a bag full of water.

Canule, who was carrying the curse of the labyrinth’s relic, possessed strength beyond that of a human being. She demonstrated her ability to even block a powerful hit from a troll, standing like a lump of iron, slightly tilting her shield to deflect the impact.

The tsuchinoko bounced into the air and slammed into the wall.

Mitrof ran up with a drawn sword in one hand.

When it fell to the ground, the tsuchinoko was no longer round. It certainly had a snake’s head and a tail, but its body was flattened and widened horizontally, resembling a fat cylinder. By rolling up, it seemed like it could turn into a wheel and roll down the slope.

While Mitrof was observing, the tsuchinoko turned its head towards him.

It was a strange sight. The tsuchinoko’s body was getting shorter and shorter, until eventually the head and tail seemed to connect directly together.

It was then that Mitrof remembered the contents of the research he had done in the guild. Among the adventurers’ scribbles was a note that said, “Like a swordhorned rabbit.”

As the tsuchinoko jumped, Mitrof instinctively stepped to the side.

A gust of wind rushed past him. The weight of the wind was evident from the sound. Its tightly packed airstream had a force that could freeze one’s blood, even more so than that of the swordhorned rabbit.

Mitrof slipped and changed his direction. Turning around, he saw that Canule had slammed the tsuchinoko to the ground.

However, the tsuchinoko showed no sign of weakening, even after being knocked back.

Using its strange bouncing and sliding movements, it moved away. It wasn’t to escape, but undoubtedly to perform another tackle like before.

Mitrof chased after it, running clumsily.

The tsuchinoko, which neither bounced nor rolled, was slow. However, Mitrof, who was running, was also slow.

Finally catching up while panting, Mitrof saw the tsuchinoko turn around and face him, crouching its body again.

Realizing the danger, Mitrof put more effort into running and extended his thrust sword.

At the same time, the tsuchinoko jumped.

A tremendous impact hit Mitrof’s right arm, causing the sword to be knocked away. Mitrof reflexively dodged to the left.

His hair fluttered in the wind, and his right eye closed. He became aware that his sword was skewering the tsuchinoko as he struggled to straighten himself out.

He stopped where it hit the wall and went to retrieve it. Canule joined him.

“…it seems that the tsuchinoko’s charge was met with a sword.”

“Mitrof-sama, that was impressive.”

“Of course, it was just a coincidence.”

Mitrof wobbled his right hand. He couldn’t handle the impact, which felt like his sword was being ripped out of his hand.

“Should we dodge with our backs against the wall like we did to the swordhorn rabbits?”

“I thought it would bounce.”

“…Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t stop moving.”

Ochre boars and swordhorn rabbits stop moving when they hit a wall during their charge, but this tsuchinoko bounces off when it hits a wall. They can’t wait for it to attack.

In the face of tsuchinoko skewered on a stick, their conversation is turning into a simple strategy meeting.

“How about Canule? Can she guard against it?”

“It might be difficult to deal with if it gets a running start on a slope—It’s not a problem to block it, but it still bounces back.”

“Bounces back, huh.”

The Tsuchinoko, viewed from above, had thick leather from its back to its head. When it curled up and rolled, its back would shrink, and if it charged forward, its head would hit you.

“It’s not just hard, but it seems to have elasticity.”

Mitrof squats down and presses his fingers onto the tsuchinoko’s head and back.

“…It’s squishy. It’s hard and soft at the same time…It’s a strange sensation.”

“If it was as hard as a shell, it would break under pressure, so it’s using that elasticity to absorb the impact—that’s why Mitrof-sama’s sword was able to penetrate it—sharpness may be the key to counteracting it.”

“We know the attacks work, so the problem now is how to stop it.”

Squish, squish.

“…Mitrof-sama?”

“This feeling is becoming addicting—Canule, try touching it too.”

“If you say so.”

Canule squats beside Mitrof and gently presses her fingertips onto the Tsuchinoko’s back.

Squish, squish.

Squish, squish.

“Indeed…this is quite strange.”

“That’s right.”

Squish, squish.

Squish, squish.

“How do we stop the tsuchinoko?”

“I wonder what we should do.”

Squish, squish.

Squish, squish.

Chapter 84: The fat aristocrat lives for this one drink

Hmm… Mitrof looked up at the ceiling.

The rising steam covered the air with a white haze. When the wind blew through the vent on the wall, the haze disappeared.

The steam rose again, and the wind swept it away once more. Mitrof watched the movement absentmindedly.

In the public bath, which had become a regular habit for Mitrof, there were many bathtubs.

In the center was a large circular bath that deepened like a mortar, making it possible to immerse up to the shoulders in the center. It was still the most popular spot and always crowded with people. However, Mitrof did not approach the center, he always chose the quieter edges.

Although the center was so vast, the bathhouse spread out to the left and right, with each tub(bath) having a unique feature.

Lately, Mitrof has found enjoyment in soaking in a different tub every day.

Today was a medicinal bath. It was a bath made by dissolving one of the medicinal herbs produced in the labyrinth. It was said to be effective for wounds and bruises.

The bathtub was so cramped that it would feel uncomfortable with ten people, but the only ones in it were Mitrof and two old men. As expected of medicinal herbs, the smell was strong, and it felt more like a trial than a rest for the mind and body.

Mitrof lowered his gaze and scooped up some water.

The finely chopped green pieces were probably herbs. The water was dyed dark green, making it feel as if he were soaking in a small, murky pond filled with algae.

This is precisely what Mitrof was seeking.

He applied the herb-infused water he had scooped up to his right arm.

During the day, he skewered three tsuchinoko.

The first time was accidental, but the second time he did it intentionally. Even though he tried to fight a tsuchinoko when he encountered it again, there was no optimal solution that could be found quickly.

Waiting on the wall, Canule baits, Mitrof chases after it, and they try various things, but in the end, the most efficient is to skewer the oncoming tsuchinoko with the sword.

Due to their large bodies, they were easier to aim than the swordhorn rabbit. The task of discerning the incoming attack and placing the sword in that spot is akin to handling a small shield, which he learned before.

If skewered in the head, the tsuchinoko would die instantly. However, there was a problem. Mitrof’s arm strength could not withstand the impact.

It was difficult to catch, and after thrusting, it was impossible to deflect or swing back, resulting in Mitrof’s grip being torn away.

Despite trying twice to knock down a tsuchinoko, if it could not be defeated, then it was fine, but Mitrof had successfully injured his arm.

Even after massaging and soaking his right arm in medicinal water, the pain and discomfort from the elbow to the wrist remained.

“…Either way, the sword is damaged by this.”

He muttered as if rolling the words in his mouth.

The thrusting sword that Mitrof was using was sturdy, made to fight monsters. However, there was no difference from a sword specialized for thrusting, and the blade was thin.

If you receive the tsuchinoko’s charge multiple times, it is possible that it will eventually break. It is also not good to be knocked back and have the sword hit the floor or wall.

So, with his arms crossed, Mitrof wondered what to do and let out a small cry of pain from his right arm.

With a sigh, Mitrof got out of the hot spring.

He changed into clothes in the dressing room and headed to the resting area. Men who had just finished bathing were sitting on the lined up wooden benches.

While there were loud voices chatting in the hot springs, the men sitting on the benches were calm.

Some were gently swaying on their chairs as they cooled their bodies after their bath. Others were lying down on the benches.

Next to them were often wooden mugs. There is no doubt that Mitrof knows what is inside.

Mitrof headed to the wall-side shop and ordered a milk ale. After his bath, he rests here while drinking milk ale. That is Mitrof’s daily routine.

Behind the counter, there was a giant box filled with ice water, and several small barrels were floating in it. The elderly receptionist picked one up and uncorked it, pouring the ale into a mug. One small barrel was enough for one mug.

Mitrof received the mug and chose a bench away from the few other people there to sit on.

There were several working men in the rest area, fanning themselves with large fans. One of them thoughtfully directed the wind towards Mitrof. The cool breeze felt pleasant against his heated body.

The milk ale, with its white foam, was so cold that just looking at it made one feel refreshed. Mitrof put his lips on the mug.

Gulp, gulp, gulp…

He swallowed the cold milk ale, making his throat jingle. Mitrof tightened his eyes at the extreme coldness, but he did not stop. The coldness resonated in his throat, chest, and stomach.

The exhaustion from the labyrinth, the dryness in his throat and body from the bath—everything was satisfied with this one mug.

“——buhiiii!”

Mitrof took a deep breath and drank about half of the drink, finally releasing his mouth with a sigh.

“… Ah, this makes me feel alive.”

The warm body, the cold stomach, and the gentle breeze all together create a sense of bliss.

Mitrof stayed seated on a long bench, absentmindedly gazing into space without looking at anything, or thinking of anything.

It is only because of these perfect moments when the tension of exploring the labyrinth is eased, that one can endure the intense times inside.

Mitrof licked the milk ale little by little.

As it got warmer, the polished scent that was crisp became dull, and the smell of milk became prominent. The tepid milk ale was no longer drinkable, so he finished it while it was still delicious.

“… Let’s go home.”

Mitrof got up, returned the mug to the vendor, and left the rest area. He felt that he had survived the day, thanks to the tiredness of exploring the labyrinth, the sluggishness after taking a bath, and the fatigue remaining in his body.

He had accomplished something. Feeling a sense of fulfillment in his stomach, Mitrof sang a tune while walking back to the cheap inn.

Chapter 85: The fat aristocrat yearns for sublimation

If it’s just minor cuts and scratches, applying a hemostatic agent and wrapping it in bandages would not affect movement.

Even while struggling against smallsword rabbits, Mitrof entered the labyrinth with numerous wounds.

The ointment made from herbs found in the labyrinth is effective, but the pain from the twisted muscles in his arm did not subside easily.

Mitrof sighed, wondering if invisible wounds were worse than external ones.

Even after taking a day off, his right arm was not yet fully healed. But it didn’t cause excruciating pain every time he moved it.

Feeling that resting would be a waste of time, Mitrof decided to explore the labyrinth to some extent.

He joined Canule and once again set foot in the labyrinth, as was his duty as an adventurer.

The labyrinth is underground, so it is not affected by weather conditions such as rain, snow, or hail, but physical condition is another matter.

While massaging his right arm with his left hand, Mitrof descended deeper and deeper into the underground.

As Mitrof massaged his right arm with his left hand, he descended deeper and deeper into the underground.

“Please don’t overdo it, Mitrof-sama.”

Canule expressed her concern, but he couldn’t just keep running away from monsters. Whenever he had to fight, Mitrof drew his sword.

After countless trips back and forth between the surface and the underground, he had become accustomed to the monsters on the upper floors. Even the tough smallsword-rabbits that gave him a hard time before, Mitrof could now dodge with ease and easily slash them down in midair.

However, using his sword for either thrusting or slashing caused pain in his arm.

Fighting against small opponents was manageable, but larger opponents were a struggle. After passing the seventh floor, Mitrof’s arm had reached its limit. Suddenly, his strength gave out, and he couldn’t hold onto his stabbing sword, dropping it.

“…This is not good.”

“Let’s retreat.”

Canule quickly protected Mitrof, and the two of them slowly headed back to the labyrinth.

Fortunately, they had just descended the stairs, so they quickly arrived at the resting room. The two put down their luggage, and Canule palpated Mitrof’s arm.

“Do you have any knowledge of medicine?”

“Just basic first aid—I’ve had many injuries during my training.”

Canule applied pain relief ointment to Mitrof’s arm and took out a bandage from her large bag. She wrapped it around the joint in the shape of the number eight. It was a familiar technique.

“This should ease the pain a bit.”

“… It’s true. I can fight as much as I want with this.”

“Don’t get carried away—we’ll go to the medical facility when we get back to the surface.”

Her tone was gentle, but her strong determination did not allow any arguments. Her voice was both terrifying and comforting.

Mitrof bent and extended his arm a few times, feeling his movements reinforced by the tightly wrapped bandage.

“I feel much better now—thank you.”

Mitrof and Canule picked up their luggage and stood up. Since Mitrof could no longer swing his sword, their exploration for the day had come to an end.

While entrusting the battle to Canule, Mitrof returned to the surface. Although he had said that he would be able to heal just by sleeping thanks to the bandages and medicinal herbs, Mitrof’s uncharacteristic assertiveness caused him to end up in a medical facility.

Although the payments piled up, it was certainly better to quickly receive treatment than to spend several days unable to enter the labyrinth.

At the medical facility, there was a rule prioritizing treatment for severely injured patients in case of emergency transport from the labyrinth.

Therefore, even those with minor injuries like Mitrof, who only had strained muscles in his arms, would have to wait for a long time sitting in a chair, watching the clock’s hands.

Even Canule, who insisted on accompanying him, sat next to him. Although they could talk naturally inside the labyrinth, they strangely couldn’t carry on a conversation when placed side by side in a different environment.

Mitrof was so nervous that he kept repeatedly searching for topics in his mind and rejecting them himself.

Although Mitrof had memorized standard phrases for polite conversation with ladies at social gatherings and compliments that could tickle one’s heart at meal times, he had never been taught what to talk about when sitting next to someone in a medical waiting room.

Although he had the knowledge, Mitrof was utterly lacking in experience.

Finally, it was his turn, and Mitrof’s back was drenched in sweat.

“Okay, let’s take a look.”

The doctor in charge this time was an elderly woman with gray and white mixed hair. As soon as she heard the cause of Mitrof’s arm injury and his symptoms, the doctor took his arm.

She unwrapped the bandage and massaged Mitrof’s plump arms, pressing her fingers hard into his biceps and the joint connecting his upper arm.

It was not merely a massage, for it was too strong for that. It was not considered torture, yet it was not gentle enough to be called treatment.

Even though Mitrof let out small screams of pain from the corner of his mouth, the doctor continued to pluck and pry on his tendons and muscles, like scratching with a thumb at a bone.

Each time, pain like lightning bolted through his shoulder, neck, and then the back of his head.

As sweat droplets formed on Mitrof’s forehead and his runny nose started to drip down to his chin, the female doctor finally released her grip.

In a complete change of pace, she touched his arm gently to relieve the tension, then patted his upper arm.

“That should do it—I’ve popped the tendon back into place—you shouldn’t hold a sword for a week—if you don’t strain it, the discomfort should disappear soon.”

“T-This is it? This will heal it…? Wait, what?”

Suddenly, Mitrof realized that the pain in his right arm had calmed down.

With widened eyes, he moved his arm and lifted his shoulder.

It didn’t hurt. He could move it well.

“I-It’s healed!”

As he made a strong swinging motion, a sharp pain shot through the inside of his elbow.

“Ow!”

“The human body cannot be made that convenient—If you overdo it, it will only prolong the discomfort.”

The female doctor spoke calmly without changing her expression or tone. Her nonchalant attitude even tightened Mitrof’s heart.

“…I see.”

Mitrof lowered his shoulders and nodded meekly before leaving the examination room.

In the waiting room, Canule sits up straight and waits.

“How was it?”

“I feel much better—however, I need to avoid using the sword for a week.”

“I think that’s a good idea—let’s take a break.”

“But I just took a break recently…”

“I think all the past overworking has piled up—it’s surprising that you were able to remain calm while suddenly diving into the labyrinth and swinging an unfamiliar sword.”

Mitrof tilted his head in confusion.

“Using a sword requires physical strength, while diving into the labyrinth requires mental strength—both are essential, don’t you think?—Mitrof-sama has more than enough mental strength, but in terms of physical strength…”

“You’re being too considerate and coming off as sarcastic—just tell me I need more training.”

Canule gave a silent nod, and Mitrof returned a wry smile.

“Yeah, I need more training—I’ve turned back due to exhaustion many times before…”

Thanks to Canule, a reliable shield, Mitrof’s burden has greatly decreased. However, as the exploration time extended, Mitrof’s physical problems led him to abandon exploration more frequently.

Mitrof’s rapier was specialized in thrusting, and it was much lighter than the swords that adventurers typically preferred. Nevertheless, for Mitrof, whose body had more fat than muscle, it was still heavy.

“I should be mentally exhausted too, but I don’t really feel it—maybe it’s because of ‘sublimation.'”

During labyrinth exploration, the mind is inevitably tense. Darkness, the oppression of caves, and attacking monsters all wear down adventurers’ minds.

Although Mitrof had led a life of peace and debauchery, he had never experienced the feeling of mental exhaustion.

The effect of Mitrof’s mental strength enhancement through “sublimation” seems to support him not only during battles but also during breaks in exploration.

“‘Sublimation,’ huh? I often hear about it but it’s a mysterious thing.”

“Yeah, Grace and I obtained it by defeating a ‘kobold’, but… ever since then, we haven’t had any luck with defeating any other monsters. I think both Canule and I have defeated our fair share of monsters.”

“I might be an exception, though.”

There was a hint of a wry smile in the voice, tinged with a sense of resignation. It was as if the person had become somewhat hesitant about expecting anything more.

Canule was a different mystery of the labyrinth from “sublimation”… affected by an ancient “curse,” Canule had taken on the form of a skeleton. Considering that she had transformed into something close to a monster, it was unclear whether the phenomenon of “sublimation” could even occur.

“Don’t worry, it might happen to you too—if you’re able to achieve ‘sublimation’, exploring the labyrinth will become much easier.”

If there were a way to obtain “sublimation,” everyone would be eager to do it.

However, nothing is yet certain, and everyone is simply talking about their own superstitious methods.

Mitrof had also heard some rumors, but they lacked credibility, and he had no evidence to deny them. Currently, whether “sublimation” would occur is simply a matter of luck.

That’s why it was creating a buzz among many adventurers. It was a phenomenon that could happen to anyone, and just obtaining one or two could drastically change the exploration of the labyrinth.

If there was a raffle with a big prize and free entry, anyone would dream of winning.

“I hope there will be some kind of sublimation that will make this meat disappear…”

Mitrof murmured dreamily while stroking his chubby stomach.

Chapter 86: The fat aristocrat reunites with the silver bird

The next morning, Mitrof lay on the bed of the usual cheap inn, staring at the ceiling with stains floating on the wooden planks.

Just a moment ago, Mitrof made a crucial discovery.

“——The stain over there looks like a goblin’s face turned sideways.”

“Hmmm”…he groaned.

It was said that the Holy Spirit engraved revelations on the back of the saint.

‘Does that mean a revelation has appeared for me to go to the labyrinth?’

Pinching his double chin, Mitrof twisted his lips heavily.

‘I’m bored.’

During the previous rest days, Mitrof’s body had been completely tired. Resting his mind and body, nourishing himself until full, and doing any necessary maintenance on his weapons and armor. After that, he would just laze around and sleep.

By preparing for the explorations the next day like that, the day would fly by in no time. It was a busy everyday life, but it was also comfortable.

There were things to be done, and Mitrof was eager to do them himself.

This kind of everyday life brought Mitrof a sense of fulfillment that he had never experienced before.

However, Mitrof’s tomorrow is now further away.

Due to his injured right arm, he had been ordered to rest for a while.

There was nothing to do, and going to the labyrinth wouldn’t hurt, even if Mitrof thought that way alone. But Canule did not feel the same way.

It happened last month. Mitrof and Canule challenged the Silver Knight to a duel together. It was to protect Canule’s freedom and to spend their days together challenging the labyrinth. After narrowly winning the duel, Canule offered her shield to Mitrof for some reason.

Mitrof insisted that they were comrades, but since then, Canule has been supporting him even more than before.

Her essence is that of a knight, and her earnest personality ensures that she is meticulous about protecting Mitrof.

This time, Mitrof did not intend to rest for long.

After all, he has medical expenses to pay off and living expenses to earn. He argued that he could not afford to just relax and sleep.

Canule carefully listened to Mitrof’s claims. Then she decisively said:

“I understand what you are saying—please rest now, as I will work even harder.”

After that, no matter what Mitrof said, he could not break through Canule’s defenses.

‘After all, isn’t supporting each other during difficult times part of being companions?—You know my abilities well…’

Since Canule brought up something Mitrof himself had previously said to her, he had no way to refute it.

Canule was surprisingly stubborn and a genius who did not back down from debates with Mitrof. However, Mitrof had to admit defeat.

“It’s no use—I can’t rest.”

Mitrof sat up, and his elbow hurt as he used it for support.

If he asked the miracle-working priest for help, it would heal in no time. However, he would have to be prepared to increase his debt, which was a necessary note.

He could not rest calmly and could not recover quickly either. Perhaps he had been working too hard as an adventurer lately. Habits were a frightening thing, as even someone who had previously led such a lazy life like Mitrof was now struggling with boredom.

Sleeping alone in his cramped room felt too idle, so Mitrof decided to leave.

Although he was wearing casual clothes, he had his sword belt and thrusting sword hanging from his waist. He knew it was unnecessary, but the weight of having it by his side gave him a sense of calm.

During bright daylight, the city was bustling with different activities than at night. Mitrof would usually walk around during the night after returning from his explorations. Sometimes, he would walk until late at night. Within the labyrinth, where there was no sun or stars, it was difficult to tell time.

There were horse carriages running along the main streets. To clear the way for people passing by, the coachmen would ring their bells. Newspaper boys would walk around shouting, while street performers would entertain the crowds on other streets. The deafening noise slowly blended in with the lively atmosphere of the city.

Mitrof walked aimlessly, without any particular destination in mind, without any acquaintances to visit, and with only a cheap inn to return to.

Even amidst the crowd of people passing by, Mitrof felt lonely.

Suddenly, he left the crowd and headed towards a narrow path. He did not know where it would lead him, nor did he have a specific destination in mind.

As he turned a few corners, the presence of people around him gradually faded, and the small paths sandwiched between buildings seemed to go on endlessly.

Even though it was midday, there was a dim light cast over the area. Tattered clothes were hung overhead for shade, and emaciated men sat on the roadside, smoking cigarettes.

A bit further up, a group of men were gathered around a barrel with wooden pieces, playing a card game. Their glares told Mitrof that he didn’t belong there.

Just as he thought about turning back, one of the wooden doors at the end of the street opened, and a small figure emerged from within.

The light leaking through the gap in the canopy above was harsh, shining on a hooded figure. The silver hair flowing down the figures’ necks reflected the particles of light.

Suddenly, their gazes met. They both recognized each other’s faces without a doubt. Mitrof was surprised, it was a face he knew well.

“——Grace?”

She was the elven girl Mitrof met for the first time when he dived into the labyrinth. She was his comrade who taught him the basics of being an adventurer and fought with him against the “red-eyed”. She was supposed to have left to solve the problems of her home village.

He thought he might be mistaken, but even his partner seemed to be unable to hide her shock at the unexpected reunion in such an unusual place.

The surprised look on her face and the small mouth that hung open were definitely Grace.

Before Mitrof could raise his hand and rush towards her, Grace had already run towards him, holding her hood down over her eyes.

“G-Grace?!”

It was Mitrof who was flustered. He had no idea why Grace ran away at the sight of him. Suddenly running away, Mitrof had no choice but to chase after her.

Although he was bewildered, Mitrof ran, but Grace was far more agile than him.

Just when he thought he had been left behind, Grace swiftly turned into a crossroad.

By the time Mitrof finally turned the same corner, her figure was no longer visible.

“What’s going on…?”

Breathless and confused, Mitrof leaned against the wall and surveyed the street.

The narrow paths on both sides were dimly lit even during the day, sloping gradually downward. There was no sign of people. The street was lined with dark, cracked windows and doorless entrances.

Mitrof stood in shock and put his hand into his pocket, taking out a small earring. It was a bird-shaped silver piece that Grace had given him as a parting gift.

“She said she would only lend this to me,” Mitrof grumbled.

It was supposed to be a promise of a reunion.

However, for some reason, it seemed that Grace did not want to see him again. Mitrof sniffs.

Chapter 87: The fat aristocrat gets tangled up with children

“Was that really Grace-sama?”

Canule calmly asked the question after listening to Mitrof’s story.

The location was the dimly lit dining hall of the inn where Grace had stayed.

After losing sight of Grace, Mitrof immediately visited Canule’s place. They both came back to this inn with the possibility that if it really was Grace, she would be staying here again. However, there was no sign of Grace anywhere.

Mitrof moistened his lips with the fragrant, stale red wine before speaking.

“I think it probably was her—I felt like she recognized me too.”

“Has it been confirmed?—Did you have a conversation with her or get a good look at her face?”

“…No, I didn’t hear her voice—it was dark and a bit far away, and she had a hood on.”

“So it could be a case of mistaken identity.”

“Still, I think it was Grace.”

Despite his confident assertion, Mitrof’s tone grew weaker. At that moment, he was certain that there was no mistake about Grace’s face. Their gazes mixed together, and for a moment, it seemed like they recognized each other.

However, as Canule said, there is also the possibility of a mistaken identity. The street was dark, and the person was wearing a hood. Above all, it’s strange for Grace to run away.

“Have you verified what is inside the door where they came out? There’s a chance that someone involved in a troubling situation saw Mitrof-sama at an inconvenient time and fled on the spot.”

“Yes, I have.”

Losing sight of Grace’s figure, Mitrof returned along the same path. He sought clues at the door where she appeared, only to find a small tavern.

It was dimly lit like night despite being daytime, and the lantern hanging on the wall was not adequately lit. The smell of cigarette smoke and dust bothered his nose, and damp sawdust was scattered on the floor.

There were two men at the counter seats, and on the two tables, rough-looking men were gathered, holding bottles of liquor.

Mitrof furrowed his brow, thinking that he couldn’t relax and drink in such a place.

The shopkeeper was a demi-human, with smooth, lizard-like scales that were significantly cracked below the eyes. With a tongue poking out from a wide-open, vertical pupil, the shopkeeper observed Mitrof from head to toe as if assessing a new customer.

“Well, what a lovely customer we have—welcome, young man—what can I help you with?”

The cloying tone of the shopkeeper’s voice was indistinct at the end. Although her way of speaking was feminine, her voice was deep and manly.

“…I want to ask about a customer who just left your store—I want to confirm if I know them.”

“If I could help you, dear sir, I would, but I cannot disclose information about other customers.”

The lizard-like shopkeeper tilted her head, moving smoothly in a way that was different from a human. Her fingers, which stroked her neck, had sharp claws. Her bright red nail polish looked nearly black in the darkness.

“I understand your creed—however, could you at least confirm the name?I think she was an elf named Grace.”

“Why don’t you have something to drink since you’re here? We have only alcohol and water, but our alcohol is specially sourced, and it’s recommended even for a cute boy like you.”

Ignoring Mitrof’s question, the lizard shopkeeper took a nearby bottle of liquor and checked the label.

Kachichichi, kachichichi.

The sound of the hard bottle bounced off the walls. The sharp claws of the lizard tapped each bottle, starting from the pinky finger.

Kachichichi, kachichichi.

One of the drunk customers at the counter shook his shoulder and laughed.

“Hey kid, the liquor here is the best… especially the special one—I’ll treat you to a glass.”

Almost touching his forehead to the counter, the man turned to face Mitrof.

Mitrof was hesitant in this strange atmosphere.

Despite being accustomed to the labyrinth and fighting monsters without hesitation, Mitrof had not yet acquired the courage to step into an unfamiliar tavern. It was a place operating outside of the established rules of Mitrof’s constructed worldview, which was too unfamiliar. It was not even a matter of feeling safe since he was carrying a sword.

Again, the shopkeeper did not seem to intend to answer Mitrof’s question.

Mitrof left the shop hesitantly after leaving a word of thanks.

“…It doesn’t seem to be of any use as a clue.”

“I see,” Canule nodded.

“My guess is that it’s a neighborhood where the boundary between inside and outside is clearly defined—if Mitrof-sama, who is not a member of the community, were to enter suddenly, he would not be able to receive any answers.

“That’s probably it—I understand the exclusive atmosphere well.”

Although that place is the only clue, Mitrof does not seem to be able to obtain the information he wants by simply going there.

“If it was a case of mistaken identity, that’s fine—I just misjudged her—but if it really was Grace, why did she run away?”

Mitrof slouched his back, dropped his shoulders, and stared at his glass, lost in thought.

Watching his appearance, Canule struggled for words.

“Even if it was Grace-sama, there must be some circumstances behind it.”

“Is that so…there’s also the possibility that she didn’t want to see my face.”

“That can’t be… She even gave you her earring, and made a promise to meet again, didn’t you?”

It was Canule who taught him that it was a tradition among elf women to give an earring to the person with whom they wished to be reunited.

“So she gave me the earring, but now she has no desire to see me again, hence, is it not awkward for us to meet face to face?”

“That’s…”

Canule’s kindness prevented her from answering conclusively whether it was possible.

However, Mitrof’s sharp intuition for understanding the true meaning behind the words of the nobles made Canule’s kindness futile.

“——Snort.”

Mitrof snorted and sniffled, then downed the red wine in anger.

“I’ll go there again! I can’t sleep at night like this!”

Canule proposed to go along with him and not leave Mitrof alone. Together, they entered the back alleys again.

Mitrof believed that he could recognize Grace if he saw her again, but the city was vast, and many people lived there. The possibility of encountering someone you did not have a planned meeting with was incredibly low. Mitrof was well aware of that.

Nevertheless, he could not spend his time idly lying down in his room and finding meaning in the wood grain on the ceiling. Walking around the streets was a good distraction.

The main street connecting the city blocks was wide, and people and carriages were constantly passing by. Apartment buildings lined both sides of the avenue, and the places where the shadows fell changed as the sun set, but there was always somewhere bright and sunny.

The voices of the bustling crowd were constant, and entering the flow of people walking by would create a dense crowd where you had to be careful not to bump into someone’s shoulder.

However, as they deviated from the main streets and wandered deeper into the city through one or two back alleys, the hustle and bustle faded away. The atmosphere became dim, like entering a deep forest, with air that sank and a narrower path. People passing by fell silent, bowed their heads, and covered their faces. Everyone was saying with their whole body that they didn’t want to be bothered.

Occasionally, there are men and women chatting when they cross paths, whether they be humans, beastmen, or demi-humans. When Mitrof and Canule happen to come across them, they stop chatting and watch the out-of-place pair from the corner of their eyes.

In such situations, Mitrof does not have the courage to ask around about Grace.

In the end, they wander aimlessly down the streets. The narrow and winding paths lead them in different directions, making their sense of direction become disoriented—It’s more labyrinthian than a labyrinth,’ Mitrof thought.

As they pondered, stuck in the middle of a crossroads without any leads, they heard light footsteps approaching. Two children ran towards them, their faces hidden under hoods.

‘Are there also children in the backstreets? No, it’s obvious that people live here…’

Without hesitation, Mitrof took a step back and made way for them. Shortly after, as they passed each other, the child in the lead pointed forward and exclaimed, “Look!”

Mitrof’s shoulder twitched, and he reflexively turned his face.

The second child tried to lean on Mitrof’s shoulder. His hand moved swiftly, aiming for Mitrof’s pocket.

However, a black leather glove was in the way of those hands. Canule, who had been focusing only on Mitrof’s caution since entering the back alley, had closed the distance without fail.

“Ahh!” a weak voice cried out.

Canule’s quick movement and her power as a monster seemed to have caused the child’s body to lose balance. He stumbled and hit the wall, then turned over and fell.

“Kou!”

The child who had been leading the way stopped in his tracks and quickly ran over.

He was wary of Mitrof and Canule, and hurriedly lent a shoulder.

“Ouch, ouch! My foot! My ankle!”

“Are you okay? Come on, stand up!”

Finally, Mitrof realized that the two of them had narrowly avoided being pickpocketed. He couldn’t help but pat his pocket, impressed with the two brave children.

“Canule, thank you.”

“It’s my duty.”

Although she had resigned her position as a knight, Canule still displayed the occasional behavior of a true knight. Since the day she swore to protect Mitrof, Canule has been loyal to him.

“Hey, are you guys okay?”

When Mitrof spoke up, the children raised their heads.

“Shut it, we ain’t afraid of no fattie!”

The one who retorted seemed to have sprained his foot. His voice was courageous, but it still had the high-pitched tone of pre-adolescence.

“Kou! Uh, sorry, we almost crashed into you.”

Mitrof pinched his chin thoughtfully.

If he had been a victim, he might have felt inclined to interrogate them, but since Canule prevented it from happening, Mitrof had no reason to be angry.

While there was an option to advise them to correct their wrong behavior according to social ethics, Mitrof nodded, thinking that it would be better to mind his own business.

“I see—you better watch where you’re going from now on.”

Mitrof was about to leave, leaving the children behind.

“——Hey, what’s up with bringing a monster?”

Mitrof stopped abruptly. He turned around and kneeled before the boy known as Kou.

“You have given me a reason to be angry—I can’t tolerate that statement—can you take it back?”

“Ah! I’m sorry! Kou’s sorry! This guy, um, is really stupid!”

The child who had stepped forward to defend herself looked like a girl. She waved her hands frantically, trying to negate his previous statement herself.

“I’m not stupid! I saw it! The black guy in the back! Its face was just bones!”

“True, it was just bones—but she’s not a monster. Your statement was incorrect.”

Mitrof calmly acknowledged and demanded a correction.

“Um, Mitrof-sama, I don’t mind…”

Canule hesitantly interjected.

“No, I mind—I’ll get angry if my important comrade is put down—it’s only natural.”

“What comrade?! There’s no way a rich guy like you is a comrade of a monster!”

“We’re comrades, and I am not necessarily rich.”

“Liar! How can a poor person carry such a short sword around!”

Mitrof exclaimed in amazement.

In addition to the thrusting sword on his waist, Mitrof also carried a short sword that the Silver Armor Knight, Canule’s brother, had given him. It is a fine piece of jewelry, though it is not ornately decorated.

This boy seemed to have a keen eye to recognize it.

“Sorry! Let me apologize for Kou’s rude words!”

“Hey, don’t do whatever you want, Kai! I won’t apologize! It’s a fact that she’s a monster!”

“Ugh! Why can’t Kou just keep quiet?! You always make things complicated!”

“You’re just a coward all the time!”

Suddenly, they started arguing. Mitrof and Canule were ignored.

Canule stood silently, yet prepared to shield Mitrof no matter what happened.

Mitrof observed the two children and guessed that it seemed like they were acting. Even though the two of them were arguing well, they seemed to be looking out for Mitrof.

‘It’s quite impressive,’ Mitrof couldn’t help but admire.

He didn’t receive an apology, but his criticism had weakened, and Mitrof decided to go along with the children’s plan.

With a sigh, he deliberately averted his gaze and turned his face towards Canule.

“Now!”

At the same time, the two children stood up and ran out.

“Ha ha! Useless fattie!”

Mitrof was amazed at the unique insult and glanced back in disbelief. Despite being dragged, Kou ran with his face toward them. Mitrof didn’t like accepting his leaving remarks, but he watched him go without any concern. However, it seemed that luck played a role.

“Hey, shut up! I can’t sleep!”

The noise irritated a resident, who opened the door. Kou, who wasn’t looking forward, was slow to react, and his face hit the door, causing him to flip and get thrown back.

“K-Kou?!”

Kai, who had been leading the way, returned and shook Kou’s body, but he didn’t wake up no matter how much he shook him. He seemed to have hit his head.

Mitrof looked at Canule. Canule shook his head from side to side.

With a sigh, Mitrof approached the children.

Chapter 88: The fat aristocrat hears a nostalgic voices

It’s shaking, Kou thinks vaguely.

Something soft and warm was guiding his body. There was a scent of sweat mixed with the smell of a deep forest and flowers. Kou recognized it as the smell of soap.

His feet were floating, and he felt like he was moving forward without walking.

He feels like he experienced the same thing a long time ago. As he gradually wakes up, he feels the desire to sleep a little longer. He wants to immerse himself in nostalgia. It’s much better than reality…

“Dad——”

“I’m not even married yet—It’s too early.”

As he replied with a retort to the boy on his back, he groaned. Eventually, he started to move, and it was clear that he had woken up.

“…What’s going on with my head?”

“I’m carrying you—If you’re up, get down.”

“…Why am I being piggybacked?”

His bewildered voice sounded innocent. At that moment, Mitrof chuckled unpleasantly to himself, finding him cute.

“Kou! Are you awake?! Does your head hurt?”

“My head? It shouldn’t… Wait, it hurts!”

It seems like she stimulated the bump on Kou’s forehead when she touched it. The bump on Kou’s forehead has swollen noticeably because of the strong impact.

“W-What’s going on? Am I being kidnapped?!”

“A kidnapper without proper eyesight would have to resort to that kind of thing.”

“You! Where are you taking me?!”

“Kou, please calm down! These people are taking you to a hospital because you fainted.”

“What?! Idiot! The hospital told us not to bring strangers!”

“It can’t be helped! We couldn’t leave Kou unconscious on the street!”

As soon as the boy woke up, the two noisy children caused Mitrof’s lips to form into a frown. Mitrof was also not happy about the situation. Canule chuckled quietly.

Even though they didn’t know each other, they couldn’t leave an unconscious child alone on the back streets. When they asked where to take the child, Kai suggested the “hospital” as a safe place.

“…So, how much further?”

“We’re almost there—just turn at the corner over there.”

Without Kou’s consciousness, Kai and Mitrof had become somewhat friendly. According to Kai’s story, there was a “sensei” in the “institution” where children gathered to live.

They had already come so deep into the complex maze of paths that it was impossible to remember their way back.

As they turned the corner that Kai pointed at, Mitrof’s eyes widened.

So far, the path had been narrow and dimly lit, but there was a bright patch of sunlight there.

It looked like a decaying church. A wooden fence surrounded the vacant lot, with flowers blooming on well-maintained plants. Several laundry poles with sheets and children’s clothing hung across the garden, beyond the plants.

As they approached, they could hear the playful voices of children and the sound of a harpsichord being played. The volume was constant, and the sound did not stretch. It was an unexpectedly cheerful place in the back alley.

“I’ll go call sensei!”

Kai ran out, pushed open the iron gate, and entered.

As Mitrof slowly walked towards the structure, he listened to the sound of the harpsichord. It was a well-known children’s song. Some of the notes were off, not due to the player’s skill but because the harpsichord was out of tune. The note “fa” did not seem to play at all.

By the time Mitrof and Canule arrived at the gate, Kai had come out with another adult. He was a tall, skinny middle-aged man, wearing worn-out but unmistakable priest’s robes.

The man looked at Mitrof and Kou, who were on his back, and bowed deeply with a calm demeanor.

“I’m sorry for any trouble my student has caused.”

“…Sensei, I’m sorry.”

Kou apologized earnestly.

The man, addressed as “sensei,” looked up and looked kindly at Kou.

“You’re apologizing to the wrong person, you know that?”

“…Sorry, fatty.”

“Hey!” Sensei scolded, but Mitrof was satisfied with that.

“This kid twisted his ankle and hit his head hard—I think he should rest.”

“That’s very kind of you—I really appreciate it… I’ll take him.”

As the man approached, Mitrof leaned back.

Kou reached out both hands and clung to Sensei’s neck. Despite his earlier tough behavior, he seemed meek in the presence of someone like a parent.

“Could you please wait here for a moment while I carry him to the bed?”

“No, my job here is done—I will take my leave.”

“But I have not thanked you or apologized properly——.”

“Mitrof?!”

Mitrof was surprised when his name was suddenly called.

At the voice’s beckoning, he turned to see a person approaching from the yard next to the building where laundry was hung, holding a basket of leftover laundry.

Without a doubt, it was Grace.

“——Grace, I knew it was you after all.”

Mitrof smiled. It hadn’t even been half a year, but it felt nostalgic to see her.

However, the expression on Grace’s face wasn’t just joy. It was confusion, embarrassment, and somehow troubled.

“…I see, you found out.”

Mitrof was a noble. He had been fond of reading and theater since childhood, so he was able to see through Grace’s expression and attitude to the truth immediately.

“No, it’s okay—please don’t worry about it…The promise we made to each other is now fulfilled—there is nothing more empty than an unfulfilled promise, even if there is no continuation after the promise.”

Mitrof sighed mournfully and put his hand on his forehead.

“What are you talking about? Are you mistaken or something?”

“Have—have you found true love?”

“You idiot.”

Grace cut him off shortly and exhaled deeply.

She put a white finger on her temple, raised her eyebrows, and glared at Mitrof. Her delicate face seemed to express discomfort without reservation, giving him an imposing presence as if he were being looked down upon by a statue of a god.

Mitrof’s spine shivered with numbness.

“Tell me why you thought of that.”

“…Yesterday, when you saw my face, you ran away.”

“Yes. I ran away. I didn’t expect to meet you in a place like that. I was shaken.”

“When we met face to face just now, you had a complicated expression—you couldn’t be completely happy.”

“That’s right—I was also surprised—I never even dreamed that the two of you would come here.”

“Women often show distant behavior towards men—often, that’s because they’ve found true love elsewhere.”

“Why is that?”

Grace narrowed her eyes and asked in a bewildered voice.

“…That’s how it is in a play.”

“A play? Can’t you distinguish between fiction and reality?!”

“B-But, you know, the plays that emphasize the personalities of real people are, in other words, a condensed version of the joys and sorrows that could happen in reality. I learned about the relationships between people through that.”

“Which means you are naive or ignorant. It’s good and bad…”

Grace, while exasperated, loosened up and softened her gaze.

“I don’t know about those women in plays—but I am who I am, so don’t measure me against other women; judge me by looking at me.”

“Y-Yes… that’s true.”

Mitrof nodded in agreement.

If asked if something was wrong, Grace shook her head as if there was no other way.

“To be honest, I have a bit of a problem—I thought I couldn’t meet you until it was resolved, and I already have a big debt to pay off—first, I have to repay that.”

“I understand—I will help you with your problem.”

“Did you hear what I just said? Do you understand?”

Mitrof puffed out his chest as a response to Grace’s exasperated expression.

“I only heard the parts that were convenient for me.”

“…you’re an idiot.”

Grace let out a laugh as if to exhale.

Chapter 89: The fat aristocrat is introduced

Grace spoke to the priest, who had been silently watching with a strangely warm smile. Mitrof and Canule were led into the church by Grace.

The rectangular worship hall of the church was long and narrow, with clear divisions of sunlight and shadow. Vertical windows were evenly spaced along the high ceiling, and the bright sunlight coming through them drew slanted lines on the walls.

Long benches, worn and discolored, with some missing backrests or rotting away, lined the left and right sides, separated by an aisle in the center. The walls, which were probably originally white, were now dull and showed signs of aging that could not be corrected by maintenance alone.

As they walked with Grace, Mitrof looked up at the ceiling. Dust and debris floating in the air twinkled in the sunlight. The painting on the ceiling, which was revealed through light, caught Mitrof’s attention.

“——It’s a beautiful painting.”

“Oh, you mean the ceiling painting—it’s a fine one, isn’t it?”

While Grace did not seem particularly interested, Mitrof continued to gaze intently at the painting on the ceiling.

In the center of the church, a circle was formed, within which saints, knights, and gods were depicted. The famous scene from the Bible where gods entrust a holy sword to knights to slay dragons and saints bestow blessings…

The soft brushstrokes and soft color scheme are typical of religious paintings, but Mitrof thinks that this ceiling painting is more eye-catching than other religious paintings. Is it because of the precision of the drawing, the skill of the composition, or the place of the church that it has fallen out of fashion?

Mitrof himself is not a pious believer. He had prayed at the church and solemnly listened to sermons from priests and monks, but he had never felt the presence of God or corrected his behavior for that purpose.

However, Mitrof had an indescribable sensation.

He did not see God there, nor did he experience any sort of lightning-like revelation.

He just felt it in his skin, in the presence of something sacred.

Beautiful things have the power to solemnize people.

“Can human beings create something like this? Could the will of God be imbued in each stroke of the brush?”

In the church, countless people kneel and pray, lighting candles… They have been watched by the weight of time for thousands of days and decades.

Mitrof understands that the church is not just a building. Under this painting, people stand straight. Looking up, Mitrof feels as though he is not gazing at the painting but receiving the gaze of God.

“Mitrof-sama?”

“…Ah, sorry—I was just feeling comfortable.”

At Canule’s call, Mitrof turns his face with a wry smile.

He had never prayed properly before. It was strange that he suddenly thought of himself as a devout believer. His convenience for changing himself was laughable.

Grace passed by a row of benches and entered a side aisle. The two followed her.

There was a door in the back, and beyond it, a small guest room was set up.

When Grace opened the window in the room, the wind entered along with the light. There were four chairs placed around a low table.

Mitrof sat facing Grace, and Canule stood diagonally behind him.

“What’s wrong, Canule? Why aren’t you sitting too?”

“No, it’s just that…”

“It bothers me when you’re the only one standing.”

“If Mitrof-sama wishes it, then I shall sit down—excuse me.”

Grace smiled as she saw Canule obediently take a seat beside Mitrof.

“It seems like everything went well in my absence.”

“Yeah, Canule has been a great help—if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to continue my adventures.”

“You are too kind.”

“Canule has taken great care of Mitrof, hasn’t she?”

“No, it is simply my duty.”

Grace tilted her head slightly at Canule’s formal attitude.

Sunlight poured cheerfully onto the seat by the window. Grace’s silver hair flowed down her shoulder, swaying smoothly in sync with her head gesture, shining in glittering particles of light. Grace’s eyes were clear blue, reminiscent of the color of the current sky.

‘A beautiful person,’ Canule thinks.

As a knight, Canule often accompanied her master to social events. There, she saw plenty of ornate noblewomen and girls.

While these women, who had been polished in body and mind since childhood, possessed a beauty deserving of the name, compared to elves, the difference was clear—like silver and iron, similar but vastly different.

“Let’s move on with the conversation.”

Canule said, steering the conversation unusually.

“…Yes. At this point, there is nowhere to hide. Let me tell you about my situation. Honestly, I suspect that this is the will of the Divine Tree. In this melting pot of a city, I happened to run into you all without prior arrangement—perhaps it is a sign that I should not suffer alone and should speak out.”

Grace closed her eyes and smiled as if chewing on bitterness, then opened her eyes and looked up at the church wall.

“As you can see, this is a church—it can also be said to be a ruin that has been abandoned.”

“Do you live here?”

Mitrof asked Grace, who then nodded.

“For less than half a month, I have been living here by fate… I’m sorry for the late report, but the Divine Tree has safely overcome its illness. It is thanks to your help—I would like to thank you again.”

Grace bowed deeply.

She was originally a hunter from an elf village. She came to this city to find the ingredients for a healing medicine for the Divine Tree, which was afflicted with a withering disease in her village. The three of them cooperated to obtain the medicine, and Grace returned to her village several months ago.

“I’m relieved to hear it’s healed.”

“The people from the village are also grateful to the two of you—because it is a story that cannot be made public, I was sent again. To deliver a token of appreciation.”

At this, Grace stumbled over her words a bit and coughed.

“A token of gratitude? I’m happy to receive it, but…”

“Well, if that’s what you think, then it will help me out too.”

“After gratefully accepting it, how did Grace end up here?”

“After accepting it? no… Well, that’s where the problem lies.”

Clearing her throat, Grace looked at the two faces alternately.

“Have you seen Kai and Kou’s faces?”

“——I have.”

Mitrof answered honestly, and Canule nodded.

“Then, it’s easier to explain—this is an orphanage where the ‘Branded Children’ live.”

“I see—I had a feeling it was something like that.”

When Mitrof carried Kou on his back, he saw that face under the hood. Was it best described as ‘half-beast’? Although Kou had a human face, his nose was pointed like a dog’s, and he had the mouth of a beast.

“‘Branded Children’ refers to someone who has been cursed by relics found in the labyrinth or under the influence of magic.”

“Like myself.”

“I see. But historically, it did not have that meaning. It referred to beings who were not human…those who drew a line between themselves and others were called ‘Branded Children.'”

“I see, so they were abnormal beings.”

“Mitrof, please refrain from using that term.”

“Isn’t it just a name for categorization? That’s what I read in a book.”

“Even tasteless words hold meaning when spoken by people—the word ‘abnormal’ is not appreciated around here. ‘Branded Children’ is still a better alternative.”

“I see. I didn’t know that—thank you for telling me.”

Mitrof bowed his head. He accepted it honestly and recognized his ignorance.

Grace gave him a soft look for his honesty.

“The priests here take care of children who were forced into darkness due to the curse of the labyrinth, illness, mixed race, injury…each burden they could not avoid carrying.”

“Indeed, that is admirable.”

Mitrof said solemnly.

“No, no, I’m just doing what I can.”

A man appeared from the door in the back of the room, holding a tray with a cup and teapot. Mitrof guessed that it led to the living space with facilities for the priests and nuns who lived there.

Even though it was a church, they needed facilities for the resident priests and nuns to live comfortably.

“I’m sorry, Saffron-dono—I’ve caused you trouble.”

“Yes, a friend has come, how delightful—It is also my pleasure to entertain good guests.”

Saffron arranged tea on the table, urging Grace to sit as she stood up to accept the tray.

“That being said, all we can serve is herbal tea from the garden and a modest cookie.”

“I’m grateful to be able to eat and drink—as you can see, I’m always hungry.”

Saffron wrinkled his eyelids at Mitrof’s casual response.

“This herb is rare, you see—I’d be happy if you enjoyed it, but I can prepare normal tea for you if it doesn’t suit your taste.”

“I really like this tea—as for Mitrof…oh, excuse me—Saffron-dono, this is Mitrof, and this is Canule—both of you, this is Saffron-dono—he is the priest who oversees this church.”

“Grace-san told me about you,” Saffron said with a gentle smile.

As a priest who managed the church, there should be attendants who serve him, but he seemed to be very proficient in pouring tea from the pot.

“I was just hearing from Grace about how she decided to introduce us.”

Saffron offered Mitrof the cup, which he took. At aristocratic tea parties, there is a complicated etiquette regarding who should drink tea first. The host may drink first to show that the tea is not poisoned, or the guest may drink first to show that they have no doubts.

Mitrof, still adhering to ingrained aristocratic customs, decided to first drink tea.

This was his judgment to show his satisfaction without objection to Saffron’s utmost hospitality and the fact that the tea was brewed from rare herbs. As a guest, it would be best to drink tea first and demonstrate complete satisfaction.

Mitrof lowered his eyes slightly and peered into the cup. When it came to tea, it was usually red, brown, or sometimes yellow, but the herb tea was a vivid green color like the new leaves of summer.

If he brought his nose closer, the aroma would be faint. However, it was not a bad smell. He felt a refreshing sensation.

With one sip, it was quite lukewarm. As a priest, he must have been educated in various subjects. It’s impossible for him not to know how to brew tea properly. While black tea uses boiling water, it seems that he deliberately cooled it down. He drank it slowly without getting burned, and the taste lingered on his tongue.

At first, he felt the astringency and unique bitterness that made his brow furrow. But after swallowing it, he discovered a profound sweetness.

‘I see, it’s better to drink it lukewarm,’ Mitrof nodded. If he were to drink it at the same temperature as black tea, the bitterness and astringency would decrease, but this delicate sweetness would disappear.

“This is the first time I have ever tasted this tea—it’s quite enjoyable.”

Mitrof honestly voiced his thoughts, and Saffron nodded with a gentle smile.

“It’s a type of tea that has been consumed in Eastern countries for a long time—It’s not prevalent here, but I like it.”

After telling them to take their time, Saffron returned to his room.

Mitrof and Grace quenched their thirst with the green tea, and Canule was curious about the green tea, contributing to a moment of relaxation.

“Shall we continue our conversation?”

As Grace spoke, the deep voice of a wild man was heard from afar outside the window.

“Excuse me, is Saffron-saaan here?”

The voice was low and drawn out. Grace frowned, creating deep wrinkles on her forehead. Mitrof sensed that the man was not a desirable guest, even without asking.

“…Perhaps it will save time for explanations—the reason I’m here is precisely because of that voice.”

Grace said with a sigh. Mitrof and Canule followed in her footsteps, and the three of them walked towards the entrance of the church.

Saffron was already there when they arrived. Two men were standing there, and Saffron seemed to be exchanging words with a burly, bear-headed man.

Behind him and to the side, a small man with sharp eyes was also standing. He seemed human.

“I’m sorry for having you come so many times, but my answer remains the same—I have no intention of selling this church.”

“However, Saffron-san, I am also doing this as I was asked—complaints have come in, saying that they are scared to have people like you living here. You understand, don’t you? We have an obligation to maintain the safety of the neighborhood.”

“Of course, I understand—I’m not happy about causing trouble for residents either—however, if we can talk and understand each other, there may be a solution—can we please have an opportunity to speak with those residents?”

“You’re persistent—no matter how many times you say it, our answer won’t change—the residents don’t want to see your faces.”

Although the tone was polite, the content was harsh. Mitrof frowned. Clearly, this was a violent person.

Ignoring Mitrof’s cowering, Grace pushed forward and stood next to Saffron with her arms crossed.

“… It’s you again.”

The bear-headed man groaned in a disgusted tone.

“You look like you’re about to say something unpleasant—rest assured, my feelings are the same as yours.”

“It has nothing to do with you—are you a member of the church? Or are you this priest’s child? No? Then be quiet, will you?”

“I am not a child; I am here of my own volition; as long as I am here, I will not allow any unjust demands for eviction.”

“What are you talking about? We legitimately purchased the entire parcel of land. If you want to live here, it’s only natural that you pay the appropriate amount of money—If you can’t pay, then you have no choice but to leave.”

“You purchased the land where the church stands? This is God’s house—have you obtained proper permission?”

The bear-headed man’s eyebrows furrowed at Grace’s resolute attitude.

Despite her petite size, Grace had a well-proportioned face and sharp eyes that could pierce through someone. The bear-head man shifted his large body uncomfortably and turned his face away.

“… Brother, what should we do?”

The small man called “Brother” looked at Grace with a bored expression. After glancing at Saffron, Mitrof, and Canule, he yawned.

“Let’s go—it’s crowded with guests today—we don’t want to be rude.”

“Huh? B-Brother?!”

Without even turning to the voice that called out to him, the man quickly walked away.

The bear-headed man looked flustered as he looked at the small man’s back and Grace, then shouted, “We’ll come back again!” before running after him.

Watching the strange pair, who seemed like villains but were actually quite unusual, Mitrof walked alongside Grace.

“Is this orphanage a target for land grabbers?”

“Yes, they’re a group of thugs who create chaos in this area.”

“I’ve heard rumors of illegal groups controlling the backstreets, but… what are you doing to counter them?”

Mitrof turned to Grace. Just then, someone interrupted their conversation.

“Saffron-sama, wasn’t there someone here just now?”

A nun dressed in a black robe appeared on the path next to the church that led to the yard. Although she had her hand on the wall, her eyes were hidden behind the black garment.

Mitrof guessed that she was either visually impaired or blind, but he noticed that the woman’s ears were long, even though they were hidden under her hood.

“Grace, are you there?”

“Yes. Troublesome visitors came, but they just left.”

Grace replied, then faced Mitrof with a mischievous smile.

“Let me introduce you, Mitrof—this is my older sister.”

Chapter 90: The fat aristocrats play with children

“Hey Mitrof! You’re eating too much!”

Kou slammed the table, creating a knot on his forehead.

A young child sitting next to him imitated, “You’re eating too much!”

“I have a big body—It’s only natural for me to eat a lot.”

Mitrof replied with a serious expression and got himself another serving of stir-fried meat and vegetables from the large dish.

“Ahh!” echoed the other children gathered around the table.

“Mitrof got another serving! That’s not fair!”

And the boy, with his face wrapped in bandages, pointed his finger.

“I want seconds too!”

The girl with black snake scales on her neck leaned over the table.

Long tables were set up in the courtyard, and children and several nuns gathered there. Everyone from the church was having dinner together.

“It seems like you’ve formed quite a deep bond in a short amount of time.”

Grace’s eyes widened.

While Grace and Canule were helping with the meal preparations, Mitrof unintentionally began to interact with the children.

Mitrof was sitting absent-mindedly when Kou and Kai, who had climbed out of bed with sticks in hand, attacked him. He retaliated and defeated them, but the children apparently recognized it as play.

The younger children who were timid about Mitrof’s unfamiliar and aristocratic appearance gradually moved away, but the older children, led by Kou and Kai, became aggressive and started joking around, rolling around, and laughing. It seems Mitrof is understood not to be a dangerous creature.

He politely participated in the girls’ house game, read a book to a girl while listening, and even used a stick to fend off the boys’ swords. Before he knew it, it had become dusk, and dishes were lined up on the table.

“I’m sorry, Mitrof-kun—It must have been tough to handle our children.”

Saffron said apologetically.

Mitrof wiped his mouth with a napkin in his right hand while holding the young child’s fist with his left hand.

“What’s so difficult?”

“Well… being overwhelmed? My children are full of energy, you know.”

Saffron gave a wry smile, and Mitrof tilted his head.

“I haven’t done anything wrong—I’m just participating in the invited activity.”

Suddenly, a palm-sized piece of bread was sliced off and flew towards Mitrof, hitting his cheek and falling onto the table.

Mitrof picked it up and popped it into his mouth.

“…You might want to teach them better table manners.”

“Teh-ru-a-na-!”

“Right, you understand it well—let’s start by learning the difference between bread and a juggling ball.”

Canule, who was standing behind Mitrof, stifled a laugh at his words.

“You’re good at babysitting…”

“Do you not like Grace?”

To Mitrof, who tilted his head, Kou approached from the side and whispered.

“Grace is really scary—she gets angry quickly and speaks like an old lady.”

“Kou, I can hear you—if you want me to be that angry, I can do that for you, okay?”

Grace smiled, and Mitrof involuntarily backed away from her powerful presence.

However, whether Kou had grown accustomed to such expressions or was simply reckless due to his youth, he sneered and boldly declared it to Grace.

“You old hag.”

“——Well, well. Stay where you are.

As soon as Grace stood up from her seat, Kou leaped off his chair.

Then, a game of tag immediately began, and the stage was the large garden before their eyes. The children were always looking for fun. They quickly joined the game of tag, throwing dishes and bread aside.

“It’s a lively place.”

Watching the children run around with Grace, Mitrof nodded gently and took a round loaf of bread from the basket.

In the dim light, the sound of cheerful children’s voices could be heard.

Saffron stood up and lit the candlestick on the table, then collected the empty dishes.

“Mitrof-san.”

It was Grace’s sister, Lattier, who spoke calmly.

Walking over to him with her hand on the back of a chair, she came close.

White and with porcelain-smooth skin, the slender face in the candlelight. She had a more mature atmosphere than Grace, but the black fabric covering her eyes stood out.

“Lattier-dono, please take my arm.”

Mitrof stood up and extended his arm, and Lattier gently placed his fingers on it. There was a graceful elegance in his modest gesture.

Mitrof led Lattier to the empty seat next to him while following Lattier’s movements.

“I apologize for being late to greet you—my sister spoke very highly of you.”

Mitrof sensed a different kind of elegance in Lattier’s dignified posture, with her back straight and not leaning on the chair’s backrest, unlike Grace.

Meanwhile, Lattier’s delicate features, translucently white skin, and slim outline portrayed a fragile, glass-like beauty, even hesitating to touch them.

Mitrof sat down next to him and picked up a glass that had been placed face-down on the table, pouring water from the pitcher.

“I place the glass in the direction of 2 o’clock to your right—it should be within reach if you stretch out your elbow.”

“Thank you for your consideration—you seem quite accustomed to this…?”

Finally, Mitrof realized that his actions were not commonplace upon hearing the words.

“It seems that habits developed during one’s childhood tend to manifest naturally.”

Mitrof chuckled. There was a mix of nostalgia for the past in his expression.

“An elderly woman who had taken care of me had developed eye problems—I helped her out like this for a while.”

“I’m sure she was pleased.”

“Not sure about that—I was quite inadequate and may have just caused more trouble.”

Mitrof picked up on his childhood memories before returning to reality.

“Is there something you want to talk to me about?”

The voice mixed affirmation and indecision, showing that he had not fully made up his mind.

The laughter of children running through the garden echoed. Lattier turned her face towards the children and Grace with a smile on her lips, even though her eyes were covered by a cloth.

“…Grace has always been helping me since we were young—even after I came here, she would check on me whenever she came to the city. I was very worried when I heard that she was going on an adventure because of her duty in the village.”

“Come to think of it, Grace was staying at the inn.”

“She probably didn’t want the children and me to worry about her—while she was exploring in the labyrinth as an adventurer, she hardly showed her face here. It is said that getting injured or losing one’s life is not uncommon in the labyrinth. Those who were supposed to return didn’t come back… The children have experienced such things too much.”

“Does that mean Grace was prepared to die…?”

“She is a very serious girl; she probably couldn’t expect everything to go well. She took the inn alone to make sure she didn’t hurt the children even if she was gone.”

Mitrof imagined Grace alone in her room at the inn, thinking about her sister and the village while preparing to challenge the labyrinth.

What was it like to venture into the underground cave, despite having someone waiting for you and a place to come back to?

Mitrof could now sense what was in Grace’s heart, something that he had never thought of when they first met.

Even though Grace was bright and dependable and helped Mitrof, who was a beginner, she must have experienced fear and conflict.

Perhaps she sought Mitrof as a companion because of the terror of venturing into the labyrinth alone in the city.

Grace ran around the garden, catching a nearby child and embracing them.

The child screamed, “Kyaa!” with a smile on their face. Grace was also laughing transparently, like a child.

“They seem to be having fun.”

“Yes, really. After her father passed away early, that child took up the bow and became a hunter. She hunted beasts, drove away bandits, and finally even went into the labyrinth. Now, she protects this church and gets involved in conflicts… actually, she’s a very kind girl.”

Lattier looked at Mitrof. Somehow, Mitrof felt like her gaze was firmly fixed on his eyes.

“That child said she owes you a great debt—in any form, once this matter is settled, I think she intends to go to the labyrinth with you again.”

To that, Mitrof struggled to respond. He couldn’t say that there was no such thing.

Above all, Mitrof himself had naturally thought that Grace would come back.

He, Canule, and Grace would challenge the labyrinth again together. He felt like that would make everything go back to normal.

However, going to the labyrinth was not “normal” for Grace. She had her own life and a place to be.

It seems that such an obvious thing is now clearly understood.

“This is selfish of me—please, won’t you refrain from taking my sister to the labyrinth?”

Chapter 91: The fat aristocrat knows responsibility

Lattier’s words made Mitrof widen his eyes. His heart was beating fast.

“…I won’t force Grace.”

“I know you’re not that kind of person—Grace always praises you—that’s why she’ll go to the labyrinth ‘for you’, using the excuse of paying back a debt—and she might die in the labyrinth—are you not worried about that?”

“She’s your precious little sister—of course, you want her to live far from danger and stay healthy.”

Lattier’s lines were thin, and her eyes were soft. However, there was a strength in her words to protect Grace and her feelings for her that Mitrof could not easily refute.

“I appreciate you for helping Grace; I also thank you for helping the village. Will you allow me to serve you? on her behalf.”

‘So let Grace be free…’ Without being expressed as a sound, Mitrof understood the meaning of those words.

He had a responsibility.

A chill ran down Mitrof’s back.

When he had helped Grace, Mitrof had not thought deeply about it. He just wanted to help a troubled woman. He had wanted to do what he could. That was how he felt.

He did not fully understand the meaning of helping others.

Mitrof had helped Grace. He did not see it as a debt that needed to be repaid. Nor did he intend to demand something in return, like a financial transaction.

But what about Grace?

She was a serious person. Even if Mitrof didn’t worry about it, she would worry.

Even if Mitrof said he didn’t need it, she wouldn’t be satisfied.

As long as it was given as it was, it was not equal. Because of her nobility, Grace could not be satisfied until she returned the same amount to Mitrof.

That’s why she’s going to the labyrinth.

At first, it was to protect the village.

Now, it is to repay Mitrof’s favor.

Grace’s only reason for challenging the labyrinth was that Mitrof was there.

If she happened to lose her life in the labyrinth, Mitrof would be responsible for it.

By helping Grace, Mitrof had added another chain to her burden. This chain was connected to the labyrinth, and Lattier wanted to break it for her.

To protect Grace’s life and the hearts of the children who looked up to her.

She was determined to sacrifice herself if necessary.

In front of a woman who seemed delicate in appearance but held a formidable will like steel, Mitrof had no words.

“Oh, are you two having a friendly chat?”

Grace returned with the children in tow.

Mitrof smiled at the teasing tone of her voice.

“I was just hearing what Lattier-dono had to say. It seems she had plenty of praise for me.”

“…What did you talk about, Sister?”

Lattier smiled wryly at Grace’s narrowed eyes.

“It’s what you always talked about—Mitrof-san is a reliable and good person.”

“My sister has a bad habit of exaggerating—don’t misunderstand, Mitrof.”

Grace suddenly spoke faster.

“Yes, I understand.”

“Do you really understand? Of course I acknowledge you, but there’s no special meaning to it.”

“Ah! the old hag’s cheeks turned red!”

Kou remarked as if he were simply pointing out what he saw.

Grace turned her face sharply towards Kou, her eyes narrowing slightly. Her cheeks did indeed seem to have a faint blush.

“I’ve been running around just now; that’s why!”

“Don’t be shy at your age; you’re not a kid, you know!”

Kou laughed while turning away.

“Kou, that’s not good… wait for me!”

As Kai gave the warning, she quickly moved away upon seeing Grace’s expression.

“If you dare provoke me, it means you haven’t had enough of running.”

“…Yikes.”

“Come on, try and catch me!”

Chasing after Kou, who had run off, Grace also started running again. The children divided themselves into those who joined the chase, those who were tired and rowed the boat on chairs, and those who reached out to grab the food left on the dining table.

The atmosphere was lively but gentle. Grace running around in the garden did not have the tense pressure that she had in the labyrinth.

Mitrof thought that perhaps that was Grace’s true nature.

If that was the case, he wondered if his presence, which would pull her away through the use of words such as “debt” and “help,” would actually benefit her. Even Mitrof struggled to determine that.

Mitrof took the napkin from his collar and neatly folded it, then put it in his pocket.

Saffron and the nuns picked up the children, who were already falling asleep, and began cleaning up the food.

Lattier understood the situation from the sound of the movement.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, but I have work to attend to.”

“We’ve been treated to dinner—we should leave our seats soon.”

“I would be happy to talk to you again at another time.”

With a deep bow, Lattier returned to the church.

Mitrof knew that even without someone guiding her, she could walk around the church, as it was a familiar place.

The children who had been running around started to help clean up when Saffron called out to them.

There were rules to living here, and Grace seemed to have become completely accustomed to being within that circle.

Mitrof reached into his pocket to search for a silver coin from his wallet and tucked it under his glass.

Saffron and the others must have used the food they had stored to welcome Mitrof and Canule tonight. This was how they showed hospitality.

Feeling grateful for their consideration, Mitrof ate without hesitation, even though it was originally intended for the children’s meals. He made an excuse to himself that this was his donation to the church before getting up from his seat.

Mitrof informed Canule and Saffron of his departure, and there was not much weight to the parting. Grace would remain at the church. Mitrof knew he could come back here anytime—tomorrow or the day after.

He said goodbye, promising to meet again, and left the church.

Chapter 92: The fat aristocrat is in order

“I’m glad to see you’re doing well.”

Alone in the public bath, Mitrof gazed at the steam and grumbled to himself.

The fact that he had met Grace again was like a warm ember held close to his chest. However, there were also events that forced him to think about what he should do.

Her older sister, Lattier, asked him not to take Grace to the labyrinth, and he was made aware of a difficult situation. He couldn’t make a quick decision on what to do, nor could he ignore her sister’s feelings for Grace.

The answer was not easy, but the issue could not be left unresolved. He knew that he needed to take the time to sit down, cross his arms, and find a solution on a blank piece of paper.

Mitrof soaked his shoulders in the murky water and exhaled deeply.

Until just a few months ago, Mitrof lived a life of laziness, akin to being a shut-in. He ate the food prepared for him, laid on a clean bed, and read books when he got bored. On sunny days, he would lie down on the lawn and take a nap.

Every day felt like a holiday, but the endless repetition of those days became boring. Back then, Mitrof’s thoughts were as timid as floating in lukewarm water, without making any decisions or worrying about anything.

He had a desire for more excitement, more challenges, and to feel more alive. But now that he had started a life as an adventurer, there was never a dull day. Like a flame igniting cooled iron, Mitrof’s inner self was gradually embracing a fiery passion.

‘It’s wonderful,’ Mitrof thought. He didn’t want to go back to the cold and empty emotions of those days.

However, not knowing the correctness of the answer to what he should do left a lingering feeling in his chest, making him want to escape.

“…What do you want me to do?”

Submerging himself in the hot water up to the back of his head, Mitrof squinted his eyes—today’s bath was a little too hot, he complained to himself.

The heat of the water tingled his arms and legs, boiling his head from within, making it difficult for him to think. His thoughts were scattered and couldn’t be organized.

Gazing at the images that appeared and disappeared in the steam, the children from the church, Grace’s smile, Lattier’s plea for concern for her sister, and the sacred paintings on the ceiling of the church…

“Are you planning to boil yourself alive?”

“…Huh?”

Suddenly, Mitrof was brought back to consciousness and realized that he had lost himself in thought.

A muscular beastman was looking down at Mitrof. The lion-headed man with a sharp nose was a familiar sight to Mitrof.

With a face that could be frightening, the lion-headed man inserted his hand and easily lifted Mitrof’s arm.

“It seems that the water pipe that regulates the hot spring’s hot water is malfunctioning—the water is too hot to take a long bath today… it’s probably too late now.”

“… What? I’m not a boiled pig.”

“Your whole body is bright red—you’re already perfectly boiled.”

With a sigh, the lion-headed man picked up Mitrof under his arm. Like a heated rock used to warm oneself in the winter, Mitrof’s body was radiating heat.

Amidst the cheers, heckles, and laughter of the regulars around him, the lion-headed man headed towards a rectangular bathtub at the edge. Like a waterfall, water flowed down and incessantly gave off water droplets as Mitrof was thrown in.

Plop! Water splashed vigorously.

Mitrof, who had been thrown in, quickly regained consciousness and hastily sat up.

“It’s cold!”

“It’s a cold bath—stay in for a while.”

Mitrof experienced an ice-like sensation throughout his body. The water that accumulated in the bathtub, which was made of smooth stones, was indeed transparent, allowing the decorative pattern on the tile floor to be clearly visible.

He tried to crawl out, but the lion-headed man pushed him back as the chill made his spine tremble.

While struggling and splashing about, Mitrof suddenly got used to the cold sensation.

“…Uh, huh?”

Instead, he felt strangely relaxed, as though all the heat and strength had been drained from his body. It was a strange feeling, as if his skin had dissolved in the water.

“This is… amazing…”

“That’s right. It’s a refined adult pastime to cool down a well-heated body in this cold bath… I thought you might not be ready for it yet, but if you can understand its charm, then you are a true adult.”

“Indeed, I thought I would die the moment I entered the cold bath… Maybe only adults can endure this…”

“That’s right—any joy in life is waiting for you beyond perseverance.”

Saying so, the lion-headed man calmly entered the cold bath and sat down. Even Mitrof, who had warmed his body with hot water, screamed at how cold the water was, yet the man did not even flinch.

Mitrof’s eyes shined as he realized that this was what a real man looked like.

They stood side by side and enjoyed the cold bath, feeling the chill in every corner of their bodies. At the same time, there was a definite heat inside their bodies, and they tasted a strange but pleasant sensation where they could not tell where the boundary between cold and warmth lay.

“Let’s get out.”

The lion-headed man stood up.

Mitrof followed suit, and they headed to the end of the bathhouse, following the man’s back.

The bathhouse was spacious, and there were still many places that Mitrof did not know about. The lion-headed man headed towards the open door that led outside. Going outside, they found themselves in an open-air area.

The ground was made up of smooth, tiled stones, much like the inside of the bathhouse, and was surrounded by wooden boards to block views from the outside.

Overhead, bamboo was constructed, on which green ivy and leaves were entwined, providing shade and shelter from the rain.

“There are chairs lined up; is this a resting place?”

“After tightening your body in the cold bath, you relax your mind here—outdoor air bathing harmonizes your mind and body.”

The lion-headed man found a vacant wooden couch, sat there, stretched his legs, and laid down while crossing his arms on his stomach, then closed his eyes.

The wooden couches were arranged evenly and were of different sizes, but the ones here seemed to be particularly large and sturdy for the large-bodied beastman guests. Mitrof sat next to him, feeling as though he were lying down on a bed.

“…What is this for? How do you enjoy this?”

“Don’t think, feel.”

With a concise response, Mitrof was puzzled. For now, he mimicked the lion-headed man by stretching his legs and placing his hands on his round and bloated belly.

Doubting what he was doing here, he closed his eyes. With his vision blocked, the sounds became clearer.

The sound of water was constantly heard from the bathhouse. With the echo of men’s laughter, the sound of a wooden bucket rolling, and a father scolding his children running around, he could feel the daily lives of the people.

Gradually, his consciousness returned to his body. Heat was returning to his chilled skin from the cold bath. There seemed to be a single axis in the center of his body where the red heat was accumulating.

Then a gust of wind blew. The leaves above rustled, and an unseen breeze, containing the presence of the night, brushed past his skin in a refreshing moment.

The heat of his body, the chill of his skin, and the blowing wind

Mitrof’s spine tingled. There was a liberating feeling from his nape to his temples that made him numb. All the worries, stress, anxiety about the future, regret towards the past, and any other problems he had been carrying were all suddenly released.

“Do you understand?”

The lion-headed man asked

“I understand…”

Mitrof replied.

“Can you feel it?”

The man asked.

“I can feel it…”

Mitrof replied.

“So this is what it means to “get organized.”

Mitrof exclaimed in amazement.

He had no idea that baths could be so profound.

It was not just about soaking in the hot water. It was about cooling down the heated body with water and feeling the breeze. At that moment, one would reflect inwardly, as if organizing the cluttered thoughts and emotions, just like tidying up a messy room.

“Baths are amazing.”

“That’s right—baths are philosophy.”

Although Mitrof did not understand the meaning behind the words of the lion-headed man, he nodded and agreed anyway. His heart was so relaxed that he did not care about the details.

“Getting organized” or “preparing” was such a wonderful thing!

Chapter 93: The fat aristocrat finds it

When Mitrof woke up in the morning, he checked the condition of his arm. He had been resting from exploring the labyrinth due to a strain in his right arm muscles, but now the pain was gone. He thought that he could go to the labyrinth without any problems.

Rest days were good for resting the body. Mitrof’s body was no longer tired.

However, it was a different matter if the heart could rest. It seemed that it was more restful to focus on fighting monsters than to write down things that absentmindedly shift to the heart.

Mitrof changed into his work clothes for labyrinth exploration, put on a leather gauntlet on his left arm, and attached a thrusting sword to his sword belt. While carefully tying his boot laces, he considered inviting Canule.

The doctor had told him to rest quietly for a week.

Canule also supported that, and she was a serious person. She worries about him. Even if Mitrof said that he was already cured, she would prioritize the doctor’s words.

“…I’ll just move my body a little.”

Muttering excuses to the emptiness, Mitrof left the room.

He had no intention of delving too deep, only walking around the shallow levels. He wouldn’t push himself too hard in battle. This was simply to check the condition of his arms. But then, he realized he needed to get Canule’s permission.

When he lined up his excuses, his actions didn’t seem so bad. Yes, everyone has the right to exercise. He needed to exercise to lose weight.

If he went to the guild, he would only see other adventurers bustling around. Being a member of that community made Mitrof feel at ease. He felt a sense of security knowing that this was his place to belong.

When he looked for the counter to enter the labyrinth, the usual receptionist was there. The receptionist smiled at Mitrof with her large round glasses still on her nose.

“Mitrof-san, are you alone today?”

“Yeah, I plan on walking around the shallow levels—just for exercise and to check the condition of my arms.”

Maybe it was because of a little sense of guilt towards Canule that Mitrof found himself making excuses without being asked.

The receptionist answered with a vague smile, “Okay,” and took Mitrof’s adventurer card.

Every adventurer entering the labyrinth must complete the necessary procedures here.

They record who, how many, why, and which floor they are heading to.

“How long will you be gone?”

“I think I’ll be back by early afternoon—when I get hungry.”

“Understood.”

The receptionist smoothly filled in the paperwork.

“I’m always asked about my return time, but what happens if I don’t come back?”

“If it’s been 24 hours and you haven’t returned, a search team will be dispatched.”

“That’s kind of you.”

“Well, yes.”

The receptionist chuckled with a hint of meaning. When Mitrof tilted his head in confusion, the receptionist frowned and replied.

“If someone has not returned from the labyrinth, it usually means they have died or their body cannot be found—typically, we search for a body or something that identifies them; however, sometimes they are unable to move due to injuries.”

“I see… Well, if you’re stuck in the labyrinth, you won’t have long to live.”

“Hopefully adventurers or ‘people of the labyrinth’ can find you instead.”

“Will the ‘people of the labyrinth’ help me?”

“It’s not widely known, but they do help adventurers—it’s an unspoken agreement, you could say.”

It seems that there are adult circumstances involved in the vague wording.

Mitrof wonders if Blanc Manje is also helping adventurers. He does not know what she thinks or what her purpose is. However, he has a feeling that she is not a bad person. There is also a debt of gratitude for receiving “amber” as compensation for completing the quest.

As Mitrof received the card from the receptionist, he wondered if he should have listened to the conversation more carefully before diving into the labyrinth.

Walking alone in the dim labyrinth, Mitrof felt refreshed.

Come to think of it, this was the first time he had walked alone since the first time he came here. After being saved from a life-threatening situation, he formed a party with Grace and Canule. When Grace returned to the village, it was just the two of them.

Now that Grace had returned, Mitrof had thought that once they dealt with the problem at the orphanage, the three of them would walk through here again naturally.

However, as Lattier, Grace’s older sister, had worried, the labyrinth was a dangerous place.

Mitrof had no other means of earning a living. Canule was searching for clues to break the curse within the labyrinth. But Grace has no more reason to take risks in the labyrinth.

For Grace’s sake, Mitrof negotiated with a noble collector, exchanged a precious labyrinth’s relic they found together for the ingredients for medicine, and handed it over to Grace as is.

Grace probably thinks she owes Mitrof a favor. Will they end up discussing how she pays off that debt by adventuring together?

While walking, Mitrof’s mind becomes calm when encountering monsters.

They defeat monsters they occasionally come across without hesitation. Even opponents, whom he used to be so afraid of and fight so desperately with, can now be handled calmly. There, he felt his growth and the passage of time.

While walking in the labyrinth, Mitrof passes by other adventurers. A party of beginners returns with tired faces. A man guarding the fire replenishes oil to the hanging lanterns on the walls.

Everything seems to be simplified inside the labyrinth.

Defeating monsters, walking, and returning, that’s all they need to do.

For Mitrof, it was easy and relaxing.

Mitrof descended the stairs, ready to fight monsters alone. He could still do it. He was still okay. As he extended his steps, Mitrof reached the farthest point of the fifth basement floor.

Standing at the junction, where one path leads to the stairs descending to lower floors, and the other leads to the room of the “guardian,” Mitrof hesitated about whether to turn back or move forward. It was good physical exercise and a good distraction.

The sixth floor marked the second level, and the enemies grew tougher, making it difficult for him to advance alone.

Mitrof’s right arm was also feeling hot around the elbow, indicating that he was about to experience sharp, stinging pain. It would be foolish to injure himself by pushing too hard.

It was then that Mitrof decided to turn back.

However, he became drawn to the passage leading to the “guardian’s” room.

Labyrinths have mysterious rules, and one of them is the existence of a powerful monster called a “guardian” every five floors. Even if adventurers don’t defeat the “guardian,” they can still advance to lower floors. It’s a test of strength and a sort of badge of honor for adventurers.

The guardian of the fifth floor is a giant bear called the “Scarlet Bear.” Mitrof has only seen its right arm.

Mitrof had fought against the “Red-Eyed Troll,” a monster that had transformed into a mutant through “sublimation,” and defeated the “Scarlet Bear,” using its right arm as a weapon.

The “Red-Eyed Troll” hammered its claws into the floor, digging through the guardian’s room, finally making a hole. This was because the “Scarlet Bear’s” claws were so sharp and solid.

The guild quickly sealed the hole. However, strangely enough, Mitrof heard that the “Scarlet Bear” had not appeared since then.

The Guild has closed the room in the name of investigating the cause, but adventurers just laugh and say there is no point in investigating the labyrinth, which they don’t even understand to begin with. Even if one of the eccentric “Guardians” disappears on a whim, adventurers’ lives are not affected in any way.

In front of Mitrof, a sign indicating “restricted access” was set up, serving as proof of these rumors.

“No one has any business in the room without the “Guardian”. Well, even if there was, I have no intention of going…”

Mitrof squinted his eyes, and his round ears twitched. He held his breath to confirm that what he heard was not an auditory hallucination.

“…Is that a song?”

There was a faint echo coming from the end of the passage. Like how wind whispers through the gaps in wooden doors in the winter, it was obscure and unstable, yet a melody nonetheless.

‘Was it just my imagination?’ Mitrof placed his hand on his nape, feeling a tingle from the base of his hair all the way to the back of his neck. ‘But why does it bother me so much?’

Mitrof doesn’t believe in intuition.

Bad things can happen unexpectedly, and good things rarely occur. It’s a mere chance to predict them beforehand. Even if you feel a bad premonition a hundred times a day, it’s bound to come true eventually.

But now, Mitrof has an inexplicable feeling that a “bad premonition” is haunting him.

‘No, I shouldn’t worry about it,’ Mitrof said, shaking his head.

Hearing music from an empty room is just a drunken man’s rambling.

He retraced his steps a few steps back and stopped.

“… I’m just going to check—there’s nothing there anyway.”

It’s not a sense of guilt for breaking into a restricted area, but rather a self-affirmation.

With his right hand still on the hilt, Mitrof walked towards the corridor leading to the “Guardian’s” room, silently checking for any lurking figures in the darkness.

Apparently, even the firekeepers don’t enter this area. The lantern hanging on the wall is not lit. As the darkness deepened, Mitrof stopped, took out a lantern from his backpack, and illuminated the area.

As he advanced with it held up before his eyes, he realized it wasn’t just an auditory hallucination; he could clearly hear the song now.

Legend has it that in the sea, there are spirits known as sirens. These sirens, also known as mermaids, have the appearance of beautiful women and bewitch sailors with their lovely singing voices.

But what Mitrof was hearing now was not music to his ears. The melody was off-key, the volume was unstable, and the unpleasant sound was like metal scraping together. As it entered his ears, it felt like ice-cold thorns were being thrust into his back, causing a chill to run through him. Nonetheless, this was a song.

At the end of the corridor, there was a small hall and a pair of rough double doors. There was no sign of human presence, and the air was filled with an atmosphere like that of a deserted ruin.

Although it would be the right call to turn back and report to the guild, something piqued Mitrof’s curiosity and prompted him to place his hand on the doors.

There is something or someone beyond the doors. ‘What could it be?’ The desire to see something scary moves Mitrof forward.

Pushing the door, it seemed like a heavy stone door, but when pushed with force, the gaps opened while scraping the ground. The singing abruptly stopped.

Mitrof also paused for a moment, then pushed the door further and peered into the room with a lantern in hand.

The Guardian’s Hall, where no light penetrated, was filled with silence and darkness.

From his neck to his spine, Mitrof felt a tingling sensation. He felt like something was there.

The calm voice in his head told him to turn back. Nevertheless, Mitrof continued onward.

He raised the lantern and turned around on the spot, as if it were a smooth dance step that had become ingrained in his body, to observe his surroundings.

The lantern was too weak to fully illuminate the Guardian’s Hall, making it difficult to have a comprehensive view of the whole room.

Mitrof froze. He held his breath, listening for any sound of movement. A single bead of sweat rolled down his cheek.

The singing had stopped. There was nothing there. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“I guess intuition is not always reliable.”

As Mitrof turned on his heel to leave, he shrugged his shoulders.

Then an elderly woman with a grotesque appearance stood in a place where no one should have been.

Chapter 94: The fat aristocrat forgets things

“An old woman,” Mitrof thinks. But there was no proof.

Mitrof involuntarily took a step back because the figure in front of him was too abnormal.

Her back was bent at a right angle. In her right hand, she held a sheathed sword, and in her left hand, she held a lantern with a blue flame. Her white and dirty black hair was tangled, and on the ground, it coiled like a snake.

Instead of a face, there was a goat’s skull where it should have been. It was not a mask, but the face itself was a goat’s skull, with the eye sockets painted black.

She was wrapped in a black shroud, adorned with gold and silver ornaments. Not only did she look unusual, but she exuded an eerie sense of oppression, as if a bottomless toxic gas was emanating from her.

Mitrof was speechless.

It was too abnormal to call it a “person.”

However, it was too “human” to call it a monster.

“Are you from the people of the labyrinth?”

Mitrof’s voice was hoarse.

The goat-skullhead-old-woman didn’t answer anything. She slightly tilted her head from side to side, observing Mitrof with her dark eyes.

Mitrof felt a sense of horror at the unusual and eerie experience he had never encountered before.

Click, click, click.

The old woman’s nails bounced off the scabbard. The fleshless fingers, covered only with a thin layer of skin on the bone, lacked the color of the living. Her long, yellowed nails tapped against the scabbard before coming to a stop.

——A singing voice

The sound was like metal rubbing against metal, like rain and air breaking through in a stormy night, like the twisting of a beast’s muscle strings being plucked. an exceedingly eerie sound that Mitrof had never heard before.

The mouth of the goat-skullhead-old-woman was open. The vibrations that emanated from it were undeniably making sounds.

When faced with an incomprehensible phenomenon, people react in various ways. Most often, they initially reject it. Facing a strange creature’s presence in the monster’s lair inside the labyrinth, Mitrof was unable to make a judgment.

Is this the enemy? Should he fight, or should he run away?

The goat’s skull rattled, and music that shook the depths of the earth echoed from its mouth. Mitrof drew his thrusting sword. By taking up a weapon to protect himself, he regained some composure.

At the same time, the next question arose.

‘Could I win against this opponent? Could I escape?’

She wasn’t massive, and her weapon was unsheathed. Her physique was not reassuring, and she looked like she might fall with a single strike from a steel sword.

However, the ominousness of the goat-skullhead-old-woman was enough to make Mitrof pause.

The goat-skull tilted, already level with the ground, as it leaned to one side, then the other, before slowly returning to its original position. Then she swung the sword sheath of her right hand like she was waving off the wind.

Flash.

Dodging it was due to a split-second change in consciousness. It was strengthened by sublimation, and sometimes it moved the body faster than reflexes. It had a keen sense of danger, like that of a wild beast.

Mitrof squatted as if to kneel on his right knee. The impact and gust of wind dissipated. There was a sound of something being slammed against the wall behind him.

There was a crackling sound. Mitrof looked at his shoulder. His clothes were burned. A sharp, thorn-like light flickered and disappeared.

“——Was that lightning?”

He muttered in amazement. His shoulder was numb. He looked at the old woman, who was still holding her sword and tilting her head left and right.

It could be magic, the sorcery of a monster, or the power of that sword. The old woman had just reproduced a lightning flash in the stormy sky.

Mitrof’s thoughts were spinning calmly. He stood up and prepared himself, suppressing his anxiety. One thing was certain. That thing was undoubtedly the enemy. Therefore, he had no choice but to fight.

His left shoulder suddenly twitched. Mitrof wondered if it was a curse that moved involuntarily, regardless of one’s will.

He timidly put some force into his fists and arms a few times, and the twitch stopped. If just a graze could cause an effect, he could die if he were hit directly. Mitrof was a bit surprised at himself for calmly thinking about his own death.

‘That’s right. I am now facing death.’

Before he could tremble in fear, the goat-skullhead-old-woman raised her sword sheath again. She did not swing it, only lifted it above her head.

Mitrof frowned and immediately sensed it—a lightning strike.

He rolled away horizontally as the ground shattered with a flash of light. The impact, the light, and the sound were overwhelming. He was unable to protect himself and could only roll awkwardly. However, thanks to the fat stored in his body, he could absorb the shock.

Trying to get up immediately, he found that his right leg had no strength. There was a glimmer of light flashing from his knee down.

“Damn it!” he swore, slapping his right leg. His hand felt numb and painful, so he instinctively pulled it back. His spasmodic leg had no strength, and it was the only part of his body that was limp like a dead body.

He stood up with only his left leg, but his own body felt too heavy.

While holding an out-of-place thought that he should have lost weight, Mitrof maintained his stance with his thrusting sword as a cane.

The goat-skullhead-old-woman was not pursuing him. She tilted her skull from side to side and gazed at the sword in her hand. It was like a baby exploring the outside world for the first time, but Mitrof felt a sense of horror at the innocent behavior that was harbored in her abnormal appearance.

The goat-skullhead-old-woman’s eye sockets face towards Mitrof.

Holding his sword, which he had been using as a cane, and taking a deep breath, Mitrof ran off.

A creaking sound echoed from behind her yellowed teeth. Was it a voice or a song? The scabbard shook, and a spark flashed in the air. The thorns of light were visible.

‘How to avoid it?’

Mitrof stepped forward with a left step. The thorns, with irregular nodes, headed towards Mitrof but suddenly turned just before contact. Mitrof managed to dodge the attack while the sharp, thrusting sword in his hand bit into the air with a delayed explosion like heat.

One’s mind should grip the sword, for to let go of one’s weapon is to die.

However, his body disobeyed the firm command of his mind and released the sword. The unprecedented shock and heat made him realize that holding onto the sword at that moment would have led to imminent danger.

While stepping on the ground that trembled from the shock wave that occurred at his fingertips, Mitrof looked at his hand. The briars were entangled in the thrusting sword floating in the air. The burns on his palm spread like branches—’did lightning have heat?’

Mitrof’s eyes widened, as if he had discovered something new, like a scholar, in a completely inappropriate situation.

In the fleeting moment when his thoughts were interrupted, Mitrof adjusted his posture.

The goat-skullhead-old-woman was right there, but he had let go of his weapon—no, he had a short sword that he received from the Silver Knight.

Mitrof drew the short sword from his waist.

He leaned his weight onto the sword, thrusting it as if he were tackling. But the tip of the blade was sucked into the black tatters of her cloak and pierced through, even cutting through her arm.

He gasped in surprise and confusion. His momentum did not stop, and Mitrof passed through the cold membrane that made his spine freeze, rolling to the ground.

He hurriedly got up, taking a defensive stance. As he looked back, he saw the cloak fluttering, but there was nothing where the body should have been.

Shaking a pale blue light, the goat-skullhead-old-woman turned around. With her skull tilting to the right, she stared fixedly at Mitrof.

“This is…interesting—no, this is not a time to be amused.”

Since enhancing his mental strength through sublimation, there were times when Mitrof felt like his thoughts were splitting apart. There was a part of him that was deeply agitated and another part that calmly analyzed reality. Both were aspects of himself, but he wondered which one was the true Mitrof.

This was a completely different kind of entity from the monsters he had encountered in the labyrinth. His attacks were ineffective against it. There was a part of Mitrof that was scared, crying out, and wanting to escape immediately.

It was an existence that took form without a body, likely based on the principle of magic. It should be classified as a “magician.” It used magic that resembled lightning. If her body was useless, what about that skull? It seemed easy to aim for.

The part of himself that restrained his emotions, separated his feelings, and analyzed the entity between his eyes—was that the “strong Mitrof” obtained through sublimation?

He didn’t know. But that kind of thinking was necessary to survive.

Mitrof slowly took deep breaths and pushed down the screaming part of himself deep within his heart. For a moment, he glanced at the door. It was on his left. Even if he ran straight for it, the lightning from the goat-skullhead-old-woman entity would be faster.

There was no choice but to face it, with this short sword? It was better to have a weapon, at least.

Mitrof took up the unreliable short sword. First, he had to avoid the lightning strikes. It had to be perfect. Even a graze would cause numbness in his limbs.

‘Can I do it?’ He asked himself.

‘If I couldn’t, I would just die,’ he answered himself.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman trembled, and her song echoed louder than ever. She raised her sword, clutching it with withered fingers like a staff.

The moment Mitrof braced himself, a blade of flame attacked the goat-skullhead-oldwoman from the side. The goat-skullhead-oldwoman countered it with lightning generated by holding up her scabbard and shaking her head back and forth.

The figure ran through the darkness. Straight toward Mitrof, she ran, grabbing his hand and pulling him without paying any attention to Mitrof’s calls. Caught off guard by the sudden strength, Mitrof stuck his leg out to avoid falling, then ran along.

Behind them, there was the sound of air rupturing.

“Here comes the lightning!”

“Don’t worry.”

At Mitrof’s scream, Blanc Manje turned around and pulled Mitrof’s arm, running towards the door. Mitrof stumbled and they switched positions. Mitrof pushed through the door and stumbled out.

Blanc Manje fell backward and looked up at the sky. She swung her sword as lightning spread across the sky.

The flames of her innate magical power intertwined with the lightning.

The lightning that pierced through the wall of flames wrapped around Blanc Manje’s sword. She let out a scream, but held on. Just before she collapsed, she spun around and followed Mitrof out the door.

“Close the door!”

At Blanc Manje’s command, Mitrof, who had stood up, placed his hand on the door and closed it with all his strength.

“…But does it really matter if we close it?”

“The ‘guardian’s room’ is like a prison—once it’s closed, no one can come out.”

After Blanc Manje’s reply, Mitrof let out a breath. He leaned against the door and sat down, sliding down the door.

In front of him was Blanc Manje, wrapped in a pale green robe. A slender sword could be seen protruding from the long hem, as the woman’s hands were concealed. The edge of the robe was blackened and smoking.

“Thank you. I’m saved—are your arms okay?”

“Yes, perfectly fine.”

Blanc Manje sheathed the sword into a scabbard in the shadow of the robe, then crouched down to meet Mitrof’s eye level.

“Mitrof-san—are you alright? Do you have any injuries?”

“Just a graze—what was that thing? A monster? The guardian?”

“I cast a magic barrier to repel humans, but how did you make it through?”

“Magic barrier? I don’t know, but I felt a strange presence and came here—so, what was that?”

Blanc Manje groaned with concern, then shook his head resignedly.

“That was not a ‘guardian.’ It’s a being called a ‘demon,’ who embodies ancient calamities, grief, and suffering.”

“I see, a demon.”

Mitrof nodded vigorously. It was Blanc Manje who was confused.

“… Uh, do you not believe me? They’re called “demons,” you know?”

“I learned about them in religious studies—aren’t they the inhabitants of hell? The embodiment of evil that corrupts humans, enemies of the gods… They’re common in labyrinths, aren’t they?”

“Well, they’re not that common, but…”

Blanc Manje stumbled over her words.

Normally, someone with more common sense would sneer or shout for them to say something more reasonable. However, Mitrof’s ignorance of the world worked in their favor. While he had knowledge, there were certain things that were far removed from the common sense of labyrinth society and everyday life.

Therefore, even if he was told that “demons” were in the labyrinth, Mitrof’s flexibility allowed him to accept it as just something that existed.

“Whatever you call them, they are terrifying.”

Mitrof recalled his fear through the door he was leaning against. Their abnormal presence, their terrifying form, their thin existence.

“They are said to be existences beyond the logic of this world—Ah, no, but more importantly…”

Mitrof stood up and looked back and forth between the tightly closed “guardian’s room” and Blanc Manje’s face.

“… My sword is still inside.”

Blanc Manje looked surprised and sighed in exasperation. Shaking her head left and right, she said,

“Just give up.”

as if she were talking to a little child.

Chapter 95: The fat aristocrat runs away

Mitrof and Blanc Manje descended to the 6th floor together. The “guardian’s room” was located on the deepest part of the 5th floor, and the stairs were just past the hallway. There was a rest area at the bottom where many adventurers would gather.

Blanc Manje, wrapped in a robe from head to toe, stood out. Some knew of her presence.

However, adventurers who were accustomed to seeing only Mitrof were numerous. The Canule accompanying him always wore a black robe, concealing her entire body.

The color of her robe changed, but it wasn’t enough to draw attention. Adventurers, in general, were not very intrusive.

The two of them chose a place as far away as possible from their surroundings. Mitrof sat down heavily, while Blanc Manje gracefully lifted her gown and sit down.

“… First of all, I thank you. You saved my life. I also owe you another debt.”

Mitrof bowed his head, and Blanc Manje shook her head left and right.

“I’m glad you’re okay—that room is currently sealed off. It’s best to stay away for a while.”

“Despite being sealed off, there were no guards or security…”

“As I mentioned earlier, a warding spell is in place—the effect weakens if someone unrelated to the caster is present—so we intentionally kept people away… Mitrof-san, why were you there?”

“…I heard singing.”

“Singing?”

“Yeah, you heard it too, right?”

Mitrof naturally inquired, but Blanc Manje seemed puzzled. Mitrof was adept at sensing underlying reactions.

“…You can’t hear it?”

“I’ve never heard of singing before.”

“…”

Mitrof doubted himself for a moment, wondering if it was an auditory hallucination. However, that melody, which still lingered in his memory, was never a dream or a hallucination. He definitely heard it. But Blanc Manje had never heard of it.

“Wait, have you met that person before?”

“That demon over there is new to me.”

“What about other demons?”

Blanc Manje shrugged in response. Of course, there were others.

“Do demons appear frequently in the labyrinth?”

“Not so frequently, but yes, there are ‘demons’.”

‘Demons?’

The existence of the fantastical beings described in the Bible was being treated like the rats hiding in the attic. Mitrof grumbled in his throat and crossed his arms.

“Can they be defeated?”

“It’s possible.”

“Have you defeated any demons?”

“A few times.”

“Is that your duty?”

“I suppose you could say that, but the details are secret.”

Mitrof looked towards Blanc Manje’s waist. Had he not noticed before, or was he not carrying it at all? There was a sword there, and that flame-like blade…

“You must be strong.”

“Well, I can’t say for sure.”

“That power—is it perhaps a magic sword—?”

What came to mind was a rumor. A man calling himself an informant had told the story of a magic sword wielder who had cut a crystal lizard in two.

‘No way,’ Mitrof said, looking at Blanc Manje.

“You, you’re a magic sword wielder!”

Mitrof’s breath was rough with surprise and excitement, his childish heart longing for the legend of the magic sword.

However, Blanc Manje remained calm and kept a distance from Mitrof, who had leaned forward in excitement. Answering in a cool voice, Blanc Manje said, “What about it?”

“Well, there’s a rumor that a magic sword wielder is in the labyrinth…”

“There are always rumors like that going around—it’s a common one that has been going on for over several decades.”

“Huh?”

“…No need to look so sad about it.”

Mitrof’s shoulders slumped as he realized there were neither magic sword users nor magic swords. But then again, he thought, who wouldn’t yearn for a magic sword? There would always be rumors about it.

“I knew that deep down, but I can’t help but hope for it—I am a man after all.”

“…Is that so?”

The voice was filled with despair.

“Let’s give up on the magic sword—but I cannot give up on my sword.”

Now that he had left his beloved sword in the room, it had become a more pressing issue. He had sentimental value attached to it, and without a weapon, he would not be able to venture into the labyrinth.

“…Please wait a moment—If we succeed in subduing it, I believe you can return the favor.”

“Are you going to fight it again?”

“That’s the plan—It’s dangerous to leave it be.”

“I’ll help too.”

Mitrof straightened his back. His declaration, with his chest held high, was grand. As a noble, it went against his nurtured values to leave the fighting to the women and wait in a safe place.

“Do you plan to fight empty-handed?”

“Ah.”

All Mitrof had on his waist was an empty sheath. It was impossible for him to fight with just one short sword. Mitrof was now undoubtedly powerless. It was terribly unsettling to be in the labyrinth, where monsters roamed without any weapons.

“I will escort you home.”

Mitrof had no choice but to accept Blanc Manje’s proposal.

Chapter 96: The fat aristocrat knows how frustrating it can be

As expected, the bath was great. No matter what troubles or fatigue he had, everything vanished like bubbles once he got into the bath… If only he had known how good it was.

He left the labyrinth with no specific destination in mind and arrived at the sizable bathhouse while the sun was still high. Blanc Manje accompanied him or, more accurately, watched to make sure Mitrof didn’t go to grab his sword.

He had become bored with an injured arm and went to the labyrinth. But the result was terrible. He encountered a “demon,” left behind his precious sword, and now his arms and legs, hit by lightning, were beginning to ache.

As he soaked in the bath and reflected on it, he realized that he might have died if Blanc Manje hadn’t been there.

Although he had come to the large bathhouse with the expectation that his mood would be refreshed, Mitrof’s emotional baggage did not dissolve into the water and remained a heavy burden.

He had soaked in the bath for so long. Whenever he felt dizzy, he would sit on the edge to cool off his upper body. But no matter how many times he repeated it, his body remained boiling.

Mitrof left the hot bath and headed towards the cold bath. The open-air bath, enclosed only by a blindfold, had fewer people than the inner bath. The water drawn from the waterway outside the city was cold like snowmelt, and few people enjoyed soaking in the cold bath for long periods of time. Most people quickly washed themselves with water and returned to the inner bath.

Amidst them, a huge shadow was occupying the center of the cold bath, arms crossed and eyes closed, looking as if they were undergoing training.

Mitrof picked up a bucket of water and gently poured it over his body. Even if his skin was getting red and hot, the water was still cold enough to make him shiver. However, after repeating the process several times, he became accustomed to the coldness and felt a warmth within his body.

Suddenly, he remembered the goat-skullhead-oldwoman. To dispel that memory, he poured water over his head. Mitrof took a deep breath and plunged into the cold water up to his shoulders.

Initially, it was painful, but once he was fully submerged, he felt surprisingly comfortable.

“You’ve immersed yourself well again today—it seems like you’re used to the cold bath now.”

The big, lion-headed man opened his eyes and said—with his lips lifted, he must be laughing, but with visible sharp fangs, he looked like an intimidating beast.

“I took a long bath—my body is hot.”

Unintentionally, Mitrof’s response was lacking in politeness.

The lion-headed man raised an eyebrow. Through experience, he knew that adventurers, especially men, would show this attitude only when they had failed in a labyrinth.

“Did you fight a tough opponent? You don’t look injured.”

Mitrof cleared his throat and groaned. He rubbed his facial muscles, thinking about whether his attitude was too obvious.

He felt embarrassed as if his weakness had been exposed. However, he thought that this could be an opportunity to release what he had been holding back. His mouth opened on its own.

“…You’re clearly a strong person—I bet you’ve never lost.”

Mitrof muttered.

“I suffered a terrible defeat today—It’s unbearably painful. My entire life has been filled with constant losses, so this is probably normal… maybe I was just lucky to have picked up a few wins and got carried away.”

Mitrof’s eyes fell to the water’s surface. The sunlight reflected off of it, blindingly bright.

The lion-headed man remained silent, and the heavy silence between them made Mitrof feel uneasy. Without thinking, he continued speaking.

“Maybe I thought I could win—no matter who my opponent was, I could handle it. I can prove that I’m strong, talented, and capable of anything…”

His words trailed off, and he bit his lower lip.

An old man came to the bath, squatting at the edge of the water. He scooped water with a bucket and poured it over his head. He shouted “hyaa” and slapped his body before standing up and returning. The lion-headed man watched him depart and let out a deep sigh.

“You’re lucky.”

“… Because I survived?”

“That’s right. Anyone who loses in the labyrinth dies. There is no opportunity for remorse or reflection. However, you can soak in a cold bath, lament your weakness, and indulge in your misery—you are lucky.”

“That’s quite ironic—are you saying that I am foolish?”

“You are looking at a field.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That’s your own field—no one but you will tend to it—you sit there and lament about how there’s no harvest—but did you even sow any seeds?”

“…”

“Without seeds and care, even if you just want to reap the harvest, there’ll be nothing there—and yet, you’ve survived; you are lucky.”

“…”

“You asked me if I’ve ever lost. I have. Countless times. And I sowed seeds each time I lost—that’s why I’m still here—the Goddess of Luck can’t always grant our wishes, but we can manage our own fields—how about your field?”

The lion-headed man stood up, causing the waves to rock Mitrof. He broke through the water and left.

‘Sow seeds. Did I sow any seeds?’

Mitrof looked down at the water’s surface and raised his head. The sky was still bright, but the color was getting darker towards the edge. It felt like the beginning of dusk.

The lion-headed man had many wounds on his body. Seeing his unmoved behavior, one could guess his strength.

Even such a strong person has lost countless times.

Suddenly, the memory of Canule, an excellent user of shields, came to mind. She also said that she had never beaten his older brother, the silver knight.

Even strong people lose.

Mitrof felt like he caught a glimpse of the strange mechanism at work.

If he looked down at himself, who was down and out after losing, from above, he must look too small and indeed foolish.

Of course, he was meant to lose. He didn’t sow any seeds.

He felt like he finally accepted that feeling he couldn’t accept before.

‘Why did I always think I could win?’ The opponent was a monster, an existence beyond humans. He was lucky to have survived up until now, growing up as a noble, living a luxurious life without any effort or preparation. He was fortunate to have met and received help from others.

Before he knew it, he had become overconfident in his own abilities.

—I am weak.

‘But it’s okay,’ Mitrof said, nodding in agreement.

Until now, he had been living without acknowledging this fact. Comparing himself to others meant facing his inferiority. So he shut himself in his room, looking for convenient excuses and convincing himself that he was not at fault.

‘Bad birth, bad environment, bad father, bad world that doesn’t accept me…’

“I am lucky.”

He survived. He had friends. He could reflect, regret, and start over.

Mitrof thought he was far behind in this realization.

However, he still wanted to sow the seed, even at this late stage. He wanted to do so out of frustration.

He was frustrated with losing.

He was frustrated with his powerlessness.

Yet, he was happy to feel this emotion within himself.

“I will become stronger.”

He had lived without knowing what he wanted to do. But now he knew that a core was slowly emerging within him.

Mitrof got up energetically.

A sudden gust of wind blew, wiping away the drops of water that had appeared on Mitrof’s skin. A sudden chill crept up on him, and Mitrof sneezed loudly.

Chapter 97: The Fat aristocrat talks with a man

On the way back from the large bath, Mitrof headed towards the inn Canule was staying at. Canule’s inn was located in a back alley, and the public’s safety was not great.

There were also people who needed a place to sleep in dark areas, and the inn that welcomed anyone as long as they paid was part of such a place.

Even if there were no issues with Canule’s character, her appearance alone could be mistaken for a monster. Despite the poor treatment and surroundings, it seemed that staying in an inconspicuous inn gave her peace of mind.

Mitrof, who had already visited many times, opened the door with a familiar attitude. There was a middle-aged man sitting at the reception desk, using a candle to trim his nails with a small knife. When he saw that Mitrof was a visitor, he jerked his chin upward. They had barely talked before, but it seemed like the man had remembered his face.

Mitrof nodded and went up the stairs. Because of Mitrof’s weight, there was a creaking sound like a scream with each step.

The second floor corridor was even darker, and although there were windows, they were all blocked by shutters. The light leaking through the gaps formed slender rectangular shapes, and the meager brightness barely illuminated the lined up doors.

Before Mitrof could react, Canule came out of the room.

“W-What a coincidence.”

“I knew it was Mitrof-sama.”

“…? How did you know?”

“By the sound of your footsteps.”

“The creaking of the stairs—I always worry the bottom will fall out.”

Mitrof pursed his lips, and Canule chuckled.

“I’m sorry for the sudden visit—is this a good time?”

“Yes—was there something you needed?”

Mitrof tried to broach the subject, but he was still struggling.

He had been ordered to be disciplined and rest due to his injured right arm. If he went to the labyrinth alone and opened up about it, he would surely be scolded.

Mitrof tried to speak several times, but he couldn’t find the words.

Since his mother and grandmother had both passed away, Mitrof couldn’t remember ever apologizing to anyone for the many times they had reprimanded him when he was a child. He didn’t know how to behave, as he had experienced so little scolding or being reprimanded, and he didn’t know what to do.

“Ah, um, I was thinking of going to check on Grace, and I wanted to ask Canule about her schedule.”

Mitrof instinctively tried to change the subject. As soon as he spoke, he cursed his own weakness of will.

“That’s a good idea—I have free time too, so let’s go together.”

Canule replied pleasantly, and without being able to say that it was not what he meant, the two of them walked down the stairs together. The receptionist didn’t even look up but examined his fingernails.

As they walked down the street outside, Mitrof was afraid of the awkward silence and spoke to Canule.

“The accommodations at that inn aren’t very comfortable, are they?”

“Indeed, I can’t say they’re good.”

Canule smiled wryly.

“But, no one really cares about each other or interferes with each other, so it’s comfortable in that sense.”

“Is there no noise or commotion?”

“It’s usually very quiet—to the point where you might not even know if there are any residents—however, occasionally, there’s a great commotion at night—there have even been times when the authorities kicked down the door and burst in.”

“…I’m envious of how quiet it is, but I don’t think I’ll sleep peacefully—you have a strong will.”

Mitrof shrugged as if giving up.

“Mitrof-sama’s lodging is affiliated with a guild, isn’t it?”

“Yes—thanks to that, there are no criminals, but there’s a high turnover, and it’s always noisy—last week, there was a party on the floor above, and it was incredibly loud—they celebrated their successful first exploration, but some adventurers yelled at them, and the rest of the night was a brawl until the morning.”

“That must have been tough.”

Canule chuckled.

Mitrof was not accustomed to sharing his own story with others. He watched Canule’s reaction, but, of course, couldn’t see her expression. He felt glad that Canule enjoyed his story and laughed, but at the same time, he felt deeply guilty for keeping secrets from her and not confessing.

The two of them came out from the alley and headed towards the orphanage where Grace was staying. The backstreets were too complicated and could be a labyrinth for those unfamiliar with the area. Mitrof and Canule also lacked knowledge of the area, so despite knowing they would be taking a detour, they needed to go through the main street at least once.

They turned onto the backstreet from a familiar street and proceeded to walk while relying on memory to navigate. Whenever Mitrof struggled with choosing a path, Canule would show him the correct way. Mitrof was impressed with how good Canule’s memory was.

Finally, they saw the orphanage with its low spire, maintaining the dignity of the church despite its dilapidated condition.

As they approached, they could hear the children’s singing voices. A detuned harpsichord played accompaniment, but it didn’t disturb the joyful voices of the children. They were singing freely without paying attention to things like musical scales.

Mitrof noticed a man squatting in front of the half-broken gatepost surrounding the church’s fence, smoking a cigarette with his back against the pillar.

Despite Mitrof and Canule approaching, the man did not react at all, staring blankly at the lavender smoke that wafted around him.

“… Did you come alone today?”

He was the man who had come to this church yesterday. A well-built beastman addressed him as “brother,” as Mitrof remembered.

The small man lazily turned his gaze to Mitrof. His drooping eyelids and thick eyelashes gave off a sleepy impression, yet there was a sense of dignity that made one feel like taking a step back when he looked straight in the eye.

“——I hate this song, you know.”

The man said this, exhaling smoke like a sigh.

The smoke that the wind carried tickled Mitrof’s nose. It had a unique scent, like smoking wood.

“Even the poor can be saved and rewarded if one has faith; let us be kind to others, for God is watching over us… It becomes tedious just listening to it.”

“Don’t you have faith?”

“No, I am a pious believer—I offer prayers for money and power.”

“That… is that faith?”

At Mitrof’s hesitant voice, the man chuckled softly.

“Have you read the story about poor people? It’s a story about a plain, middle-aged clerk and a poor young girl exchanging letters. It’s a touching story about how they care for each other while they struggle to make ends meet. But over time, the man’s life deteriorates. He falls in love with the woman and even borrows money to buy her gifts. He can’t even afford to replace his worn-out shoes, and he becomes the target of ridicule from his peers. He falls into alcoholism… But even so, the woman begs him for money.”

“… Why did the man lend the money even when he didn’t have much himself?”

“Because he had nothing else—is it true that even though he had no money, he had a rich heart? That’s just a loser’s excuse—hearts cannot be seen, so they give things and send money—those who are poor in spirit rely on things that cannot be seen.”

“What happened to the man and woman in the end?”

“The man’s boss took pity on his poverty and gave him some money—the man was overjoyed, thinking that his life would change with it—however, the woman chose to marry a rich man to escape poverty. The end. That’s how it ended.”

“…I see—there are stories like that too.”

Mitrof did not think there was no hope. He had a detached way of thinking that was common among nobles. For the benefit of the family, they would marry the person their family chose for them even if they already loved someone. Some people might choose a marriage partner based on their dislike of poverty.

“If there is love, even if you are poor… wouldn’t it be enough? What would happen if the two of them came together with such ‘faith’? It wouldn’t make any difference even if two uneducated and poor people got together. If their love cools, they will be left with only poverty—It is unfortunate for poor people… to have neither money nor power.”

The man lazily laughed and rubbed out his cigarette on the ground.

“This church has faith, but it is poor—it has no money or power. Unhappy children are gathered here, and unhappy adults take care of them. That’s why it’s like this.”

The man spread his arms wide while still sitting.

“By the whim of someone who has money and power, they will be kicked out of their homes.”

“Who is trying to buy this church, and why? It’s… horrible.”

“Don. We don’t know anything about Don’s thoughts. We just do what we’re told. This may also be a matter of faith—the Don’s words are absolute, like a divine revelation.”

The man spoke and crossed his hands in front of his chest, like a devout follower making an offering in prayer. He raised his eyebrows and looked up at Mitrof.

“The ‘poor people’ gain freedom, but that freedom is made of sand—it is easily blown away by the whims of those in power. I think we should write a song about that.”

The man stood up and walked towards Mitrof.

“Give my regards to the poor adults.”

He reached out his fist as if handing something over, and Mitrof instinctively held out his palm. It was a cigarette butt that was placed there.

“Throw it away for me.”

Mitrof turned around as the man passed by to watch him leave. With a walking style that seemed to be dragging one foot behind, the man walked away slowly.

“… What did that man want?”

Canule said curiously.

“Literary discussion, religion, and social issues.”

Mitrof picked up the remaining cigarette butt and gazed at it. Frowning, he sighed. He put the butt in his pocket and walked towards the church.

Chapter 98: The fat aristocrat talks with Grace

The younger children sang hymns in the chapel, while the older ones sat on a cloth spread out in the courtyard, with the sky as their ceiling, listening to Saffron’s lesson.

Saffron wrote a passage from the Bible on the well-worn blackboard that still had faint traces of past text. He taught them how to read, understand, and interpret it.

“Hey, is Mitrof Grace’s boyfriend?”

With Mitrof’s arrival, the younger children stopped singing and swarmed around him.

A girl sitting next to Mitrof whispered in his ear during the lesson. Her distinctive features included long bangs that covered one eye and bright, sparkling eyes full of curiosity.

“No, we’re just friends.”

“Eh?—are you sure?”

“…Well, did Grace say anything about me?”

“Yeah—do you want to know?”

“…Um, yeah. It’s good to know for reference.”

“Sure thing.”

The girl held out her palm. Mitrof tilted his head, and she smiled back at him.

“Information fee.”

“You want an information fee? Can’t you just tell me for free?”

“Well, there is nothing as expensive as information.”

“Hmm… You seem to understand society well for your age… alright, how about one candy?”

“Three!”

“Isn’t that pushing it too far? Please be satisfied with two—even though I can’t afford to buy them often.”

“Is Mitrof poor? That’s so sad…”

“Yeah, so sad…”

“What are you sharing with this child?”

“Whoa!”

Suddenly, a voice called out from behind them, causing Mitrof to jump up in surprise.

Turning around in a hurry, Grace stood there with a dumbfounded expression at Mitrof’s exaggerated reaction.

“It’s nothing. Yeah, it’s really nothing. Right?”

“Yes, it’s nothing! I didn’t do anything bad!”

Grace looked skeptically at Mitrof and the young girl.

“What are you guys suddenly getting along for? What were you talking about? Will you tell me too?”

“That’s a secret—hey…”

“Yup, a secret—information should not be exchanged.”

“Information exchange?”

Grace’s eyes widened in surprise.

Mitrof and the girl looked at each other and nodded in agreement. It seemed that they both shared the opinion that it would be troublesome if the serious Grace found out.

“Oh, it’s Grace! Does that mean it’s snack time?!”

Kou shouted, and the children cheered as if a flame had been ignited in them at the mention of snacks.

“Sensei! Snacks!”

“I’m hungry!”

The children shouted as they pleased, and Saffron smiled peacefully.

“Freshly made ones are always the most delicious—shall we have some snacks?”

At that word, cheers erupted. However, when the older children called out, everyone obediently stood up, and together they thanked Saffron with the phrase, “Thank you, Saffron-sensei!”

They were well-behaved only to that extent, as they immediately ran into the church with excitement on their faces.

“My apologies for the noise.”

Mitrof replied with a serious face to Grace’s wry smile.

“It’s only natural when there are delicious snacks around—by the way, is there any left for me?”

Grace couldn’t tell if Mitrof was joking or being serious, so she burst out laughing.

“My oh my, you’re quite an interesting young boy. The wheat and sugar I bought with the silver coins you left behind were a big help. Thank you. Eat as much as you like.”

“Silver coins? I don’t remember that—maybe they fell out of my wallet because the food was too delicious.”

“You’re just joking now.”

Grace smiled, and Mitrof’s shy eyes were surprisingly embarrassing. His heart was pounding fast, and he even noticed sweat on his back. It was a strange phenomenon, even though it wasn’t a battle.

At Saffron’s place, there were only three older children remaining, asking serious questions. Saffron answered each one meticulously and even wrote on the blackboard. Mitrof was hesitant to approach them so as not to disturb their learning.

“That trio seems particularly serious.”

“Ah yes, Saffron-dono says those three have decided on their own paths. Letty has decided to attend a private school of the Schola faction. Dun is skilled with numbers and will be interning at a fine trading company that owns shops—and Lana, being skilled in beautiful handwriting, will be taking a secretary exam.”

All of the mentioned professions require more than just whims or passing thoughts to pursue. From what Mitrof saw, the three seemed to be just over ten. It wouldn’t be easy to determine their own paths at that age.

“They always say they want to work as soon as possible and help this institution—they have a beautiful spirit—but it’s a bit sad.”

“Sad? Isn’t that a wonderful thing?”

“Those kids should still be at an age where they are children, shouldn’t they? Once you become an adult, you can’t go back to being a child.”

Grace’s words seemed to include her own experiences. Mitrof heard that she became a hunter after her father passed away and she succeeded him.

There are times when there is no other choice but to take the path in front of you, regardless of whether you desire it or not, and the discernment and willpower to fulfill it will inevitably determine the direction in which you must go.

“You are worried, aren’t you, that they might regret their decision.”

“Hmm, yes. Perhaps it’s just my old woman’s worries. I have no intention of interfering with their decision, but sometimes I can’t help it—I just think that if there is anything that we, as adults, can do for their future, then we should do it.”

‘Adults,’ Mitrof repeated.

Grace, an elf with a longer lifespan than humans, should still be in her youth. Yet, it was just like her to classify herself as an “adult” and worry about the future of the children.

Mitrof had never thought of himself as an adult before.

Born a noble, living under the protection of his father, he consumed the clothes and meals given to him without question. He was dissatisfied with the life he was forced to live as the third son of a nobleman and felt stifled by his unrecognized existence.

However, Mitrof thinks that he is already fifteen years old.

He is allowed to drink alcohol, and can even run as a candidate for a member of parliament. Becoming the head of a noble family is not so uncommon either. Fifteen is already considered an adult.

Mitrof watched the three people studying under Saffron.

They must have been anxious to challenge a new environment at such a young age. They must also be nervous. Nevertheless, their eyes shone with strength.

“Those kids are already trying to stand on their own at that age.”

“I can only see them off as they leave the nest… but at least I want to help protect the place they come back to.”

That was why Grace was here.

She didn’t want to lose this church, which was not only her sister’s house, but also a place for children who have lost their parents and are often socially persecuted.

It seems that Mitrof was able to touch a part of that emotion.

“You are a remarkable person.”

“What’s with the sudden praise?”

Grace’s face turned sour, as if she had bitten into an unripe fruit.

“It’s difficult to think and act for someone else—you have been like that since we met in the labyrinth—and I will never forget you saving my life.”

“…As I said, we help each other in the labyrinth.” Grace smiled softly at Mitrof. “No. I wish I could say the same to you. I felt like I was saved by meeting you. The divine tree did not wither away, and the lives of the people in the village were protected. I owe you a debt of gratitude. And, well… ”

Grace suddenly hesitated.

She lowered her face and interlaced her fingers in front of her stomach, looking like a blushing flower or a child confessing to their parents.

Mitrof thought about whether there was something difficult for her to say and quickly realized.

Lattier, Grace’s sister, asked Mitrof not to take Grace to the perilous labyrinth the previous time he came here. She must have also told Grace about it.

“It’s okay, I understand.”

Mitrof nodded his head.

“Y-You understand?!”

“I heard about it from your sister.”

“From my sister?! When did she…”

Grace was strangely flustered, and Mitrof tilted his head. Her snow-white cheeks were vividly colored like red pottery.

“This place feels like your home—not just your sister, but you have many younger siblings too.”

“…Yes, I do think of it like my family.”

“Grace, if you’re forcing yourself to come with me, you don’t have to—I have no intention of restricting how you live your life.”

Mitrof averted his gaze and looked at Saffron and the children.

“Does that mean you don’t want me?”

“It’s not like that.”

Mitrof replied firmly.

“How reassuring it is to have you by my side—but I only acted because I wanted to be of help to you. I don’t want to have a relationship based on debts or favors—I want to be equal.”

“…Equals, is it? I also feel the same—but do you really think I made the decision based solely on debts and favors?”

“I don’t think so… But you’re a hunter, right? You shouldn’t need to dive into the labyrinth.”

“Labyrinth? What are you talking about?”

“Your sister told me that she doesn’t want you sent into such a dangerous place, so I mean returning to our party and exploring the labyrinth.”

Grace’s eyes widened, and she opened her mouth slightly. As if dazed, she suddenly frowned and groaned, turning away.

“——I see! That’s what you were talking about! That’s right. That’s right—it’s about exploring the labyrinth!”

“What were you talking about…?”

“No, you’re right! We were talking about exploring the labyrinth! My sister would undoubtedly oppose it! She’s a kind person, but she’s always been a worrier!”

Mitrof looked at Grace, who became flustered and suspicious. Feeling his gaze, Grace found her own behavior strange.

Her cheeks still flushed, Grace cleared her throat on purpose, put her hands on her hips, and tried to act calm and composed, but her eyes remained closed.

“…I understand why my sister would be against it. However, she’ll understand if we explain it properly.”

Grace spoke lightly, but Mitrof wondered if that was really the case.

Lattier said she would sacrifice herself to protect Grace. She couldn’t be pleased that her precious sister would delve into the dangerous labyrinth exploration.

Grace opened her narrow, closed eyes and sent a glance towards the silent Mitrof. She let out a small breath, looking troubled.

“…When I went into the labyrinth to find medicine, I caused a lot of worry for my older sister. I know that’s why I can’t come here easily—but, Mitrof, I want to explore the labyrinth with you.”

Mitrof also met her gaze in a conversational tone.

“It’s certainly dangerous, but diving into the labyrinth with someone, fighting together, spending time… It makes my heart dance—I’m excited like a child.”

Grace blushed and smiled.

“So, don’t make that reluctant face—I want to continue exploring the labyrinth with my own will.”

“…I see.”

Mitrof couldn’t accept Grace’s words so easily.

It must be because he had encountered that “demon.” It was too otherworldly and too strong. An existence that was beyond one’s own power had entered the labyrinth. Mitrof realized such an obvious fact too late.

He looked at Grace. She was a good person. She had a family she cherished and children she loved, and she was not someone who should die.

‘Was it really right to take her to the labyrinth?’

‘Could I really protect her?’

“We need to resolve these issues quickly and return to our daily lives.”

Grace’s carefree voice made Mitrof swallow his troubles and nod.

“That’s right, we have to protect this church—but isn’t the problem with the mafia? Do you have a plan to resolve it?”

Grace pressed her finger against her lower lip and looked away, wondering what to say.

“I was thinking of going in and talking to the boss as soon as possible…”

“That’s too brave—it’s too reckless.”

“My sister scolded me a lot too—I looked for a solution and went here and there, but just now, Saffron-dono said that things would soon be settled, so we can relax—I heard he was talking to a man who came to settle things, but I’m not sure what exactly they talked about.”

Mitrof remembered the figure called “brother” who he had just met.

“Did he ask for specifics?”

“He said he would talk about it when the time comes, so it’s not clear.”

Both of them looked towards Saffron. Despite his slender build and soft eyes giving off a gentle aura, he did not exude the confidence needed to solve a problem with the mafia in one breath.

Although Mitrof was not well-versed in the matter, negotiating with an organization like the one that controls a corner of the underworld would surely be troublesome. It seemed that an equal amount of power, whether in the form of authority or violence, was necessary to confront them.

Mitrof considered whether he should ask for more details, but Saffron had such a distinguished personality that he could not be compared to Mitrof. He didn’t think Saffron was more impulsive than him. If he had a plan, would it be rude to doubt it?

“Mitrof?”

At Grace’s call, Mitrof let out a tense breath and turned his face back.

“It’s nothing. Let’s go inside. I’m hungry.”

“You sure do have an eye for food.”

Grace chuckled.

Chapter 99: The Fat aristocrat reads a fairy tale

It was a lively dinner.

There were children, Grace, Lattier, and two nuns who sympathized with Saffron’s actions and worked at the abandoned church despite being nuns. With Mitrof and Canule joining, the number of people at the table increased.

The dishes were also hearty, and today’s dish was stew cooked in a large pot. Lattier was in charge of cooking, and Canule helped in a supportive role.

The church kitchen has become her garden, which she cooks with great skill—Canule told Mitrof.

After the meal, the children worked hard. They seemed to have firmly embraced the spirit of independence and support, taking care of themselves and others if they had enough spare time. They divided up the tasks of washing dishes, cleaning up, and even taking care of the young children.

Canule had become so familiar with them that she led the group in motion, and both Lattier and Grace worked hard here and there.

Only Mitrof was left alone in the chair, treated as a guest, looking around uncomfortably.

Although he knew he should help with something, he didn’t know what to do due to his lack of experience.

“Mitrof, you’re in the way.”

“Ah, sorry.”

A girl, with one eye covered by her hair, poked Mitrof’s shoulder. She was the girl who had tried to make an information deal with Mitrof during the day.

When Mitrof got up, she skillfully took the chair and cleaned up. There was no place left to sit, so Mitrof left the room so as not to be a nuisance.

They were probably using tallow candles made from animal fat to save money. The hallway was dim, and the smell of burning fat lingered in the air.

Although the window was well polished and without stains, the moon in the sky was thin, and there was an uneasy feeling due to the dim light.

If he continued on, he could hear the voices of children in the distance, and he would come across a door that led to the chapel. When Mitrof casually opened it, he saw Saffron kneeling in front of the holy statue and offering prayers.

Candles of various sizes were lined up, but only one was lit. Saffron, who was praying before the lit candle, seemed so serious that it was daunting to speak to him.

Mitrof quietly closed the door and sat down on the edge of a nearby bench, trying not to make any noise. The bench creaked and groaned as he sat down, but luckily it did not collapse.

Mitrof looked around the chapel.

The interior, which was once beautiful in white, now had more cracked, water-stained, and peeled surfaces. Despite being thoroughly cleaned, most of the old parts were beyond repair. The walls were crumbling, the benches were decaying, and the pillars were chipping away.

Despite everything deteriorating, the painting on the ceiling remained stunning and unfading.

Extraordinary and religious paintings have special treatments and magic spells to keep them in good condition. Even if the church were to collapse, this ceiling painting would remain beautiful.

For a while, Mitrof stared at the painting absent-mindedly.

“I was captivated by this painting.”

Saffron suddenly sat down next to him, looking up at the painting just like Mitrof.

“When I discovered this church, the windows were broken, the walls were crumbling, and the inside was in disarray—however, thanks to that, the sunlight was coming in very nicely, and the illuminated ceiling painting was incredibly beautiful—before I knew it, I had been sitting here, gazing at it until sunset.”

“The painting is mysterious—it draws you in.”

“Yes, it draws you in.”

The two fell silent once again.

The candle flickered in the draft, changing the expression of the painting’s shadows. The gentle smile of the saint seemed to suddenly turn into a cruel expression.

In the solemn darkness of the quiet cathedral, Mitrof feels as if he is reflecting on himself.

In terms of time spent emptying the mind, calming the heart, and introspection, it is similar to bathing in a bath. However, while the bath melts and loosens the body and mind, the time spent looking up at the painting in the church gives a feeling of purifying the heart with cold, clear water.

Even Mitrof, who did not have a deep religious faith, felt the urge to pray for something. This was a special place, and even without anyone telling him, he could feel it.

“I want this ceiling painting to stay here as it is.”

Mitrof murmured softly, and Saffron nodded in agreement.

“…I heard there is a plan to solve the problem with the mafia.”

When Mitrof glanced sideways, Saffron smiled wryly.

“Yes, there is always a way to solve any problem—no matter how difficult it may seem, it is inevitable.”

“The way priests talk is like nobles.”

“Oh? Authoritative, was it?”

“No, it’s convoluted.”

“That’s a painful truth—indeed, we must recognize honesty as a virtue.”

“That’s also convoluted.”

“…”

Saffron laughed, snorting his nose. It was not a formal, textbook-like image of a priest, but a laugh that reflected Saffron’s personality.

“Everyone needs a place to return to, a place to call home and rest—although we call the church the house of God, this is the house of those children.”

Faintly, the children’s cheerful laughter could be heard from beyond the door.

“For the future of these children, there is little I can do—still, I want to fulfill the duty of protecting this house.”

“Why are you so devoted to this cause?”

Mitrof asked directly.

“Some parents abandon even their own children—in this world, people ignore dying infants sitting on the side of the road. Yet you have opened an orphanage and devoted your life to it. Perhaps you have gained such faith?”

It was an honest question.

For Mitrof, who had learned the ways of the nobility, judgments tended to be profit-oriented. Is it beneficial or detrimental to me? What is the gain? To him, Saffron’s actions were a “loss.”

Taking in children, taking responsibility for their future, and finding a way to make a living each day.

He would never be free from his daily struggles, unable to live selfishly.

Mitrof could not imagine how heavy the burden and responsibility on Saffron’s shoulders were.

Saffron looked up at the ceiling mural once again.

“No matter how far you go, this is all for my own satisfaction—I once committed a sin—the guilt ate away at my heart, and I couldn’t even sleep. One day, I found this decaying church and was captivated by this painting… In truth, I wanted this painting.”

Saffron leaned in toward Mitrof and whispered quietly.

“In truth, anyone can become a priest—if you make many donations and beg them humbly, the church will give you a cane and clothes. I am a false priest.”

Mitrof’s eyes widened. Saffron had an innocent smile on his face, like a mischievous child.

“Ah, I feel so refreshed—confession really does work—I became a priest that way, made more donations, and obtained the management rights to this abandoned church—that’s how I spend my days looking at this painting—how selfish of me, don’t you think?”

“I see that you acted for your own benefit—but if you already obtained the painting, wasn’t that enough to satisfy you?”

Saffron didn’t answer immediately. He hesitated like a boy wrestling with whether to be scolded or praised by his parents, twirling his finger around his nose. Then he started talking.

“One night when I was fixing the church wall, a couple came with a child—the child was a ‘branded child.’ Nowadays, it refers to those who have been cursed by the labyrinth, those who are born with strange forms. But in ancient times, it was the name given to the children chosen by the ‘demons.’ Even now, the church denies the use of such terms, but some devout believers still believe in them.

Mitrof excavated memories of his childhood learning—during his theological studies, he learned about the existence of ‘demons.’ They were the evil beings imprisoned in the underworld beneath this world.

It is believed that a demon is responsible for a person’s actions becoming biased towards evil.

“The couple kneeled and prayed to me, asking for forgiveness for their sins and requesting not to take their child’s soul to the underworld. They asked me to perform the ‘purifying fire’ for their child.”

Saffron nodded in agreement as Mitrof tilted his head in confusion.

“‘purifying fire’ refers to purifying the soul by sending it to the heavenly flame. Before demons took the soul to hell, priests would send it to the peaceful world.”

Realizing what it meant, Mitrof nodded back at Saffron.

“For those who have faith, the most terrifying thing is the fate of their soul after death…to be eternally trapped in the underworld, the ‘hell’ where demons reside and seek to destroy this world.”

“…Do you truly believe that? That there is a hell at the bottom of this world, where demons reside and seek to destroy this world. That myth?”

Saffron replied, looking at Mitrof and lowering the corner of his eye.

“Well…”

“Well?”

“I haven’t seen it myself—there is a bishop who claims to have seen it with his own eyes, but, well, there is no proof—we can’t deny the hearts of those who believe, even if we cannot say whether it exists or not—the fear is real, and it exists there.”

Mitrof shuddered with a chill down his spine.

He couldn’t believe it.

“I pledged to perform the ‘purifying fire’ and took in that child—but I never performed the ‘purifying fire.’ Instead, I decided to raise the child here.”

Mitrof breathed a sigh of relief.

“Since then, priests who couldn’t bear the request for the ‘purifying fire’ have secretly brought children to me—with their assistance, this orphanage has been able to continue its operation.”

However, Saffron said, “There are parents who believe their child has found peace in being ‘purifying fire’d. There are children who have been abandoned and left with scars. We lie and raise these orphans without knowing where salvation lies. If it is indeed true that there is a ‘hell’ at the bottom of this land and the demons are seeking the souls of these children, then performing the ‘purifying fire’ may be the right thing to do.”

Mitrof stroked his chin. Theology, which had once been considered the world’s reasoning, was losing its popularity. People were becoming more rational and seeking a world with orderly rules.

“I have no right to judge whether your actions are right or wrong—however, I believe your actions are humane as long as you cannot prove the existence of ‘hell’.”

“What if ‘hell’ exists?”

Saffron’s tone was extremely assertive. It sounded like a statement with strong conviction.

Saffron bit his lip once and began to speak as if forcing thorny words out.

“Mitrof-san is an adventurer. He delves into the labyrinth—have you ever wondered why strange beings called monsters nest in the depths of deep holes, why the underground persists indefinitely, or why the phenomenon known as ‘sublimation’ occurs?”

Mitrof was at a loss for an answer. He didn’t understand everything; he simply accepted it as it was.

“There is an existence called the ‘heathen.’ They define the labyrinth as a hole that leads to hell—those who gain power by defeating monsters become ‘warriors’ and prepare for the final battle with the demons that will come.”

Mitrof frowned.

Certainly, the labyrinth continued deep underground, and no one had ever seen its bottom.

No one understood why monstrous monsters lived there, or why they discovered the ruins of ancient people. However, the idea that the hole leads to hell or that it is the final battle seemed like a religious story.

However, there was something that came to mind.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman…the chilling song…the freezing coldness of life…

Blanc Manje called it ‘demon.’ Perhaps it was none other than the ‘demon’ that appears in mythology. But that’s just a monster. It’s only an existence that inhabits the labyrinth, and it’s not the devil seeking the life of a child from hell.

“Let’s suppose that’s the case.”

Said Mitrof.

“At the bottom of the labyrinth, there is a connection to hell, and there are “demons” there—but, so what? I don’t think your actions deserve condemnation. “purifying fire”? What a joke.”

At that moment, laughter echoed loudly from the other side of the room.

Mitrof and Saffron turned to face the sound.

“That merriment is the result of your actions—right now, those kids are laughing. Isn’t this laughter right in front of us more important than an existence we don’t even know for sure is underground?”

Saffron nodded. After a pause, she nodded again.

“…indeed. Yes, that’s right—somehow, I have become quite a devout person.”

There was a pitter-patter of footsteps running across the floor. The door opened, and the children rushed in.

“Sensei! Kou hit me on the head!”

“That’s a lie! I just gave you a little shove!”

“Saffron-sensei, will you read a picture book to us today?”

“No way! It’s my turn today! You have to read my picture book!”

The darkness, which had been silent until now, quickly became lively. Saffron stood up with a wry smile.

“Alright, alright, I got it—let’s listen to each person’s story one by one.”

As a father who spent his days protecting the lives of many children, there was no way he could avoid struggles and commotion. However, to Mitrof, Saffron’s face appeared vivid and full of life.

Arriving late, a girl with her hair covering one eye came walking down the aisle behind him. She paused and gave Saffron a “hmm” as she observed the clamor around him. Then she walked toward Mitrof.

“Will you read this for me?”

She offered him a picture book.

“You want me to read it?”

“Yeah, Mitrof is fine.”

“I have mixed feelings about being compromised…”

Mitrof took the book. The girl sat down next to Mitrof and leaned her face in close.

Opening the book, Mitrof struggled with the unfamiliar task of reading aloud, trying his best to keep his voice calm as he recited the words. It was as if he were being read to, just like someone had done for him a long time ago.

“Once upon a time, there was a knight who searched for the magic sword, and a saint who supported him—.”

Chapter 100: The fat aristocrat eavesdrops

Children have an excellent sense of smell, especially when it comes to interesting things.

Mitrof and Canule, who were rare visitors, were popular among the children, and even after meals, they were constantly being invited to play.

The children reluctantly returned to their rooms after Saffron and the older nuns reminded them.

While Canule delivered the sleeping children to their respective rooms, Mitrof went to find Grace to say goodbye before their departure.

As he approached the door leading to the kitchen, he heard Grace’s stern voice.

Mitrof stopped his hand from touching the door. The old door was poorly constructed, causing a gap to form. The light from the lit candle inside leaked out thinly, extending to Mitrof’s feet.

“…I…understand…I don’t…Mitrof…but…”

“…even so…your…”

It seemed that Lattier was Grace’s conversation partner. Although he knew it was not a good idea to eavesdrop, when he heard his name mentioned, he couldn’t help but be curious.

Mitrof hesitated about whether he should leave or not, but he couldn’t resist his curiosity and leaned in to listen. He could clearly hear Grace’s voice.

“I appreciate your concern, sister, but I want to work as an adventurer—that way, I can stay in this city—and the pay is not bad either—I can also help the children—what’s the problem with that?”

“I’m worried about you, Grace—don’t worry about this church, me, or the village—this is about your life.”

Mitrof held his breath.

“I have never been to the labyrinth—but there are many former adventurers in our church who have lost friends in the labyrinth and have suffered irreparable injuries. Hey, do you really want to be an adventurer in the labyrinth? Is that your will?”

“My will? Yes, it is—it is my will.”

“Grace, you are a very serious child—that’s why I am worried. It’s an admirable thought to repay favors received, but there’s no need to risk your life just because of that. Mitrof-san understands that.”

“Mitrof never said to do that—it was my own decision.”

“Yes, Mitrof-san has not said that—he did not ask you to come.”

“… What do you mean, sister?”

“Does Mitrof have the power and resolve to protect you?”

Lattier’s rigid voice reached Mitrof’s heart through his ears. Thud. His heartbeat could be heard loudly.

“I don’t expect him to protect me—sister, we are a party—we need to help each other.”

“That’s true, but do you really know him? For elves, it’s only been a short time, like a leaf has passed… How can you think you understand the essence of being human? You’re entrusting your life to someone like that. Only in a real crisis can you understand someone’s true nature. How can you be sure he won’t run away when your life is in danger? How can he prove he has the power to protect you?”

Mitrof turned his ears away, holding his breath and paying attention to his footsteps as he returned to the hallway.

Lattier’s words filled his head, repeated over and over.

“Mitrof-sama, sorry for the wait.”

Meeting Canule, who had returned from the children’s room, Mitrof smiled instantly.

“…Canule. Good work. It’s getting late—let’s go home.”

Although feeling some discomfort with his cheerfulness, Canule nodded.

“Then, let’s greet Grace-sama.”

“I took care of it earlier—now, well, it seems like they’re having an important conversation—It would be rude to interrupt them.”

“I see… If you say so.”

With Canule tilting her head, Mitrof left the church.

On the way back, relying on the moonlight, Mitrof remained silent. He remembered Lattier’s words in his head. He tried to make excuses or come up with a retort. He listed words he couldn’t say to his face, expressing his emotions. But in the end, he nodded in agreement, admitting that what Lattier said was indeed true.

——Only in a real crisis can you understand someone’s true nature. How can you be sure he won’t run away when your life is in danger? How can he prove he has the power to protect you?”

There were countless words Mitrof could retort to Lattier’s statement, but he could only say them to himself.

How many words can he confidently say to Lattier, who worries about her beloved sister’s safety?

Lattier doesn’t know Mitrof. What matters to her is Grace, and her safety is what worries her. Lattier’s anxiety is due to the lack of trust in Mitrof as a person.

What kind of person is Mitrof?

That is the question Lattier is concerned about.

Can Mitrof confidently say that he will not run away in the event of a crisis involving Grace?

Unconsciously, Mitrof’s left hand searched for his waist. There was nothing there now. The scabbard alone was in his room, and the blade was left behind in the guardian’s room.

‘If Blanc Manje had not been there to assist, would I have been able to come back alive after fighting with the goat-skullhead-oldwoman? If Grace had been there, would I have been able to protect her?’

‘I don’t know.’

“I don’t know my true nature.”

Mitrof muttered quietly.

‘Am I not a person who runs away?’

Without finding an answer to his self-questioning, Mitrof fell silent and walked along.

Walking behind him, Canule observed Mitrof’s behavior.

She wondered if she should ask what was troubling him. His behavior was clearly abnormal. Mitrof did not even have his usual thrusting sword with him, and his movements were occasionally awkward.

There was no doubt that something had happened, but Canule felt a little sad that Mitrof could not confide in her. However, she had learned from her mother that men were like that. Moreover, Mitrof was originally born into a noble family. It was said that such men kept their thoughts to themselves.

Asking rudely may interfere with Mitrof’s pride as a man, so she decided it would be better to remain silent.

Canule nodded inwardly and closed the distance with Mitrof’s stride.

Chapter 101: The fat aristocrat becomes an adventurer

Mitrof listened to the yelling coming from the next room while lying on his bed.

The shoddy walls offered no noise insulation, and the conversation between the two men was clearly audible. As a result, Mitrof woke up early in the morning. The two men who seem to have returned from the labyrinth were blaming each other for the failure of their exploration.

One of them blamed the lack of preparation, while the other blamed the lack of fighting ability. They pointed out each other’s shortcomings, shouted at each other, and finally, one of them walked down the corridor with heavy footsteps while the other chased after him, calling out for him to wait. Eventually, their voices faded away, and they couldn’t be heard anymore.

Mitrof got up from the bed and put his feet on the ground. The empty sheath was leaning against the wall next to his pillow, which made him feel even more miserable.

It seemed like he was being shown the proof of his own defeat.

He had lost his way and ran away. It was said that this was the essence of being human.

Mitrof took out the notebook that he had sandwiched under his flat pillow and opened it. It served as a ledger, showing his current assets.

The payment for the medical treatment at the clinic remained, but the prospect of paying it off was clear. There wasn’t much, but there were some savings. However, it was not reassuring to buy a new sword with them. But if he spent his days without working while not having a sword, this amount of money would quickly disappear.

“Money is something that disappears.”

It’s a very obvious thing, but when the sound of footsteps cracking the ice approached from behind like that, one’s perception would change.

Mitrof stood up, tying his boots.

He had carried water from the backyard well last night. Previously, the maid had done this job. In winter, when Mitrof rang the bell, warm water with rising steam was brought to him.

If it were a decent inn, paying a fee would get you this kind of consideration, but in a cheap inn, Mitrof learned to draw water for his personal grooming at night.

He washed his mouth and face with this water, and combed out his bed hair.

In order to head to the labyrinth, Mitrof changed into his rough work clothes. He adjusted his belt with well-maintained gauntlets on his left arm and strapped only a short sword to his waist. He snuck a freshly washed handkerchief and napkin for meals into his pocket, and thus, Mitrof was ready as an adventurer.

The pain in his right arm was gone. Now he could swing his sword with ease.

As he exited the door, he saw adventurers walking down the hallway. They may have been partying and brawling during the night, but come morning, they would all grip their swords and head to the labyrinth to test their fortunes.

Descending the stairs, he stepped outside, where the scent of night lingered. The cool breeze brushed against his cheek, caressing the fine hair on his face. Behind the chain of buildings, distant mountaintops glowed round and yellow like fresh egg yolks at sunrise. The city had already begun to pulse with the rhythm of people’s lives earlier than usual in the morning.

Mitrof passed a wagon piled high with firewood and headed towards the guild.

In front of the guild building, there was a round plaza with a rectangular fountain in the center. For adventurers, it was not just a decorative tourist attraction; it was a practical resource for washing up.

Getting soaked by water was better than walking around town covered in mud and monster blood.

It was probably after a night of adventure. Several groups of adventurers were washing their clothes and bodies. Some had bright faces, while others had dark expressions. There were some who had succeeded, some who had failed, and some who had experienced a terrible defeat.

However, they were alive. If they could wash their bodies here and now, there would be another chance.

Mitrof approached and washed his hands in the water of the fountain. He touched the countless scars engraved on the pedestal and prayed.

The adventurers who returned alive had caused these scars. Mitrof wanted to be blessed with their good fortune.

He would also return and come back here. He would survive.

He couldn’t contain the feelings in his heart any longer, suddenly feeling an urge to raise his voice and wave his hands in the air with excitement.

Perhaps adventurers in inns noisily carrying on night after night may also be burdened with the same unbearable impulse.

Mitrof finally felt like he had become an adventurer. Not the noble third son Mitrof, nor the justly expelled Mitrof, but the rookie adventurer Mitrof.

He didn’t even know what kind of person he was.

At first, bookkeeping was enjoyable, but as the days of counting money and expenditures continued, Mitrof’s mind felt dim and bleak. Living in uncertainty, not knowing what tomorrow, next week, or next month will bring, is either freedom or a source of anxiety.

But for now, this is how Mitrof lives.

Counting small amounts of money with his own hands and contemplating how to live for tomorrow, next week, or next month

However, if he works hard enough, he should be able to find something that he believes is worth dedicating his whole life to.

His current situation is good enough. This is good. He doesn’t know what the future will bring, but living each day to its fullest helps keep him sane. He is proud of himself for standing here rather than curling up in a dark room.

He wants to prove to himself that he’s not wrong about who he is right now.

He needs his sword.

He has to take back his sword.

He must fight that “demon” again—the goat-skullhead-oldwoman—to accept his defeat, to recover, and to reaffirm his determination not to escape.

That creature uses magic to imitate lightning. It would paralyze him if he got hit.

He needs to avoid it. ‘But can I dodge the thunder?’

What is thunder, anyway?

Mitrof scratched his chin fat and tilted his head.

“Hmm… I should investigate first.”

If he doesn’t know something, he can just investigate. Fortunately, he knew where to do that.

Chapter 102: The fat aristocrat seeks knowledge

There is a building called “The Place Where Wisdom Rests,” which is an ancient name. It is a top-notch library that the nation oversees. Inside the building, bookshelves line up so high that one has to look up, with countless books seemingly on display.

Anyone in the city can use it, but guards are stationed at its entrance and examine visitors’ baggage both when entering and leaving.

Books are considered precious possessions, and not only will stealing them result in punishment, but dirtying or causing any damage to them also comes with severe penalties. One cannot even enter the library with dirty hands.

It was a place with strict rules, to the point where onlookers would jeer it as “the palace of the paper king.”

When he lived in the mansion, there was a library inside, and if he found a book he liked, he could easily have it. If he wanted something new, he would simply ask the butler to bring in a merchant.

But that is a distant memory now. When he wanted to read a book, he had to go to where the books were by himself.

If the destination and purpose were clear, the burden of taking action would be lighter. Mitrof returned a disappointing book and began searching for the next one, walking slowly between the bookshelves.

Despite the category-organized shelves, Mitrof had trouble locating the kind of book he was looking for. Searching through the titles, he eventually found a book that caught his eye and went to find a seat to read it.

Few people sat at the reading desks in the large library. The bathhouse was likely more crowded. Beyond the walls, the noise of the city was muted in the quiet and shaded space, and Mitrof could smell the musty old paper.

He settled into a comfortable chair and opened the book.

An “alchemist” was the author of it. While “magicians” used their knowledge and magical power to manipulate events of the world, “alchemists” used their knowledge and observations to analyze the structure of the world.

Mitrof had heard of their existence before.

The story of their attempts to create rare metals like gold and silver from iron and copper was well-known, but the church labeled them as a cult because they believed in healing miracles. They claimed diseases were caused by microscopic creatures called “bacteria,” and this belief led to their being labeled as heretical. He learned this from studying history.

In general, those referred to as “alchemy practitioners” aim to interpret this world from a different perspective, which they call a new discipline called “science.”

Mitrof flipped through the pages. While there were many interesting topics, what he was seeking was information on “lightning.”

In previous books, insights into lightning were not obtained. In fact, there were few references to lightning, and even if they did, they were often linked to religious anecdotes, with nothing written about lightning itself.

What Mitrof was seeking was not the symbolic role of “lightning” in the Bible as defined by religious scholars but rather, as a practical matter, how to prevent lightning strikes.

To achieve this, knowledge of lightning was needed, not as a mythological representation of the power of the gods but as a weather phenomenon that produces lightning on stormy nights.

Having been taught how to learn from a young age by his private tutors, Mitrof had acquired the foundation of wisdom to think about things.

Living day by day with just the act of surviving is already a struggle, and having the luxury to think and acquire knowledge is an indulgence. Thanks to his nobility, Mitrof had the “question” of “What is lightning?”

Finally, Mitrof found a page about lightning. At first, he just scanned the letters with his eyes, but before he knew it, he was absorbed in reading them.

Reading is like eating—both have their own unique taste, and once you find something satisfying, you can’t stop.

After finishing reading the page, Mitrof sighed, saying, “Oh.” For Mitrof, the research of the “alchemist” had more persuasive power than a single word such as “divine power.”

“So lightning is ‘electricity,’ huh?”

There is a tingling sensation in the hand in the winter when wearing woolen clothing and touching a metal doorknob, which is allegedly due to “electricity.”

The “alchemist” who wrote this book apparently flew a kite on a stormy day. By threading a key through the kite string, “electricity” flowed through the key…thus, “lightning” is not divine power but a massive accumulation of “electricity.”

His assertion was refreshing, but it made Mitrof furrowed his brow.

The booming thunder and flashes of lightning evoked a sense of awe with their divine aura. It is not difficult to understand the feeling of believing that it is “divine power” flowing from beyond human comprehension.

According to this “alchemist,” lightning tends to strike objects protruding from the ground. This is why lightning often strikes the spires of churches and castles.

Lightning strikes have destroyed countless homes throughout history. To prevent this, the “alchemist” has devised…

“This is…I see…very interesting…”

There were hand-drawn pictures, and the explanations were straightforward. Whether it actually works or not remains to be seen, but it is more hopeful than going in without any plan.

After repeating the contents in his head, Mitrof closed the book and checked the author’s name.

“Benjamin Franklin, huh—I’ll remember that.”

Putting the book back on the bookshelf, Mitrof went out into the town in search of tools to protect against lightning.

Chapter 103: The fat aristocrat seeks tools

“Oh?”

Gran Golt, a dwarf who runs the Gran Workshop, which handles all kinds of weapons, looked back at his apprentice, the young boy Jack.

His sharp gaze with furrowed eyebrows seemed to glare unhappily, but that was just Gran’s habit. His eyesight had deteriorated because he constantly looked at the blazing furnace all year.

Jack, who knew this, was no longer afraid of Gran’s gaze or response. Although he had a difficult personality, Jack respected Gran as a blacksmith.

However, it was clear that he wasn’t suited for blacksmithing. Although he had become an apprentice because he wanted to forge swords, he had gradually been placed in charge of handling clients before handling ironwork.

While it was pleasing to be trusted, there were times when Jack felt a little disheartened, especially when he had to relay unusual requests from clients to Gran.

Dwarves who worked with iron had much more pride than humans might imagine. They would never do a job they were not satisfied with. They might even focus their efforts on a single short sword, ignoring complaints from clients as impatient as charcoal bundles waiting to be burned in the furnace, regardless of the time and money spent.

Jack was hesitant as he relayed the client’s request one more time.

“Ah?”

The response was the same as before. Jack frowned and felt like crying.

It was all because of that client. Smooth skin, glossy hair, and a plump physique. Although his clothes were the same as those of ordinary townsmen, his upbringing was undoubtedly affluent. Among the regulars, this client stood out as a newcomer who used a thrusting sword, a rarity for adventurers.

Despite initially assuming that the wealthy youth was exploring the labyrinth as a hobby, Jack realized that the sword he brought in regularly for sharpening and maintenance was clearly well-used. Jack enjoyed working on these “used swords” to make them shine once again.

But what does that matter now? The client had requested something entirely different, asking for a tool that Jack could not even comprehend. He insisted that it was necessary.

Despite knowing that Gran would definitely refuse, Jack gave in to the strong push and agreed to just talk.

“I said we didn’t do that kind of thing; I’m sorry.”

Jack made an excuse while meeting Gran’s eyes directly.

“It’s not a weapon, so we can’t make it even if you ask us.”

He laughed, but Gran didn’t laugh at all.

“We can’t make something we can’t make.”

“Y-Yes. That’s right—I remember now.”

“What is he going to do with it?”

Jack tilted his head in surprise. Was there something that caught Gran’s interest?

Half-jokingly, he told Gran about the funny joke he heard there a while ago.

“Whatever it is, it catches lightning.”

“Oh, really?”

Gran raised an eyebrow. It was the first time in months that he showed even a slight impressed look.

“Lightning, huh. That’s good.”

It had been years since Gran praised something out loud.

He was drawn to the word “lightning.” Memories flooded back suddenly, like a blast of air blowing into a smoldering fire, even though he had not thought of them until now.

In the village where Gran lived, there was an old woman known as a shaman. She wasn’t a dwarf, elf, human, or beastman… yet, even though Gran was a child, she was already an old woman, and she remained that way when he became a young man and left the village.

Living in a shabby house on the outskirts of the village, the old woman was entrusted with everything from healing diseases with animal blood and herbs to divining the weather. Although she was feared and seen as eerie, the people of the village relied on her.

Once a year, the village holds a festival. Marriages and funerals were held there, and the old woman always spoke of the spirits.

The shaman, with a giant bonfire at her back, was bent over to the ground and had lost her front teeth. Her left eyelid was closed, while her right eye looked down on Gran and the others with intelligent light. She was wiser than anyone in the village, and when difficult decisions were made, the village chief always relied on her advice.

On that day, at Gran’s sister’s wedding, the shaman talked about lightning.

“I obtained this incredible power because I was “blessed by lightning.” Those who survive after being struck by lightning receive the blessing of the “Thunderbird,” which takes the form of a giant eagle and is a spirit of lightning and thunder.”

The old woman was once struck by lightning and, in the blinding light, saw the image of an eagle. The eagle perched on her shoulder and pecked her left eye before flying away.

When she woke up, the old woman had lost the sight in her left eye but gained the ability to see a world overflowing with light and leading to a bright future.

Even without teeth, her voice was clear and resounding, her black shadow swaying with the fire on her back, making it difficult to understand her raspy, high-pitched voice. Thunder echoed in the distant mountains.

A strange feeling struck Gran’s chest, as if he were being told about one of the world’s mysteries.

Since that time, he has made a point of going out to the hill whenever a storm is about to develop. Gran didn’t even stop when his father hit him. But in the end, the blessing of lightning was not meant for him.

When Gran regained consciousness from his memories, he covered his forge tools with a cloth and stood up.

“Lightning, huh? That’s good.”

He muttered quietly and headed toward the front of the shop.

“What, huh? Are you accepting it?!”

Jack screamed in confusion and shock. It certainly seemed crazy. Jack couldn’t understand why Gran, who was so serious and stubborn, had taken an interest in it.

❂❂❂

φ

She doesn’t like the name Meln. The “me” in the pronunciation, which bounces off her lips, has no humility. Meln thinks it’s completely opposite of her personality.

The name “Meln Workshop” was originally given to her by her grandmother. She opened the shop when Meln was born, and gave it the name with the excess cuteness of her granddaughter. It can be said that it has been predetermined for Meln to take over the shop with her name on it since she was born.

Fortunately, Meln had talent. Being modest, patient, and understanding that endurance, patience, and silence were virtues, Meln struggled to make armor, dealing with pushy and stubborn adventurers.

Labyrinths had deeply affected Meln’s life. Labyrinths were gold mines filled with wealth and fame. Farmers who were struggling to make ends meet, poor families, and young people dreaming of making a fortune gathered from all over and challenged the labyrinths, with many losing their lives with the armor that Meln had made.

Meln was not one to give up easily.

So, Meln continued to make armor. Seeking better leather, more refined patterns, and even better quality needles and thread, Meln would stay up all night making, fixing, and creating. Meln believed that this job was about protecting the lives and future of adventurers.

The adventurers were all idiots. However, there were those who learned and grasped something within the labyrinth.

Meln did not have the concept of choosing one’s own life. The way to live was prepared for her from birth. It was the same for everyone around her. The butcher’s son would carve meat, and the hat maker’s daughter would learn to make hats. That was what life was. To deviate from that path, one had to become an adventurer and explore the unknown.

Before she knew it, the time had passed.

The young and beautiful girl who blushed at the slightest compliment, Meln, had become an old woman with wisdom and discernment.

Adventurers were no longer as rough and reckless as before. The reckless ones, who charged forward alone and risked their lives, had disappeared. They now go to the labyrinth as a group, prioritizing safety and efficiency, treating it as a job to earn money.

Meln’s armor had a good reputation. Adventurers are delighted with the quality of the thread she uses and continue to buy it. Sometimes, when they return the armor for maintenance, there are a few scratches or traces of oil.

Meln thinks it’s a good thing.

Not getting hurt during exploration is the best thing.

However, if nobody minds and the gods and spirits turn a blind eye—she sighed—it would be an uneventful thing.

Adventurers who burned with life and challenged everything have become increasingly scarce.

Meln felt a nostalgic yearning for the days when she poured her satisfaction and burning passion into needles while looking at the armor that had returned, ridden with wounds.

“What a foolish thing—I picked up a nasty trade in my old age.”

Meln sniffled and set down the needle to check the quality of the stitched leather. A set of leather armor was being assembled on the workbench. It was a good job, but…

“——Ah, how boring.”

As she muttered her true feelings, Meln felt a rush of exhaustion.

Was this old age? She took off her reading glasses and pinched her eyes. She was no longer young. That simple fact clung to her body as a palpable realization.

When she sighed to take a break and close the store for the day…

The door of the shop opened, and a familiar voice that had become accustomed to hearing recently could be heard. A nonchalant attitude, clearly a nobleman’s son, yet a boy who’s been lurking in the labyrinth for some reason.

When the boy spotted Meln, he pointed his strange tool at her and started making demands.

“Hey, what are you doing?! Why are you so noisy?!”

‘Another incomprehensible request has come—oh, how exhausting it is!’ Meln wished to take a little break.

Meln tries to understand the boy’s request and asks him questions.

“Huh? What? You want to catch lightning? Are you sure you’re sane? You want to defeat a monster that uses lightning in the labyrinth? If that’s the case, we have suitable materials.”

‘Young people are always like this, aren’t they? They only think about what they want to do without considering how to make it happen in reality. They face strong enemies because they try to do things beyond their abilities. Repairing the Gauntlet last time became a bit of a job, and I had to prepare a special hardener after a long time…’

Meln’s spine stiffened without her realizing it. The tone of voice was rough, yet somewhere deep inside, there was fervor.

Chapter 104: The fat aristocrat takes up the challenge

It was already late at night when Mitrof finished creating the lightning protection tools with the help of Gran Workshop and Meln Workshop.

As he walked quietly along the labyrinth’s corridors, Mitrof calculated the cost of the tools he held in his hand in his head. The expenses for the processing at Meln Workshop were more significant than those from Gran Workshop, where he had ordered the main body.

The technical fees were, of course, part of it, but most of the silver coins were used for the materials. The materials that had been gathering dust in Meln Workshop’s warehouse were rarely used but valuable, and coincidentally, they had precisely the elements that Mitrof was looking for.

Meln agreed that there was no other material possible besides this one and exceeded the budget to guarantee its quality.

Mitrof was not confident that the tools described in the “Alchemist” book would truly work.

There was even a possibility that they would be entirely useless. Still, he felt like there was no other way out. This was like holding on to the edge of a cliff. If it doesn’t work, he will fall without a choice.

Carefully avoiding the monsters walking the corridors and sometimes taking a detour, he proceeded to his destination, the room of the “Guardian.”

Even Mitrof wouldn’t say he could win alone.

That goat-skullhead-oldwoman that Blanc Manje called a “demon” was clearly a formidable enemy.

Of course, Mitrof had daydreamed. He had imagined himself brilliantly and gracefully defeating that formidable enemy numerous times over the past few days, even in bed, in the bath, and during meals.

He wants to believe that he has the strength. He has defeated strong enemies before. He has survived. Therefore, he can do it again.

‘Perhaps I will awaken to newfound strength at the brink of death?’

“Sublimation.”

That word grasps Mitrof’s heart and doesn’t let go.

Once, when Mitrof first visited this labyrinth, he defeated a formidable kobold and gained “sublimation.” Since then, he has not had an experience where the depths of his power were suddenly raised.

Miracles can happen in the labyrinth. If only “sublimation” happens, he can become even stronger. Even if he hopes for it this time, he has not seen even a glimpse of it until now.

‘I think that perhaps it is the instinct awakened by being exposed to a life-threatening crisis, and if that’s the case, then this may be the opportunity to become a stronger version of myself through “sublimation”.’

Mitrof knows that this is only a desire. Holding the fortune-telling stick, he believes without evidence that it must come true.

He tells himself not to fight with the expectation of “sublimation”. He won’t let his desires control him. He just wants to get his sword back.

Leaving behind what is important, Mitrof “runs away”.

Lattier’s words stay in Mitrof’s mind.

——How can you be sure he won’t run away…

He’ll avoid lightning with his tool in hand, retrieve his sword, and return.

He can do that much now. He has been through many battles. He has experience. He has grown, with or without “sublimation”.

passing through the stairs.

Using a short sword, tools, and gauntlets, he made his way down to the fifth floor, fighting monsters along the way. As he walked through the square of the Guardian’s Room, an unexpected person ran up to him.

“Apélie Tiff? What are you doing here?”

She was a petite girl with animal ears on her head, and a member of the “people of the labyrinth” who secretly lived within the labyrinth. It was Apélie Tiff who introduced Mitrof and Blanc Manje to each other.

Apélie Tiff looked back and forth between Mitrof’s face and the Guardian’s Room. ”

“Mitrof, I need your help.”

“Help? What happened?”

Apélie Tiff’s eyebrows lowered, and she crossed her hands in front of her chest. Her expression showed that something serious was going on.

“The “chief” is inside, but the “chief” isn’t well.”

“Wait, is Blanc Manje already inside?”

Apélie Tiff nodded.

Last time, Blanc Manje saved Mitrof from a crisis here. However, the reason why she was fighting that “demon” was still unknown.

Following Apélie Tiff, a man approached. He looked familiar—he was a merchant who was buying a precious lump of syrup called “amber” from Blanc Manje.

“…Poisson right?”

“Hey, we’ve met before—I don’t know your business, but the chief is busy right now.”

Poisson shrugged his shoulders. Compared to Apélie Tiff’s desperate expression, he seemed frivolous.

“Why are you here?”

“Well, it’s business—they keep pressuring me to get more ‘amber.’ I thought I’d ask the chief to do something about it. But when I got here and was told to wait until the job was done, things felt a bit suspicious—it might be getting out of hand.”

Poisson scratched his head, looking like he had completely understood the situation.

“So, being a ‘chief’ means fighting against ‘demons’ as part of Blanc Manje’s job?”

“Huh? You know about ‘demons,’ but you don’t know about ‘Blanc Manje’? You didn’t even know about Amber, despite sneaking into the back roads—you’re a strange guy.”

“Tell me, then, what kind of job does she have?”

“Whoa, whoa—don’t come any closer with that serious face.”

Poisson raised both hands.

“The ‘People of the Labyrinth’ are the nuisances of society, but the guild tolerates them living in the labyrinth—In exchange, they entrust them with dangerous jobs like maintaining the back roads and gathering valuable resources like Amber. When the guild realized that there were very powerful monsters—’demons,’ they entrusted the task of subjugating them to the labyrinth residents. To the guild, adventurers are resources—If you’re going to face dangerous guys, well, you get it, right?”

Poisson noticed Apélie Tiff standing next to Mitrof in the middle of the conversation and spoke more carefully.

“The name ‘Blanc Manje’ was the name of the chief for generations. Their job was to take care of things like ‘demons’ and ‘red eyes.’ The previous one was competent, but the current one’s reputation is not so great.”

“The chief is not bad! Don’t insult her if you don’t know anything!”

Apélie Tiff bared her teeth and spoke sharply.

Poisson took a step back and apologized, saying, “Sorry about that.”

“The chief always fights alone—the men were taken away, and the chief fought alone, exhausted and injured! She is still fighting for adventurers!”

Apélie Tiff raised her voice and grabbed Mitrof’s sleeve.

“Mitrof, please help the chief—I’m useless…”

In front of Apélie Tiff, who was bowing her head, Mitrof held his breath. As a nobleman, he could not refuse a woman’s request for help.

Mitrof nodded and put his hand on Apélie Tiff’s shoulder.

“I understand—leave it to me—I’ll bring Blanc Manje back.”

“Really?”

“I promise.”

Apélie Tiff’s face when she looked back at Mitrof was like that of a lost child. Her fear was that Blanc Manje would not return. Mitrof understood the feeling of losing someone who accepted, loved, and protected everything about oneself, just as Lattier feared losing Grace.

“I’ll go now—Apélie Tiff, wait here—don’t worry, I’ll be back soon.”

Mitrof walks towards the “guardian” room.

“It’s tough to keep up an appearance, isn’t it?”

Poisson was there, giving Mitrof a sidelong glance.

“No one will blame you if you refuse.”

Mitrof turned his gaze to respond, noticing that Poisson’s expression was not mocking him.

“Adventurers risk their lives—you have to choose carefully the people and time they wager on. Isn’t that right? It’s a good story to challenge a “demon” at the request of a poor girl. But are you willing to prepare to die? In labyrinths, the bravest die first.”

Mitrof stopped walking. He looked up at the door in front of him. ‘If I go through this door, will I die?’

‘What is to die? ‘

He had no sense of it. Mitrof had never died before. When he has a sense of it, he’ll surely be dead. Well, then, it’s impossible to make sense of it.

“Is it okay to run away?”

“You can run away.”

“Should I run away?”

“If you want to survive.”

“I see.”

Mitrof nodded and searched through his bag at his waist.

He took out what he had and presented it to Poisson.

“This is for you—it’s the last ‘amber’ I’ve been keeping safe—take it. In exchange, please listen to my request.”

“…If you’re asking me to go in with you, I refuse.”

“It would be a nuisance if you came with me—what I want you to do is…”

Mitrof made his request.

Poisson shrugged and nodded. He turned and left without taking the offered ‘amber.’

“You’re not taking the amber with you?”

“I still have some pride in my business—I’ll take it as proof of contract completion.”

Mitrof opened his eyes wide, then smiled.

“You’re a good merchant, aren’t you?”

“That’s right.”

Making eye contact, Mitrof and Poisson turned their backs simultaneously. Poisson headed towards the outside, while Mitrof rushed towards the room.

Chapter 105: The Fat aristocrat loses his retreat

The room was bright. The numerous candlesticks on the walls were lit with blue flames.

Magical fire.

Nobody was aware of how or when the labyrinth, built with ancient wisdom, functioned. Yet now, the labyrinth had chosen to light up this room.

Upon entering the room, Mitrof immediately recognized Blanc Manje’s figure from behind.

She was alive. For now, he could breathe a sigh of relief.

Mitrof ran towards her, standing in the middle of the room.

“Blanc Manje, are you okay?”

His voice startled her, and she turned around.

“——Mitrof-san? Why are you here?”

“I came to pick up something I forgot, and Apélie Tiff asked me to.”

“I told her I would handle it… but now, more importantly—”

At that moment, a branch of light flashed above Blanc Manje.

Looking up, Blanc Manje furrowed her brows. Her legs wouldn’t move. They couldn’t.

Mitrof had already opened the package. The “iron rod” that Gran had assembled was a simple and foldable structure. Mitrof assembled it, raised it straight into the air, and suddenly the air popped.

Lightning struck.

The lightning that was aiming for Blanc Manje strangely bent halfway through.

“——It worked!”

Mitrof applauded.

The lightning was “caught” by the iron rod that Mitrof was holding.

“What is that?”

Blanc Manje was perplexed, and Mitrof proudly declared:

“This is a lightning rod!”

The iron rod that Mitrof was holding was nearly twice the size of a regular sword. It was hollowed out in the middle to reduce the weight, and a chain extended from the middle ring halfway down. When the lightning struck the lightning rod, it flowed down the metal chain to the ground.

This was an invention of the “alchemist” for catching lightning. It was originally designed to be mounted on the roof of a building to minimize damage, but Mitrof decided to carry it himself.

Wrapped around the handle was the skin of a monster, the “electric catfish,” known for its resistance to lightning. It seemed to be working well, as Mitrof didn’t feel any numbness in his hand.

“Don’t worry! With this, we can win!”

Mitrof exclaimed confidently.

“…That’s good to hear. In that case, please escape while you can.”

“What do you mean?”

As he turned around, Mitrof noticed Blanc Manje’s leg. The hem of the robe was burned and crumbled like charcoal. The pants and boots were also burned, and she probably had injuries all over her body.

Understanding what had happened, Blanc Manje spoke to Mitrof with kindness.

“Thank you for coming to help me. I really appreciate it. Honestly, just standing is already a struggle. That “demon” is beyond imagination in strength. My attacks don’t work against it, and it seems to have an endless amount of magic power—take this information back to the guild and come up with a plan.”

Once again, a lightning strike came flying in from the side. Mitrof caught it with his lightning rod. The thorns of the brambles clung to the metal rod as they flowed towards the ground.

Mitrof stared sharply into the shadows of the room’s pillar. There, the goat-skullhead-oldwoman was hiding. The walls and pillars had blackened from the aftermath of Blanc Manje’s sword, which produced flames.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman had avoided attacks by utilizing the shadows and firing lightning strikes, which clearly differed from just any monster. It was not simply a creature that attacked without thought, but one with intelligence.

As goat-skullhead-oldwoman peeked out from behind the shadows, Mitrof spotted his sword in her hand. She had apparently discarded her old sword and now used his thrusting sword as a cane.

Mitrof bit his lip. However, he had already made his choice.

“Let’s retreat.”

Without taking his eyes off the goat-skullhead-oldwoman, Mitrof squatted where he was.

“Get on—the lightning rod is here—don’t be afraid of lightning.”

“…You have an impressive back.”

Along with some teasing, Blanc Manje leaned against Mitrof’s back and wrapped her arms around his thick neck.

Mitrof lifted her up in a piggyback position while holding her legs with one hand, and Blanc Manje moaned softly, perhaps due to her injury.

Mitrof had read in a book that when a strong “electricity” flows into a person’s body, it causes fatal wounds. It boils their blood, burns their skin, and stops their heart.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman’s lightning magic was probably not exactly the same as natural lightning. Nonetheless, he still needed to take her to the hospital as soon as possible.

Mitrof slowly backed away.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman appeared and raised Mitrof’s sword that she had in her hand.

Lightning Bolt.

Mitrof lifted a lightning rod in his right hand. The lightning bolt was drawn straight to the iron bar, flowed down a long hanging chain, and fell to the ground.

“Good,” Mitrof nodded. “It worked. We can escape without any problems—but wait, just a little more until we reach the door.”

And then it happened.

“Cl-Click.” The door that Mitrof had left open shut naturally.

“What?!”

He guesses that the door was closed from the outside and denies it. Outside was Apélie Tiff.

“…Looks like we’re in trouble.”

Blanc Manje whispered in his ear.

“The ‘Guardian’s’ room is designed so that the door is closed to prevent challengers from escaping.”

“What kind of cursed room is this? Wait, we escaped before.”

“The room’s function was inactive because the Guardian was absent.”

“…Which means it’s active now, in other words…”

Mitrof couldn’t finish his sentence. It sent shivers down his spine just thinking about it, saying it wouldn’t change reality.

Blue light began to gather in the center of the room. It was coming from the magical bonfires set into the walls that surrounded the room. Soon, it turned into a vortex.

“It must have recognized that ‘demon’ as the Guardian, or maybe…”

A hand emerged from the blue vortex. Crawling out was a “goblin.” However, the color of its skin was unmistakably that of a goblin, but its physique was incomparable. It was like a giant troll, but without any visible fat on its body. It was dressed in leather armor, wielding a wide axe in hand, and wearing a horned iron helmet.

“——It seems that a ‘new guardian’ has been born.”

Blanc Manje’s tone was terribly quiet. She was just facing reality and accepting it. Therefore, Mitrof could also calmly observe it.

This robust goblin sentinel…the goblin soldier, was the new master of this room, possessing the power under the name “guardian”.

And beside it was the goat-skullhead-oldwoman. She was a spiritual body that could freely wield lightning and possessed intelligence and invincibility against attacks.

One of them alone would be too much to handle. But there were two, and escape was blocked. Blanc Manje could hardly move, and Mitrof did not even have a sword.

‘How do we get out of this?’

When Mitrof asked a question, there was only silence in response. Nothing came to mind, and he had no way out.

The realization of death had taken hold of Mitrof’s legs.

Chapter 106: The fat aristocrat knows who they are

The lightning that struck from above brought Mitrof back to consciousness. He instinctively swung the metal bar and caught the lightning.

The moment he caught the lightning, the goblin soldier started to move. Although it appeared to be large, like a troll, it was smaller when approached. However, its movements looked light.

Mitrof gave up on the door behind him and, keeping distance from the goblin soldier, turned to the right to get away from the goat-skullhead-oldwoman.

He desperately needed a place to avoid them. Approaching the goat-skullhead-oldwoman was also terrifying.

His mind continued to race, trying to figure out what to do.

“Blanc Manje, do you have any good ideas on how to open the door?”

“Either the guardian dies or the challenger dies—that’s the only way.”

“Is there a way to open it from the outside?”

“I have never heard of one.”

“Then, we have to win.”

“…Yes, we have to win.”

Blanc Manje knows that Mitrof is being stubborn. Mitrof gritted his teeth as he heard Blanc Manje’s humorless laughter in his ear.

Being chased by the goblin soldier, Mitrof made up his mind. He stopped and faced his enemy, trying to see through its movements.

The silence of thought came over him. Mitrof was getting used to the enhancement of the mind, thanks to “sublimation.” He found the immersion in his changed thoughts to be terrifying, as if he had become someone else. But he had no choice but to rely on it now. Mitrof accepted the transformation of his thoughts and concentrated only on what was before him.

The goblin soldier raised his sword. The arm had a movable range, a fulcrum, and a point of force. The trajectory of the arm swinging from shoulder to overhead was limited. No matter how big its body became, the skeleton did not change.

As the axe was swung down, Mitrof avoided its trajectory.

Then, he immediately ran off to create some distance.

In the midst of it, there was light. Lightning struck the lightning rod, which extended sideways. The goat-skullhead-oldwoman was aiming at his flank.

They were not breathing in sync. Mitrof could not feel the same level of intelligence in the goblin soldier as he did in the goat-skullhead-oldwoman. During the monster’s rampage of instinct, the demon intended to shoot the lightning.

“Damn, what a nuisance…!”

Mitrof moves faster than the goblin soldier.

With Blanc Manje on his back, Mitrof ran towards the goat-skullhead-oldwoman. If he could take out one of them, he might find a way out.

A lightning bolt was aimed at Mitrof as he ran straight. He caught it with the lightning rod. The chain dragged along the ground, shimmering.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman tilted her head and floated lightly. The hem of her tattered coat spread out, leaving only darkness inside and no physical body visible. She slid through the air and retreated. The tip of Mitrof’s stab sword scraped against the ground.

“Hey! Don’t hit the ground! The tip is very delicate!”

“Mitrof-san, now is not the time for that.”

Blanc Manje’s hand around his neck tapped lightly. When he looked back, the goblin soldier with a horned helmet was charging.

“F*ck you!”

“You have a foul mouth.”

“My apologies for being rude in front of a lady!”

Although it was a situation to be worried about, Mitrof’s thoughts remained calm. The emotions that arose from panic or anger receded like waves before they could explode.

Mitrof made a calm decision to stay in place and draw the goblin soldier’s attention completely before nimbly dodging its attack.

The goblin soldier couldn’t stop in time and smashed its head into the wall. Stones and dirt fell off, and the impact was deafening. Mitrof had hoped for more, but the goblin soldier didn’t seem to care and shook off the dirt from its upper body.

During a brief rest, Mitrof regulated his breathing. Although it was possible to avoid it with a clear mind, there was nothing he could do if his body couldn’t keep up. He needed to use his resources—his stamina—sparingly.

“——I’m getting off.”

“What?”

Mitrof tightly grasped Blanc Manje’s legs as they fidgeted on his back, trying to get off on their own.

“Kyaa! W-Where are you touching?!”

“Because you are trying to get off on your own—I don’t mean anything else.”

“I’m just a burden!”

“You’re not a burden—besides, with your injured leg, you won’t be able to avoid going down.”

“But you can.”

“What about you?”

“…I’ll manage somehow.”

“You’re surprisingly dumb, you know.”

“What?! That’s too rude—— Huh?!”

Mitrof revolved to catch the lightning that came flying from the side. Blanc Manje clung to Mitrof’s neck.

“That’s it! It’s coming!”

Mitrof took a breath and braced himself. The goblin soldier rushed towards him, but this time he stopped firmly.

It swung his axe.

Dodging. now swept with his left hand. Jumping backward. Ramming the goblin, running to avoid.

The occurrence of the attack is easy to understand. Because of its huge body, like a troll, he has the same room to dodge. The experience gained from battling with the “Red-Eyed” troll has made Mitrof’s movements precise. ‘It’s okay. I can avoid them.’

“Behind you!”

There was no time to turn around. Trusting Blanc Manje’s words, Mitrof raised his arm and directed the lightning rod behind him. Vibrations and thunder—the lightning bolt was caught.

Before him, a goblin soldier brandished its axe.

——This guy doesn’t know how to hold back. Always swinging wildly… so there is time to dodge.

Before the axe could be swung down, Mitrof rotated on his toes. The lightning rod struck the hand that held the axe before it could hit him. The thorns of electricity tangled around it.

A burst of air exploded. The goblin soldier cried out in surprise, letting go of the axe and recoiling his hand.

In that opening, Mitrof withdrew and caught his breath.

“…You’re light on your feet.”

“You’re saying that you didn’t expect that, despite what you saw?”

He breathed roughly.

“…I’m sorry. I got in the way—please catch your breath.”

Feeling concerned, Mitrof started the conversation this time.

“I’ve noticed something—it seems that lightning bolts can’t be used repeatedly—phew… if you dodge once, you’ll have some leeway until the next lightning bolt.”

Swallowing their fear by speaking, they shared their fear to maintain their determination to fight. They talked about not giving up.

“Before entering this room, I asked “him” to call for help—Canule should be coming.”

“…But the door won’t open.”

“We’ll figure it out somehow.”

“…You are relying on them, then.”

Relying on them—those words sounded surprisingly unexpected to Mitrof.

“Yes, I am relying on them—I should have done it from the beginning.”

Should not have come here alone, should not have stubbornly clung to childish thoughts of wanting to prove oneself. He thought so, even though he knew it was futile.

“My friends are coming—just the thought of that gives me hope.”

“…Yes, you’re right—having someone you can rely on is reassuring.”

Mitrof tightened his grip on the lightning rod. The skin of an “electric catfish” wrapped around its handle was slightly burned. Mitrof chose to ignore it.

“You should have relied on me too—don’t fight alone.”

“I don’t have anyone I can depend on—I have to help everyone myself.”

“If that’s the case, you should have just asked me for help—if we came together from the beginning, we could have made things a little easier.”

Mitrof caught lightning that struck from above. His index finger numbed slightly. Without time to worry, he received a strike from the goblin soldier.

He couldn’t dodge too much. Needless movements would turn into fatigue later. He had to be minimal and efficient. He even needed to save his breath.

With peaceful thoughts, Mitrof kept watch. The goblin soldier swung an ax in his hand. For Mitrof, it was fortunate that the soldier was attached to the weapon.

The ax would cut Mitrof in half.

But whether it was a fist, an arm swing, or a slap, as long as it hit, it was over.

As long as it’s fixated on the axe weapon, Mitrof only has to avoid the blade.

A chill ran up his spine. Avoiding something you know will kill you means barely avoiding it. Death is within reach.

Mitrof reflexively stepped away but stopped himself mid-step. ‘They’ll catch up with us anyway—there’s no point in running away.’

“Blanc Manje, are you scared?”

“——How could I not be scared?”

“Yeah, me too—hold on tight—I won’t let them hit us.”

“You’re quite the reliable gentleman, aren’t you?!”

Blanc Manje’s tone jumped at Mitrof’s sudden movement.

Within reach of the goblin soldier, Mitrof stepped forward. With the girl on his back and a long pole in his hand, he spun in rhythm to the inaudible music.

Mitrof danced the waltz on the verge of death.

To move one’s feet, to shift one’s body weight. Noble parties sometimes last until late at night, and one may dance many times. Under the watchful eye of his private tutor holding a cane, Mitrof’s dance training once lasted for hours.

He was not good at running. However, dancing had seeped into his body. How he could minimize fatigue, dance with ease, and conserve his stamina. As long as he danced, he would not die. The waltz would not cross the line of death.

For a large body like his, the partner’s embrace was like the eye of a typhoon.

Approaching within touching distance of his legs and then moving away, suddenly it would seem like he was far away, but then he would turn and enter again.

The goblin soldier swung his axe more forcefully in frustration at the quick prey. He didn’t realize that this made his movements repetitive.

Mitrof remained calm, his eyes fixed. In his hand was the hollow iron rod. No matter how much he attacked, it was a pointless, long object. By discarding the means of attack, Mitrof’s consciousness was focused solely on “avoiding” the enemy’s movements.

He looked at his opponent, perceiving their gaze, breath, and movements. Then he moved in sync with those movements. It was undoubtedly a dance with the goblin soldier as his partner, and their breathing was in sync, with Mitrof leading.

With his strengthened mental acuity, Mitrof could read the goblin soldier’s movements, gradually understanding “it”—what he wanted and how he moved. It was as if they were dancing hand in hand, knowing each other’s intentions.

In the corner of his vision, Mitrof saw the goat-skullhead-oldwoman. She raised her sword to cast a lightning bolt, but her aim was not precise. “Demons” had intelligence, and Mitrof understood that if she were to cast lightning, she would involve the goblin soldier.

Lightning has the tendency to strike at its highest point.

It was written in the book.

As long as Mitrof and the goblin soldier stood side by side, thunder would strike the goblin soldier.

Even when casting magic from the side, the goblin soldier was a bigger target, and Mitrof continued to move, changing his position.

“Intelligence” prioritizes rational judgment. Therefore, lightning does not strike -.

Faced with the threat, he did not run away. That’s why he saw the opportunity to come back from the brink of death. Even in the face of death, Mitrof clings to a glimmer of hope by moving forward.

How many times has he repeated this?

It feels like hours have passed, but it could also be just a few minutes.

It feels like Blanc Manje has spoken to him several times. He thinks he replied, but his memory is hazy, perhaps because his mind is in turmoil.

One mistake, and they will die. Both he and Blanc Manje carry the weight of life, literally.

Mitrof has repeatedly wanted to shout and run away from responsibility and fear. He wanted to step back from this place and take a big breath.

But each time, a terribly calm part of him held him back.

He knows that if he runs away from here, he will die. There’s no redoing it. Once his heart breaks, it’s impossible to recover. The courage to return to the fear of death cannot be restored.

So he just keeps moving his feet and dances with the goblin soldier in unison, forever, until he reaches his limit. But when will that be?

Unbeknownst to him, the sound of the wind grows louder and louder. The dry friction sound that sounds like a gust of autumn wind seems like a distant problem that’s coming from his throat.

Sweat is pouring out all over his face. Droplets are falling. Before the sweat running down his forehead can reach his eyes, Blanc Manje pushes it away.

Trying not to get in Mitrof’s way, trying not to lose his balance, Blanc Manje clings to him like a piece of luggage. The two have become one without realizing it.

‘How much longer can I hold on?’ Mitrof doesn’t know. All his fatigue and everything else has melted away, and he can’t even feel his own moving bodies. Even though his breathing should be difficult and painful, Mitrof oddly feels comfortable.

He could stay like this forever.

It was a feeling he couldn’t understand, even though it was his own. It was unknown, but not frightening. It was pleasant. He wanted to bathe in this feeling forever. Everything was perfectly in sync.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman tilted her head. She was waiting for Mitrof to let go. Otherwise, the lightning would strike the goblin soldier. However, Mitrof did not let go. There was nothing she could do.

The long hair, mixed with white and black, swayed. The jawbone made a creaking sound.

The “demon,” a superior species to the monsters, possessed intelligence. Intelligence is the power to think and learn. The goat-skullhead-oldwoman observed the scene in front of her, learned from it, and came up with an answer.

She raised her thrusting sword and produced lightning in the void. And then she dropped the thunderbolt—onto the goblin soldier swinging its axe.

A scream.

And shock.

The lightning that struck the goblin soldier jumped to Mitrof, who was right beside the goblin soldier, running down from the axe.

Mitrof could not respond to the phenomenon known as a “side impact.” The goblin soldier absorbed the majority of the lightning, and only a small portion struck Mitrof. Nevertheless, it was enough to knock him over, and it was an excellent blow to break his concentration.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman had learned.

It would be good to involve the goblin soldier as well. Even if Mitrof died, the goblin soldier would not. After all, “humans” are fragile creatures.

As the goblin soldier directed his anger and roar towards her, the goat-skullhead-oldwoman returned with a laughing voice like a song.

While listening to the singing voice, Mitrof propped himself up on his elbow.

Numbness spread throughout his body. However, his body was still able to move, but the lack of oxygen was suffocating him. In the midst of the agony that felt like his head was being squeezed, Mitrof was desperately breathing.

His heart was beating so violently that it felt like it was about to burst out of his chest. His legs were unable to bear any weight, whether it was due to fatigue or the thunderbolt attack.

F*ck, f*ck, f*ck——

The same word was spinning in his head.

Things were going well until he was interrupted. He had been done in again by that goat-skullhead-oldwoman.

Mitrof tried to stand up, but his body felt heavy, as if a boulder were on his back. He lifted his head, and the goblin soldier barked at the goat-skullhead-oldwoman, then remembered Mitrof and turned his gaze towards him, approaching him.

‘I guess it’s impossible.’

Mitrof reached for the alluring invitation to give up.

He was completely exhausted. If he were to fall asleep right now, how comfortable would it be? ‘I’ve done enough…’

Then, a hand was placed on his shoulder, and a trembling whisper came out.

“I’ll buy some time—you go near the door—help might arrive.”

Blanc Manje stood to protect Mitrof.

Her back was small, and her burned legs were just barely able to support her weight. Nevertheless, she drew her sword and faced the goblin soldier.

“Blanc Manje! You should be the one to run!”

“Ara, can you say that again once you stand on two legs?”

“Don’t you have too much of a mouth on you!”

Mitrof pounded his fist against his thigh. He couldn’t just give up while being protected by a lady. As a nobleman, that was not allowed, as it involved his pride as a man.

“I’m fine. Thanks to you, I was able to rest a bit—only if it’s just one hit.”

The goblin soldier swung his axe horizontally.

Mitrof yelled, reaching out his hand, but it couldn’t reach. ———He watched as a red line cut through the goblin soldier’s body.

The hatchet twirled through the air and rolled on the ground. Mitrof starred in a daze as the upper half of the goblin soldier’s body fell slantingly downward. The cut edge had charred, and not a single drop of blood had scattered.

In the stance of swinging her sword, Blanc Manje collapsed on the spot.

“Blanc Manje!”

Mitrof crawled over and hugged Blanc Manje, revealing a face usually hidden under the hood. Mitrof held his breath.

“…I’m fine. I just used up too much magical power, Mitrof-san—you should… escape.”

Blanc Manje barely moved her arm, which had no more strength than that of a child, and pointed to the door.

The goblin soldier, the “guardian,” was dead. Therefore, the seal on the door must have been lifted. If they could make it there, they could make it back alive.

“I see, so you were quietly clinging to my back for that one attack—well done! Alright, alright, Blanc Manje, we’re going to make it back alive!”

“…”

Mitrof looked back, but there was no response from Blanc Manje. Her eyelids were closed. Mitrof quickly put his hand over Blanc Manje’s mouth.

‘She’s breathing, but weak.’

Magic power is said to be like blood. If too much is lost, a person will die.

Blanc Manje had released that one blow, diminishing her own life force. She had resolved to rot here.

Mitrof looked up.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman had emerged from the shadows of the pillar. She moved her head from side to side, and her singing voice echoed from her mouth.

If he looked away (abandoning Blanc Manje), there was a door. He could return from there.

a cheap inn bed.

salty food from a food stall.

Submerging up to his shoulders in a bath and drinking milk ale to quench his dry throat.

He had little physical strength remaining. An unconscious person would be as heavy as a bag filled with water.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman couldn’t overlook the sloppy movements that led to Blanc Manje being carried on Mitrof’s back.

Mitrof swallowed hard.

Chapter 107: The fat aristocrat doesn’t run away

Mitrof bit his lip.

He clenched his fist with his right hand and slammed it hard against his own face.

“——Ugh!”

The pain was intense.

Tears welled up in his eyes.

Red blood dripped from his nose and stained Blanc Manje’s robe.

“I won’t run away!”

Shouting.

driving away fear, temptation, and weakness.

“I won’t run away!”

Mitrof stood up, his trembling legs pounding and stomping on the ground.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman’s song echoed throughout the room. In the air, several lightning thorns surrounded a golden sphere.

just as Blanc Manje has been saving up her magic to deliver the killing blow. The goat-skullhead-oldwoman also gathered magic power to ensure Mitrof’s death.

Mitrof ran.

He picked up his lightning rod that had fallen to the ground and continued running.

He couldn’t involve Blanc Manje. He stood alone, holding up the lightning rod with his back against the door.

Electricity filled the air.

Mitrof’s skin tingled, and his hair stood on end. With blood flowing from both nostrils, he howled.

“Bogu, gogo!”

He tightens his grip on the handle. The skin of the “Electric Catfish” that had been wrapped around the handle is crumbling into charcoal.

‘Ah, if only I had power,’ he murmurs to himself.

‘Things like a magic sword that can cut any monster in one blow.

‘Or magical power that can cancel out lightning magic.

‘Or wisdom that never fails and courage to overcome any crisis.

‘If such things existed, I could live a cooler life.’

Mitrof grits his teeth, trembling.

‘It was a mistake to come here alone.

‘I want to be recognized by others; I have strength; I can do anything well. I am not wrong.

‘That’s what I wanted to show—but I was mistaken.

‘So at least in the end, I want to choose something I can truly believe in.

‘Something I can be proud of.’

Tears spilled from Mitrof’s eyes without him knowing why he was crying.

Putting all his strength into it, he exhales a rough breath. Hmph. His blocked nose, now freed, spurts blood. He can breathe. He’s still alive.

“I don’t have incredible strength—I can’t defeat you alone—but I won’t run—I won’t run from you anymore!”

A lightning bolt strikes.

The lightning rod he raises receives the impact. It’s much stronger than any other lightning bolt he’s ever seen. With the death of the goblin soldier, the goat-skullhead-oldwoman has no reservations.

Two, three strikes

Lightning strikes.

The sound of the electricity clashing echoes. It’s the sound that ruptures the air. Countless thorny shrubs are in a chaotic uproar, and Mitrof’s vision turns white. He can’t even hear the goat-skullhead-oldwoman’s song anymore.

Just standing and raising the lightning rod. And enduring.

The handle of the rod is getting hot. The leather skin wrapped around it is starting to burn. He shouts unconsciously. He endures by shouting. He searches for hope somewhere.

His view is flickering. He doesn’t even know if he’s still standing.

Darkness and light alternate, and in the world of light, he gazes upon the past memories:

Mitrof is screaming—his mother is in front of him.

Mitrof is screaming—his mother is bleeding.

Mitrof is screaming—no matter how much he screams, the power does not awaken.

Mitrof already knew that no matter how much he screamed, he would not awaken a convenient “power.”

That day, at that moment, there was no power within Mitrof to save his mother.

And now, there is nothing Mitrof can do.

The lightning rod he holds is starting to melt, and the leather handle is crumbling. Exposed to the rush of lightning, he can only endure.

But Mitrof is “waiting.”

Alone, he could do nothing. He could only endure death.

Mitrof no longer believed in the “power” within himself.

However, Mitrof was not alone.

He believed that they would come.

——His comrades.

Amidst the thundering torrent, he heard it.

the sound of something breaking. It was the sound of the “Guardian’s” room door being struck with terrible force.

In an instant, the sound of cutting through the air flew.

It was an arrow.

As soon as the shooter entered, she decoded the situation and the arrow hit the goat-skullhead-oldwoman without missing a shot. The sword was lowered, and the thunder stopped. The arrow pierced through the old woman’s dark body.

“——Are you alright?”

Mitrof missed that voice.

Grace came running lightly beside him, sweat covering her face, her eyes shaking with anxiety and urgency.

“T-Thank you—you helped me a lot.”

It felt like they’d had that conversation before. That was, yes, the day Mitrof first met Grace.

“Once again, you’ve saved me.”

“It’s just part of helping each other out.”

“I’m coming.”

Canule rushed towards the opposite side of Grace. She raised her shield to defend against the lightning that flew towards her. But Mitrof’s lightning rod attracted the lightning toward it.

“…This is ‘electricity’. A shield won’t be able to stop it—we have to catch it with this rod.”

“It’s a magic that simulates lightning. It should be quite advanced… But more importantly, I’m glad you’re safe—we’ll talk more about it later.”

At the cold and chilling voice, Mitrof’s back trembled. Clearly, yes, she was angry.

“Is that Blanc Manje lying over there unconscious?”

“Y-Yes, she fainted—we should hurry and take her to the treatment center.”

“Do you know Blanc Manje?”

“It’s a long story… Oh!”

He caught the lightning bolt that came flying in the middle of their conversation.

Despite having previously accepted death, the presence of these two somehow rejuvenated him. It was truly a mysterious thing.

“…You two are dependable.”

Mitrof whispered to himself, and Grace and Canule exchanged glances.

“What do you mean, saying such obvious things?”

“Don’t worry—let’s take care of this quickly and then tend to both of you.”

And so, the three stood side by side, facing the goat-skullhead-oldwoman.

She was a formidable enemy. After all, she was a “demon”.

But now there was nothing left to fear.

Mitrof felt a strange “power” flowing within him. He could move forward. He could fight.

‘There is no way we can lose—we can win.’

“Alright, let’s go!”

In response to Mitrof’s voice, Grace takes the lead.

She pulls out an arrow from her quiver and shoots it accurately at the head of the goat-skullhead-oldwoman. The old woman avoids it, gliding across the ground, her coat fluttering with invisible magic.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman raises her sword and generates a thunderball in the sky, about to swing her sword down.

Immediately, Grace shoots a second arrow.

As an elf hunter, she has lived for decades in the mountains, chasing and hunting animals in the wild. Therefore, shooting and piercing through a target moving only horizontally, with no trees or bushes around, was not a difficult challenge at all.

“——Oh, no, it went right through.”

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman stops her sword mid-swing.

The arrow hit her but went through her body.

“Blanc Manje said that attacks wouldn’t work.”

“So, it’s a spirit, then—it means we can only defeat it with magical attacks.”

“It’s a little tricky.”

In front of the three people who had stopped moving, the goat-skullhead-oldwoman shook her chin bone and laughed while singing, holding a thrusting sword aloft.

Mitrof pulled Canule’s arm.

Leaning in, Mitrof spoke in a tone that carried the talents of a noble, commanding and compelling others to obey.

“Canule. Throw me.”

“——Yes.”

“Mitrof?!”

It was Grace who shouted.

Without hesitation or confusion, Canule merely carried out Mitrof’s orders. Immediately clinging to Mitrof’s body, with a strength similar to that of a troll throwing a rock, Canule threw Mitrof into the air.

Due to the curse that had turned her into a monster, Canule possessed strength comparable to that of a troll.

As Mitrof flew through the air, he controlled his posture. Holding onto the lightning rod and curling up his body, Mitrof prepared for impact. Thanks to his fat, Mitrof’s balled-up body resembled a sphere. He landed and rolled, tumbling down.

Pushing himself up with his arms and bouncing up, the goat-skullhead-oldwoman was already in front of him. The lightning was about to strike—no, it did not strike.

The sword held by the goat-skullhead-oldwoman was not swung, and her magic was just suspended in the air.

“I know—while you’re using magic, you become materialized.”

Mitrof, who had been watching silently, noticed. It was not just the goat-skullhead-oldwoman who learned through multiple lightning strikes. Mitrof had intelligence as well.

“If you were to strike lightning now, you who have materialized would also get hit—what will you do?”

Mitrof grinned and swiftly swung the lightning rod he was holding. The hollow metal that had become brittle struck the thrusting sword held by the goat-skullhead-oldwoman.

The lightning rod finally broke due to the shock.

The thrusting sword was released from the old woman’s hand and danced in the air.

The tempo of the singing had changed. It was fierce, high-pitched, and it sounded like a curse.

“Emotions”——The lightning ball in the sky spread its branches violently due to the excitement. The lightning branches spread across the ceiling and shone brightly, illuminating the surroundings.

It no longer mattered who hit whom.

The goat-skullhead-oldwoman opened her jaw and screamed. She knew that the fragile human would die first trying to bathe in lightning together.

The thunder struck.

Mitrof knew that.

She struck the goblin soldier with her thunderbolt regardless. This creature was intelligent and had personality and consistency in her actions.

Reading, speculating, negotiating, and guiding the opponent’s personality are what nobles are good at.

There is a strange time when everything flows smoothly. The sharpened mind is refined, and the sharp concentration threads through the gaps in time.

Mitrof passed the broken lightning rod to his left hand and grabbed the thrusting sword in the air.

He swung the left iron rod. It was broken, but the chain remained.

A draw? It’s fine. It’s about who can endure longer—a patience battle.

The swinging chain became entangled with the thrusting sword.

Mitrof lowered his waist and braced himself, even if he had to face the lightning that was falling, showing his determination to never run away. He finally raised the beloved sword that had returned to his hand to the sky.

Thunder strike.

The lightning struck the thrusting sword used as a lightning rod. The impact was terrible. The view was pure white, and the heat burned from his shoulders to his feet.

The lightning passed through his legs and struck the ground in an instant.

Mitrof is still alive, standing with gritted teeth.

A side strike from the lightning rod in Mitrof’s left hand hits the goat-skullhead-oldwoman.

Screams echoed.

If it had been a real lightning strike, everything would have ended without a chance to breathe, and Mitrof would have died, with no “electricity” remaining anywhere.

However, this was magic.

The lightning burst all around Mitrof’s body.

Due to the goat-skullhead-oldwoman holding it for so long, the thrusting sword was contaminated with magical residue. The lightning that flowed through the chains enveloped the thrusting sword, briefly turning it into a magic sword.

Mitrof appears to have lost consciousness for a moment due to the tremendous lightning bolt. He did not fall, however, and he did not let go of the sword because “electricity” had paralyzed and stiffened his body.

In the pure white world, Mitrof watches a bird.

A magnificent and beautiful giant eagle approaches him quickly and strokes Mitrof with its soft wings.

Then consciousness returns.

There is the goat’s skull in front of him.

Reality.

Almost unconsciously, Mitrof moves his body.

steps forward towards it.

But he has no strength.

Almost falling, Canule rushes over and supports Mitrof.

He raises his arm.

The hand that grips the thrusting sword, with the lightning chain wrapped around it, trembles and almost drops it, but Grace rushes over and places her hand on his.

The residual “electricity” remained in all three of them, wrapped in thorns, and thus, the trinity of Mitrof, Canule, and Grace penetrated the goat’s skull with the thrusting sword.

Chapter 108: The fat aristocrat apologizes

Mitrof was facing a crisis unlike any other he had ever encountered before.

When facing the goblin soldier, he had been prepared for death, but his composure was still intact. However, Mitrof was now pushed into a state of confusion and anxiety, not even knowing what he should do.

He swallowed his saliva. Unable to calm down his gaze, he looked down at his feet, looked timidly around the room, and then looked up at Canule standing in front of him.

“…”

Silence.

Standing in front of Mitrof, who was sitting up on the bed, Canule looked down at him.

Mitrof could feel the pressure in her gaze. A relic from the labyrinth had cursed Canule, making her look like a skeleton. She had no pupils to direct her gaze, and her black hood covered her facial features deeply.

However, Mitrof knew without a doubt that Canule was angrily glaring at him.

“…Canule, I’m sorry.”

Mitrof said timidly.

Mitrof had little experience apologizing. Even speaking one word took him a long time, and his tone was awkward.

Canule sighed softly and squatted down beside him, gently touching Mitrof’s right arm, which was thickly bandaged.

“…How is your arm feeling?”

“Mm, this? Oh, I received healing magic, so if I rest, it will be back to normal soon. However, this scar was caused by magic, and it’s difficult to erase unless you’re a skilled user.”

From Mitrof’s right arm to his neck, chest, armpits, stomach, and right leg, there were reddish scars that looked like thorny branches spreading all over his body.

It was the crest of lightning, also called the Lichtenberg figure. It was a mark that those who survived lightning strikes left behind, according to the doctor.

Normally, it would fade over time, but Mitrof’s lightning was the result of magic.

Mitrof sensed Canule’s caring atmosphere.

Canule was raised in a family of knights and served as a bodyguard for nobles’ children. Therefore, she understood the significance of scars that could not be erased from the body for nobles.

“Well…it looks flashy but doesn’t hurt—don’t you think it adds to my adventurer’s image?”

Mitrof said, teasingly. However, Mitrof also understood the regret of having an irreparable scar. Even so, his spirit was bright.

“I am lucky—I survived—this scar is a sign of luck—thank you for coming to help, Canule.”

“No problem—I’m glad I could help—but please, do not leave me behind and go to fight like that again.”

The fingers of Canule’s black leather gloves held onto the hem of Mitrof’s arm tightly, making a rubbing sound.

“——I thought your life was going to end.”

The urgency in her voice pierced Mitrof’s heart.

“…I’m sorry.”

“I told you not to push yourself too hard.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“Even though your arm was injured, you hurt yourself again.”

“I am unworthy.”

“Moreover, you did not call for me.”

“… Canule, my arm, they’re, uh, squeezed…”

The fabric at the hem of his clothes was tightly wrapped around Mitrof’s plump arm.

“I am Mitrof-sama’s shield… It pains me that you were injured while I was not around. If Mitrof-sama had lost his life, I would have…”

A choking sound interrupted her sentence.

Mitrof was panicking. He understood Canule was angry, but he didn’t know what to say to comfort her when she was sad.

“I’m really sorry—I should have considered Canule’s feelings.”

“No, as a knight, I cannot let my lord worry about me—I will improve; however, if you could think of me even a little, please keep me by your side—I want to be of service to you.”

Upon hearing Canule’s voice, which seemed as if she would burst into tears anytime now, Mitrof held his chest with an “ugh” sound. Guilt hit him like a bolt of electricity, pounding on his chest.

He had not thought about Canule’s feelings. He had only thought about himself and his own actions. He regrets his past recklessness now.

“Okay, I understand. I promise I won’t do anything like this again. I really get it now. If I am alone, I will be in danger of dying soon.”

Mitrof timidly reached out and placed his hand on Canule’s head. He did that because he had fond memories of his mother comforting him in that way when he was younger.

Not knowing how much pressure to use, Mitrof gently stroked Canule’s head, like examining the fabric of a hood.

“…I am glad that Mitrof-sama is safe.”

Canule murmured.

Mitrof nodded. Canule’s kindness saved him.

There was a strange and itchy feeling of surprise in Mitrof, realizing that there was someone who worried about him so much. It was not unpleasant at all. It was like a body numbed by the cold of winter being gently warmed by the hot water. The reason Mitrof felt it was strange was that he was not used to it.

“Um, well, thank you—I appreciate your concern.”

“Yes.”

The two of them looked at each other’s faces, and a troublesome atmosphere filled their hearts. They are aware of this, and they are aware that each other is aware of it.

As they exchanged subtle signals about who would break the silence, there was a knock on the door, causing ripples in the tension.

“C-Come in.”

Canule stood up abruptly, her posture straight, like a fresh recruit who had just joined the knights. She cleared her throat to hide her nervousness with an exaggerated tone, and a visitor entered the sickroom.

Chapter 109: The fat aristocrat sleeps well

“Hey there, how are you?”

The man smiled friendly at Mitrof and Canule. His short red hair was neatly combed, and his beard was cleanly shaved. The uniform of the guild staff, and the leather shoes on his feet both had wrinkles that showed their years of use.

“You are Mitrof-san, right? And who is this?”

“I’m Canule—I’m working as a porter.”

“I see—a porter, huh.”

“And you? I haven’t heard your name yet.”

“Oh, excuse me. It’s been a while since an adventurer asked for my name. My name is Hashasume, and I work in the Special Problems Countermeasure Department. It’s basically where we handle all the issues with the labyrinth—think of us as jacks-of-all-trades.”

Hashasume laughed heartily and found a small chair leaning against the wall in the sickroom. He picked it up and placed it by the bed.

“Would you like to sit down, Canule-san? Oh, is that not necessary? Then please excuse me.”

Hashasume took a seat and leaned forward, taking out a notebook from his pocket. Flipping through the pages, he glanced at the contents before looking up.

“So, Mitrof-san encountered a ‘demon’ this time around. Well, first of all, congratulations on surviving. I understand that you must be physically and mentally exhausted, but there are some documents that need to be prepared—apparently, a new guardian called the ‘goblin soldier’ was summoned—it’s quite surprising that you were able to defeat two of them.”

“It was Blanc Manje who defeated the goblin soldier.”

“I see… Then let me write that down in the report.”

Hashasume took out a short pencil from his pocket and wrote it in the notebook.

“Is Blanc Manje alright?”

“Yes, she is—she suffered injuries and a depletion of magical power, but it is said that she will make a full recovery—she is a ‘sturdy’ one, after all.”

Remembering what he heard from Poisson, Mitrof is aware that under the guild contract, Blanc Manje is forced to fight against ‘demons.’

Although he wants to mention it, Mitrof knows that it’s not something he can improve by intervening.

Mitrof swallowed his words.

“…I’ll go visit her.”

“That would be wonderful—it will be for a while, as she needs treatment to recover her magical power. Oh yes, speaking of visits, we have a visit from the guild today.”

Mitrof narrowed his eyes in suspicion.

“It’s a reward for the subjugation of the ‘demon’ that suddenly appeared on the fifth floor—the guild will cover all of Mitrof-san’s medical expenses—also, we will provide a certain amount of subjugation fee, a rank up of your guild card, and an official approval of the party name. If you have any other requests, we will answer them.”

“There is an official approval for a party name?”

“Well, it’s a kind of special treatment—normally, parties—the name is up to you, and if you pay the application fee, we’ll register it for you. However, for example, if a guild recognizes the potential or there has been a significant contribution, the guild will support that party…that’s how it works.”

“…I’d like to request details on papers—I’ll check it later.”

“Understood. Like that—Is there anything else you would like?”

At first, Mitrof was about to say no. ‘No, it would be a waste—this is an opportunity.’ But Hashasume is not just a messenger, he has been given discretion here. In other words, he is somewhat important. Demanding too much would be greedy. It’s all about finding the right balance.

“Can you make an adventurer card for Canule without an exam?”

There was a slight gasp from Canule.

“I see.”

Hashasume wrinkled his eyes at the corner—not a bad reaction, Mitrof thought.

“Then, it shall be so.”

Hashasume wrote something in his notebook, closed it, and stood up. As he pushed his chair back against the wall, he spoke as if making small talk.

“Mitrof-san, do you know what trait a great adventurer must possess?”

“That’s a sudden question… Is it because I’m not a quitter?”

“That’s one possibility, but the only essential trait is luck.”

Mitrof furrowed his brow, expressing his doubts.

“No matter how strong your body, no matter how resilient your spirit, you will still die when it is your time—that is the labyrinth—did the dead ones who were foolish and incompetent deserve to die? Were the survivors wise and excellent? No, they just had luck—and today, you are alive—that’s incredible luck.”

Hashasume held out his hand. He unclenched Mitrof’s fist and forcefully shook his hand.

“You have the luck to overcome demons—that’s enviable—and…”

His gaze fell upon the fresh scar of a lightning bolt etched into Mitrof’s neck and arm.

“You are blessed by the thunder—this is proof of good luck—and we also expect your contribution to the guild in the future.”

Hashasume smiled at Mitrof and quickly left the room.

Mitrof and Canule were left facing each other.

“… What was that about?”

“It was probably a warning from the guild—they reward us for being quiet or for not making a fuss about dealing with Blanc Manje or the ‘people of the labyrinth’… or maybe it’s just a notice that they have their eyes on us, but we gained something—that’s good enough for now.”

“Um, Mitrof-sama. Was it okay to make that wish? There were probably many other wishes you could have made.”

With a hesitant tone, Mitrof looked at her with a bewildered expression.

“It’s obvious it’s a good thing—I’ve been wanting to do something about it for a long time—you are not just a porter, but a valuable ally.”

“——Yes.”

Canule’s voice was choked as she nodded. The content of her emotions was unknown to Mitrof. But he had a feeling that his choice was not wrong.

Suddenly, a loud yawn escaped him.

“Excuse me—I’m so sleepy.”

Canule smiled and supported Mitrof’s shoulder, then gently laid him down and covered him with a blanket.

“It will take some time for the residual magic of the lightning to dissipate from your body—please rest well.”

“I’m fine, though.”

“If you insist on leaving the bed, I’ll have to rely on force.”

Mitrof chuckled at the clear threat.

“… By the way, how is Grace doing?”

On their way back from the labyrinth, Canule carried Mitrof on her back, and Grace carried Blanc Manje as they returned to the surface. By the time the treatment was finished, Grace had disappeared.

“When we received notice that there was no danger in Mitrof-sama’s life, the children came to call us—I couldn’t ask for more details, but something seemed to have happened at the institution—Grace-sama went back to deal with it.”

“I see… by the way, I asked Poisson to call you, but why was Grace there too?”

“Well…”

Canule hesitated slightly.

“Grace-sama was actually the one who came to ask—we happened to receive the message at the same time.”

“Thanks to that, our lives were saved—I must express my gratitude properly.”

“Let’s go tomorrow.”

Canule anticipated Mitrof’s thoughts and spoke, telling him to sleep quietly tonight.

Mitrof chuckled and replied that he understood.

“Let’s get some sleep—my body feels so heavy.”

“It’s because of the healing magic—you’ll be completely better when you wake up.”

As he closed his eyes, drowsiness enveloped Mitrof. Before sinking into the warm clouds, he felt a gentle sensation stroking his head. Suddenly, he remembered his mother’s touch.

Mitrof fell asleep in a nostalgic peace.

Chapter 110: The fat aristocrat knows how to live like an adult

The next day, Mitrof, who had slept deeply until the morning, was quickly kicked out of bed. Sick people were constantly coming to the clinic, and there was no room for healthy individuals.

After receiving his discharge from the hospital, Mitrof and Canule went straight to a food stand to satisfy his cravings.

The most difficult thing for Mitrof was the frugal and tasteless meals at the recovery facility.

The portions were small, the flavor was weak, and the food was neither delicious nor bad. Mitrof didn’t consider the nourishing substances he was given as meals.

There were still aches and discomforts in his body even though the magic of recovery had healed him. Nevertheless, Mitrof ignored the need to rest at the inn and instead toured various food stalls. For Mitrof, eating was the best medicine.

His stomach growled relentlessly. The smell of meat and spices wafted his way, and drool streamed down his chin while his nose twitched. Mitrof swayed over and ordered as soon as he received his food, devouring it in no time.

Mixing the diced meat and vegetables that were cooked in a sweet and spicy sauce, Mitrof savored the two bites he had taken after wrapping them in dough kneaded with mashed grains.

Biting into the hot skewered meat coated with yogurt sauce, the overflowing juices burned his lips.

As he cooled his tongue with fresh fruit, he made his way towards the noodle dish served on a wooden tray.

Canule smiled as she followed Mitrof around like this. To her, a healthy appetite was a sign of vitality.

As someone who enjoyed cooking, Canule liked Mitrof’s good eating habits. If only she could prepare their meals herself, with good quality ingredients and hygienic conditions, instead of relying on the questionable street stalls. It was regrettable that they lacked the space and facilities.

When Mitrof returned to the cheap inn after eating his fill at the market, he noticed an unusual silence. Usually, someone would be shouting or there would be chaotic sounds upon entering the inn, but today it was as quiet as a cemetery during the new moon.

As he ascended the stairs and followed the hallway leading to his room, Mitrof noticed that everyone was peering out from their rooms as if watching something interesting.

Even the old toothless man who always sang cheerfully while holding onto his cheap liquor bottle was sitting with his eyes wide open, as if he had just discovered his own feet for the first time.

With a furrowed brow, Mitrof found the cause of the disturbance. A newly recruited adventurer who came in last week was lying on his back in front of Mitrof’s room. Despite his intimidating size and rough temperament, he had been shunned from a distance.

‘What happened in front of my room?’ Mitrof approached the giant, discovering a figure behind the man’s massive body.

Leaning her back against the door, the woman had her arms crossed and was slightly bowing her head. Her body was covered with a coat, but even if her appearance were exposed, she would undoubtedly attract more attention than any work of art.

Upon hearing Mitrof’s footsteps, Grace opened her eyes and elegantly brushed her hair away from her cheeks, revealing her long ears. Then, she smiled faintly.

“It seems you have completely recovered.”

“I’m sorry for making you wait.”

“Just a little bit. I went to the hospital earlier, but they said you had already been discharged—you seem too busy dreaming about what to eat at the market on your way back, so I got here before you.”

Mitrof cleared his throat and straightened his posture at Grace’s teasing tone and smiling eyes. The slight redness of his cheeks indicates that even Mitrof has a certain vanity that he wants to show in front of the girls.

“I just took a little walk to check on my condition—well, I had some food, too.”

Grace chuckled softly, and Canule giggled behind Mitrof.

Feeling that the conversation was not to his advantage, Mitrof decided to move on. It was the noble’s way to run away when things got inconvenient.

“Did something happen at the church? I heard you were called out by the children yesterday.”

Grace even went to the trouble of coming to his lodgings. He was a bit nervous, wondering if there was some kind of troublesome trouble, but Grace shook her head in denial. It seemed more like a resigned acceptance than anything else.

“It would be faster if I showed you—I’m not sure what to do.”

“That’s fine, but… Alright, let’s go now.”

As he turned around with Canule, he met the gazes of adventurers peeking through the door. They were of all ages, but mostly men and a few women. There were many new adventurers, but also familiar ones who stayed at the inn due to the low lodging fee. Mitrof was familiar with them.

They all smiled widely, squinting, covering their mouths.

“It looks like they want to say something.”

Mitrof glared at them intently, trying to intimidate them, but they were just adults smiling at the 15-year-old boy. Someone whistled.

“Mitrof, do you know these people? I apologize for that, some vulgar guy tried to touch me, but I got rid of him…”

“Don’t worry about it—let’s go.”

Mitrof sighed and walked down the hallway. As he passes by people making fun of him, Mitrof ignores them completely. Even so, his cheeks weren’t red with anger but with embarrassment that was typical of his age.

When she turned back, Grace tilted her head back to look at Mitrof without seeming to care. Her silvery hair, which reflected the sunlight from the window, even seemed like strands of silk spun by the moon goddess.

Elves are also known as “fairy folk,” and poems and songs praising their beauty overflow. It is said that any great person will fall in love with an elf at least once.

Mitrof also thought that such words that symbolize the beauty of this world were an exaggeration unique to artists.

However, facing Grace like this, he realized that there was a moment of perfect beauty that even the greatest artists could not capture.

“What’s wrong?”

“——Oh, it’s nothing. Let’s go.”

Mitrof straightened up and walked confidently. He couldn’t help but listen slightly to the conversation between Grace and Canule, who seemed to have become quite close.

As the two of them continued to converse, Mitrof couldn’t find an opportunity to participate and made his way to the church.

The children who had gathered at the entrance to the chapel noticed Mitrof and ran towards him.

“It’s Mitrof! Mitrof! You have to do something! They’re taking Sensei’s paintings!”

Kou patted Mitrof’s stomach and pointed towards the chapel.

“Are you talking about the ceiling painting?”

“Yeah—It’s a big one painted right up there.”

The girl with one eye covered replied, pulling on Mitrof’s sleeve and walking ahead. Mitrof followed silently and peered into the entrance from the doorway.

The benches that were lined up had been cleared to the side, and scaffolding that reached the ceiling stood in the center. It was a splendid structure made of wood. Several men were walking around on it without any wobble or trembling.

At the sight of the men, Mitrof had his suspicions about their identities.

The appraiser, who was standing at the top, had his face so close to the ceiling painting that he was almost touching it. Next to him was probably an art dealer. Both of them looked refined and resembled the men Mitrof had seen before at his parents’ house. They were people who arranged valuable art pieces for the wealthy, such as aristocrats and high-ranking merchants.

In the back of the scaffolding, Saffron was standing in front of the holy image. He had his hands behind his back and was looking up at the ceiling painting.

Mitrof told the girls to wait here and entered the chapel.

“It’s restricted to entering at the moment.”

The man who approached Mitrof was likely a scaffolder. He had removed his work clothes, carried a bundle of timber on his shoulder.

“What about it?”

Mitrof replied in a deliberately haughty tone. He couldn’t believe that others would have the audacity to intervene in his actions. and the way he looks at people with a downcast gaze, Mitrof today is a sarcastic aristocrat whom commoners despise.

The man raised an eyebrow. ‘Oh, he must be one of those people who works on the scaffolding and tries to do a high-class job.’ He gave up trying to communicate and went back to work, thinking that it was only a waste of time to be involved with them.

Pushing his belly into the gaps between the scaffolding, Mitrof managed to reach Saffron. He stood next to him, looking up at the ceiling painting in the same way.

Previously, this was a pleasurable experience on a calm night. The joyful voices of children could be heard from the back, and the figures of the saints on the ceiling, flickering in the light of a single lamp, embodied solemn tranquility.

Even though it was daytime, lanterns were hung all over the room, shining offensively on the painting. Men, who might have once had faith, were now scrutinizing it with a calculating gaze.

“——The church has many windows because it is designed to let in the daytime sun. Churches used to be poor places, so they were sparing with even a single candle. Ceiling paintings, stained glass windows—everything was made to look its most beautiful in the daytime—It’s a waste to light up such things with oil lamps.”

Saffron spoke without looking away from the painting.

Mitrof took a sideways glance at him, wanting to confirm what emotion was on his face. However, there was no way Mitrof could see into the inner thoughts of a man three times older than him.

“So, is this your answer?”

Saffron lowered his gaze and looked at Mitrof’s face.

“Yes—I had a hunch from the beginning—”they” made an excuse about the land, but they had their eyes on this ceiling painting all along.”

“——This is probably Graymel’s painting. He’s a late-blooming master who became famous in his old age. His early works are scattered…Occasionally, they are found in the storerooms of aristocrats, and they are worth a lot.”

“Mitrof-san, do you have knowledge of appraisal?”

“No, but there is a signature on it.”

“…”

“The lines may seem squiggly, but it reads ‘Graymel.’ I’ve seen the same signature before.”

Once, there was a gathering of noble children at the Marquis’ tea party. There, he remembered being shown a Graymel painting displayed in the grand hall and listening to a long explanation.

“Were you unaware of the value of this painting?”

“I knew it was a great painting—it doesn’t matter how much it’s worth to others. To me, it’s more wonderful than any other painting—It was worth putting my life on the line for.”

“Will you sell it or offer it to someone?”

“Sold to a certain nobleman.”

“The Mafia will come for retaliation.”

“People do not point at their own shadow and say that it is a separate existence.”

With just those words, Mitrof understood the situation well enough.

Not all noble families have a long history, and there are times when titles can be purchased with money. Not all nobles are always in the spotlight; they may play the role of nobility on stage and fulfill different roles behind the scenes.

Mitrof cannot criticize that.

If you want something, you can get it. It is both the arrogance of those in power and their right to do so. Mitrof is no different; he will do everything in his power. Those in power have the ability to make the scale of their actions as large as they want.

“You think just by handing over the painting, the problem will be solved?”

Mitrof expressed his concern, wondering if the other side was really that understanding.

“A kid helped me out—I can trust him.”

“You’re talking to the Mafia?”

Mitrof frowned and suddenly realized something.

“Um, he used to call me older brother…”

Saffron smiled bitterly.

“That child was the first one I took in.”

“The one from the ‘purifying fire’ story?”

“Yes, that one. He ran away from here a long time ago and disappeared. It’s been a while, but I finally saw his face again. He promised they would not lay their hands on this church in exchange for me giving them this painting, and it all worked out smoothly.”

Saffron’s bright smile was not forced. It was the expression of a parent reunited with their grown-up child.

“Are you really okay with this?”

Mitrof had not forgotten the feelings that Saffron had shared with him that night. His life had changed as a result of the attachment he had grown after falling in love with one painting. Losing it would not be easy.

“It’s fine. This painting has become too difficult for me to handle, and it’s time for it to go somewhere else—it’s a shame that I can’t keep it to myself, but… there are other things I want to watch over more now.”

Saffron’s smile was carefree, and he looked beyond Mitrof’s shoulder towards the entrance, where a group of children had gathered in the distance, watching him.

“Those children are the future—they hold endless possibilities. It’s much more enjoyable than endlessly looking up at a painting.”

Mitrof nodded. It might indeed be true.

Furthermore, Saffron whispered in Mitrof’s ear.

“This is why we are sandwiched between experts and merchants—I’m going to get my money’s worth; you can never have enough money, you know.”

With such an un-priestly remark, Mitrof could not resist bursting into laughter.

Chapter 111: The fat aristocrat grows up

Mitrof and Grace were sitting side by side on a bench in the backyard.

Mitrof explained to Grace the significance of Saffron giving up the ceiling painting. It may seem like Saffron made a sacrifice, but that’s not the case.

He harbored a new ambition. He decided to liquidate past dreams and turn them into funds for a new journey. There was no need for those around him to regret or stop him.

Grace groaned but nodded to come to terms with it.

The topic came to an end, and the warmth of the afternoon sun gathered between the two. Unfamiliar adults came and went from the chapel, but the children no longer cared. They seemed to understand better as Saffron explained the situation to them.

Mitrof thought that one should not underestimate children just because they are kids.

Especially the children in this church confront reality much more firmly than Mitrof does. They are forced to face it. Therefore, their age and mental immaturity do not correspond.

Children were running around the backyard as Lattier and Canule hung laundry on the clothesline. Mitrof was watching that scene, but his eyes briefly turned to Grace.

With Saffron’s resolution to the problem, the concerns that threatened Grace’s orphanage seemed to be resolved.

Grace had been cautious about the orphanage’s survival and the danger from the underworld’s powerful figures, so she had not been working with Mitrof.

Once all the worries were gone, the two of them could team up again and return to their daily routine of challenging the labyrinth. Just the thought of it made Mitrof’s heart flutter with excitement.

The sound of insects could be heard from beyond the overgrown trees behind the orphanage. There was a faint sound of a wooden door closing somewhere in the back alley.

“I can’t protect you.”

Grace had a strange sensation.

It was a scene so vivid that it resembled the dawn hour, when you wake up and still do not realize that you are dreaming.

Grace, although young among the elves, has considerable experience as a hunter.

She sneaks in the shadows of the trees, observing the movements of her prey and knowing their breathing. Sometimes, just before releasing the arrow from her bow, she sees a clear shot that is sure to hit its target.

When her arrow misses, Grace is left stunned. What went wrong? It couldn’t have been that… could it?

“…You don’t want me to join you—is that what you mean?”

“That’s not it.”

Mitrof replied firmly.

His lips were stretched and sealed as he clenched his teeth. His pupils appear bigger than usual because of the force he puts into his eyelids.

Grace can feel a certain obstinance surrounding him.

When someone finds an unshakeable answer within themselves and puts it into action, there is a distinct feeling. Although invisible, a wall is immediately erected, and no words can pass through it.

“You are loved by many people—children are waiting for you—if you die in the labyrinth, many people will be saddened.”

“Are you saying that you and Canule are different?”

“Canule is stronger than me, and she has a reason to explore the labyrinth.”

The ancient curse that befell her cannot be cured by any wise person. The only clue to a possible cure lies within the labyrinth itself.

“Then Mitrof, why do you want to dive into the labyrinth? You’re not cursed, you’re not looking for treasure to strike it rich, and you don’t even need to make a name for yourself, right?”

“…I am lazy. I am a coward who is too kind to himself, lacking in courage and nerve. I haven’t made any effort. I’ve spent every day like a holiday, a meaningless existence. That’s why there hasn’t been a special day in my life—a day where I can say that I have accomplished something and sleep well satisfied.”

Mitrof continued his words.

“When I challenge the labyrinth, I feel like I’m alive… Every breath I take against the monster makes my lungs swell with heat. Winning makes me happy, and losing makes me frustrated. But I feel like I can do better and grow even more… That’s what makes me happy—in the labyrinth, I can change—for the first time in my life, I feel my own willpower.”

Saying this, Mitrof’s face cleared up like a cloud had lifted.

Sometimes, even when we’re struggling, it’s important to find our own feelings by putting them into words. For Mitrof, who had always avoided speaking out and confronting his true feelings with others, this change he was experiencing was an odd sense of exhilaration.

When Grace first met Mitrof, his face was clouded with frustration. He had no hope; fear of tomorrow consumed him, and he was a person clinging to the darkness of night.

After a while, his face had completely changed.

Mitrof’s cheeks lifted as he looked at Grace with fiery eyes. The fiery center of the bonfire—due to the longevity of the elves, their emotions become scarce. The heat in Mitrof’s eyes as he looked at Grace moved her. She had never been looked at with such passionate eyes before.

Mitrof spoke.

Grace already knew she couldn’t reject his words.

“I can’t protect you—I’m weak—that’s why I need you.”

Grace’s eyes widened.

A man’s duty is to protect a woman. A knight’s duty is to protect a princess. In this world where it was considered natural, Mitrof’s words were pitiful.

However, Grace took joy in those words.

As a woman who held a bow and hunted like a man in the elven village, she was an outcast. The word “although she’s a woman” always followed her. The polished technique of her bow was Grace’s pride. Her pride was needed in its entirety.

“You are like the center of my whirlwind.”

“…What do you mean?”

The caught leaves were irresistibly drawn and sucked toward the center. A mysterious power seemed to exist in front of his eyes…

However, Grace narrowed her eyes without saying a word.

“My answer is already decided—I can’t let you go and worry about you; you’ve already taken it upon yourself to fight a troublesome enemy.”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to worry you!”

“Why did you challenge a demon alone again?”

Mitrof crossed his arms, closed his eyes, and fell silent, pursing his lips.

“That’s a man’s determination.”

He answered sharply.

“Men are such creatures, really.”

Grace widened her eyes and shook her head.

“You will never do something foolish like that again—promise me.”

“…Alright. I promise.”

“Good.”

Grace smiled and pinched Mitrof’s cheek. The soft and squishy sensation was surprisingly pleasant.

“What are you giggling about?”

“It’s punishment.”

Squish, squish, squish.

“Hey, stop it!”

“What’s wrong? I thought we were having fun.”

Mitrof grabbed Grace’s wrist and removed it, standing up in the process. He led Grace by the hand as they walked away.

They were heading towards Lattier’s place with a bewildered Grace in tow.

Sensing their approach, Canule turned around and quickly withdrew.

“Lattier-dono.”

Mitrof’s nervousness was apparent in his formal address.

As Lattier turned around, holding a small shirt in her hand, Mitrof faced her, his breath ragged. After a moment of silence, Mitrof gathered his words and finally spoke.

“I’m a useless guy who can’t do anything on his own.”

“——Uh, okay?”

“Other than handling a small amount of money, wielding a thrusting sword, and eating, I can’t do anything worthwhile—once again, Canule and Grace helped me out this time—and I don’t have the confidence to survive if I don’t continue receiving their help in the future.”

Mitrof didn’t bother considering how Lattier might feel about his confession. He had always lived his life trying to read other people’s reactions. But now he simply wanted to convey his own feelings.

“I wanted to believe that I was a strong person, that I was someone who could do something amazing someday, but that was not the case—I am a weak person—I have come to realize that—so, when the time comes, I will run away.”

“What do you mean you will run away?”

Lattier asked back. Mitrof nodded confidently.

“Yes, I will run away—however, I vow to be the last one to run away after letting my companions escape.”

Mitrof looked at Grace and Canule.

“I feel more confident with Canule and Grace by my side—together, the three of us can overcome anything, even opponents who are stronger than me alone—I need her by my side. So please allow me to challenge the labyrinth with Grace.”

There was a pause in Lattier’s response. Her grip on the shirt she held against her chest tightened.

“People who acknowledge their own weakness are rarer than those who boast about their strength—I hope that you’ll never forget that.”

Lattier replied, turning to face Grace.

“Grace, be careful—make sure to come back, no matter how many times.”

“…Of course, older sister.”

“Canule-san, you too.”

“——Yes.”

Perhaps caught off guard by being called out, Canule’s response sounded hesitant.

“Mitrof-san.”

“Y-Yes?”

“Please take care of my little sister.”

Lattier bowed deeply; Grace and Mitrof did the same, bowing deeply.

Chapter 112: The fat aristocrat starts again (Last Chapter)

The guild in the morning was filled with energy and exhaustion.

There were adventurers dressed in pristine equipment, ready to challenge the labyrinth.

There were adventurers covered in dirt, fatigue, and injuries, yet they still wore satisfied expressions.

And there were adventurers who had lost something, gritting their teeth and shouldering invisible burdens as they walked.

While passing by several people, Mitrof and his companions headed towards the reception counter. The receptionist, who had already become a familiar face, smiled and pushed up her round glasses.

“Looks like you three are together again.”

“Yeah, it’s the three of us starting today.”

Mitrof turned to the two people behind him.

One was an elven hunter, a master of the bow, possessing exceptional judgment and composure. With the enhancement of her muscle strength, she could control a fatal shot and move as swiftly as the silver wind.

The other was a knightess with a sturdy build. She could handle a round shield with ease, possessing unparalleled endurance and an unwavering mental fortitude in battle. She was blessed with unprecedented brute strength due to the curse of the labyrinth, and her defense was as tough as iron.

“It seems that the three of you will officially become a party—oh, and here, I’m supposed to give you two cards.”

The receptionist looked over the documents in front of her and withdrew the cards from a drawer. Mitrof accepted the card that was handed to him.

One was an adventurer card with Canule’s name engraved on it. He handed it to Canule.

Canule reached out to take it but hesitated for a moment before touching it. Her gaze was directed up toward Mitrof, who nodded back at her from under her hood.

“Now Canule is an official adventurer.”

Grace’s laughter echoed loudly.

Canule nodded and held the card close to her chest, as if protecting something precious.

The remaining card in Mitrof’s hand was one size larger than a regular adventurer’s individual card. The silver border was lined with gold metalwork, and in the center, three names were engraved.

It seems that the staff member, Hashasume, handled the procedure without any mistakes. When Mitrof looked at the back of the card, he saw the wing emblem that had been stamped there.

Mitrof tilted his head in confusion.

When Mitrof reached the third floor, a wing emblem was stamped on his card. This emblem served as a permit for using the great elevator, which transported people between the vertical holes of the labyrinth. Although the emblem was an unsophisticated design, it had two golden wings engraved on Mitrof’s card.

“This serves as your permit for using the great elevator—by presenting this, you can use it for free.”

“For free?!”

Mitrof had always longed to use the great elevator, but the expensive fee prevented him from doing so. However, now that he had acquired a sense of being a commoner, he understood the magnificence of the word “free.”

“Is it okay for me to ride it, even though it’s free?”

“Yes, of course—please feel free to use it as much as you want.”

Mitrof squeezed the Party card tightly to his chest, gazing at it as if he had received a splendid gift. It seemed to be an “extra” added to the “greetings” from Hashasume.

“There’s also the registration of a party name; what will you do?”

“Oh.”

The receptionist’s voice snapped Mitrof back to reality. He had completely forgotten about naming his party. Mitrof turned around and asked what he should do.

“You’re the leader—do as you please, Mitrof.”

“Whatever pleases Mitrof-sama.”

Given free rein, Mitrof agonized over the decision.

He could have taken the aristocratic approach of taking it home for later consideration, but in front of the two women, he wanted to show his decisiveness.

He searched for words in his mind, suggesting names with pleasant sounding archaic language and names of legendary swords mentioned in myths, but Mitrof barely withheld himself.

He closed his eyes for a while to find something that would fit them better, and suddenly, a word came to mind. It was still related to food.

“——How about ‘Amuse’?”

“Oh, what does it mean?”

“It’s the first dish of a course meal… it’s the ‘important beginning.'”

Grace and Canule looked at each other and nodded.

“That’s good.”

“It’s a good name.”

“Alright.”

With their approval, Mitrof returned the party card to the receptionist and gave the name.

The receptionist put the card into the printing press. Inside an old and worn-out box on the shelf, a small rod was lined up full of letter molds. She quickly picked up the letters one by one and arranged them in the printing press. With the sound of a light metallic stamping, she pressed the lever down.

When the card was returned, the name “Amuse” was engraved at the top.

Even though it was just one word, it warmed their hearts. They were bonded together again, and the adventure would begin from here.

Mitrof turned around and handed the party card to the two of them.

“I promise you both, you won’t regret this.”

Grace gently smiled at Mitrof, who seemed fired up.

“Listen, Mitrof. Adventurers help each other. You don’t have to shoulder everything alone. Canule and I also want to help you. We want to protect you. Don’t you feel the same way? With three such people together, there’s nothing to fear, is there?”

Grace’s words gently untied the knot that Mitrof had unconsciously started to create in his heart.

Something he had been overly ambitious about fell away. Certainly, Mitrof thought to himself.

What he could do alone was probably very limited. The monsters that nested in the labyrinth were all tough opponents. There were terrifying beings known as “demons” too. In such a place, how much could he fight by himself with just his sword?

But, with three people together, they could go even to places where he couldn’t go alone. ’With the three of us…’

Mitrof laughed.

Both Grace and Canule saw Mitrof smile for the first time. It was a boyish smile with a childlike innocence, typical of Mitrof at his age.

“Yes, I won’t hesitate to rely on both of you—please do count on me too,” Mitrof said, his voice rising with amusement or perhaps excitement, as he nodded.

“I was having a hard time finding herbs, and I’m sure Grace will find them quickly.”

‘Today, we will search for herbs—or should we slowly explore the second level so that Grace can get used to it?’

‘Thanks to the money from the guild, the debt to the clinic could finally be paid off—maybe we could go weapon shopping for Canule on the way back today…’ Just thinking about the future, Mitrof’s heart grew excited.

A few months ago, Mitrof could not have imagined such days. ‘Is life really this colorful?’ Mitrof suddenly felt something welling up inside him, causing his heart to dance.

“We have plenty of time—today has just begun.”

Mitrof smiled while choking up.

“Then, shall we go?”

Mitrof said. Grace and Canule nodded, and the three of them headed towards the labyrinth together.

—The End—


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