The Dungeon Expedition — Part 2
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
“I just can’t seem to get away from this place, can I?” I muttered under my breath as the now familiar city came into view. I really hadn’t ever expected to come back to Alfyro more than once or twice. Every single one of my visitations had seemed likely to be my last. And yet, I now found myself returning so often that I’d even set up a portal straight to it.
The old governor’s city was where Nell and I had decided to meet up. The plan was for me to join her and her team on a carriage that would take us straight to the city nearest to the dungeon. Lo and behold, they were already there and waiting. A small, lightly armoured escort featuring a pair of familiar figures was standing right by the city’s main gate.
“Oh, hey! Over here!” Nell began waving to me the moment she noticed me approaching.
“Hey Nell, looks like you’re just as full of energy as always,” I said. “I know we just talked recently, but I’m still happy to get to finally see you in person again.”
“I’m uhm… I’m happy too, but could you uhm… keep that stuff for when we’re alone? It’s kind of embarrassing with everyone else listening in…”
She awkwardly glanced at the other members of her order as I ruffled her hair. I love how shy she is. It’s totally adorable.
“Alright, fine. But once we do finally get a moment to ourselves, I’ll make sure I go so far overboard you can’t help but cringe.”
“I’d really rather you not go out of your way to go overboard if you’re aware of it…” She was a bit exasperated, but also very clearly happy at the same time.
“So that’s how the Masked Meister looks without his mask? He’s a lot younger than I thought,” said a paladin.
Hearing his words prompted me to spin around, grab the usual, clown-like mask out of my inventory and put it on before once again turning to face him.
“Young? What are you talking about? My age is as mysterious as I am suspicious. Don’t just randomly go assuming my age.”
“I’m not really sure there’s any point in trying to hide it anymore, Yuki,” whispered Nell. “If anything, having that mask on is just going to make you grab even more attention…”
Oh yeah… Riiiiight… That was a thing, wasn’t it? Unlike her, I had totally forgotten about the fact that my mask was now something widely recognized. Wearing it was going to get me nothing but stares.
“…You never change, Masquerade,” said an exasperated Carlotta. “I see you’re still just as fond of fooling around as you were the last time we met.”
“Yeah, yeah, enough about me,” I took off my mask as I held my arms up in a shrug. “How about introducing your men?”
“Not a bad idea.” She turned to her squad. “You heard him, introduce yourself. Start from the left.”
At her command, each of the paladins quickly briefed me on their identities. I wasn’t too interested in the particulars, but noted that, Nell and Carlotta aside, there were five of them, of which two were women. Though they were weak enough to pale in comparison to their commander—and not even worth comparing to Nell—each was still about twice as strong as the average soldier.
“You sure this’ll be enough to plow through a dungeon?” I asked.
“I would’ve liked to bolster our forces a bit as well, but most of my men are out on another job. This lot’s all we had available,” the knight lady said with a frown. “Still, I’m confident that with you, Nell, and I all present, we’ll be sure to succeed. I’m honestly quite grateful that you agreed to come. It would have been much riskier without you.”
“Eh, there wasn’t any reason for me not to. I’ve got a bit of a vested interest in conquering dungeons myself.” I said. “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask this. How strong’s the demon lord, this time around?”
“The answer to that question is, most likely, very. It managed to defeat the party put together to exterminate it,” she answered. “We’d best stay on our guard.”
Huh… interesting. I’m really starting to look forward to this.
“Where’s Enne?” asked Nell. “Is she not coming?”
“Nah. I’m having her stay home this time.”
Normally, Enne and combat went hand in hand. There was almost no reason not to bring her along if I knew I was getting myself into a fight. Almost. My signature weapon was super strong, super cute, and definitely end game-worthy, she also happened to have an extremely long blade. It just so happened that, according to Nell, the dungeon we were raiding consisted mainly of narrow corridors, corridors in which I wouldn’t be able to swing Enne around. Moreover, I was also going to have to account for the fact that I was fighting in a group. Swinging Enne around could very easily equate to a death sentence for any paladin unlucky enough to accidentally step into her massive range. And so, much to both our disappointments, I’d ended up deciding to leave the sword girl behind.
“Who’s this Enne you two are talking about?” asked Carlotta.
“She’s his favorite sword,” answered Nell. “Do you remember the long, red blade he used the first time he helped us?”
“…I suppose I do, now that you mention it.”
Oh, right, Carlotta’s never actually met Enne.
“Her full name is Zaien, we just call her Enne for short,” I said. “She’s so cute she might as well be an angel. I’ll bring her along and introduce you two next time.”
“An… angel?” She cocked a brow.
“Uhh, my bad, I misspoke. I meant an archangel.”
“…Just to be clear, we are talking about a sword, right?”
“…Well, to each his own, I suppose.” The knight lady stared at me as one would a weirdo.
Oh come on… Don’t look at me like that. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m a degenerate with a sword fetish or something, but that’s only because you don’t know what sword girls are. I was speaking the truth, the whole truth, and only the truth. I swear it. Hell, I’m like 200% sure that even your stubborn mask’ll crumble the moment you see her.
“Is there anything that you need to do before we depart?” After taking a moment to recompose herself, Carlotta cleared her throat and brought the conversation back on track. “I’d like to leave as soon as possible.”
“Nah, I’m all set,” I said.
I had already gotten literally everything I needed before leaving the house. My inventory was stuffed with a metric boatload of miscellaneous, useful tools and items. Heh heh heh. Tremble in fear, demon lord. Tremble and grovel before me, for your days are numbered. My arrival will mark your end!
“Excellent.” She turned back towards her troops. “Well? You heard the man, get the horses ready for departure immediately!”
The other paladins saluted, and then immediately retrieved a pair of carriages from the checking station. Each of the well-constructed vehicles was engraved with the same crest that decorated the knights’ armour.
“Masquerade, you will be joining Nell and I in the first carriage, the one in front. The rest of you will be sharing the second. Move out!”
“Oh yeah, so I’ve been meaning to ask. Why’d you end up asking me to tag along anyway?” I posed the question to the order’s commander, who currently happened to be in the middle of looking at the cards in her hand with a scowl.
Nell and I were family, and I’d already worked with the holy knights on multiple occasions. But even so, I found it odd that they were requesting my aid given that I wasn’t one of them. As far as the church was concerned, there was no reason for them to ask me of all people to show up, even if they were short on hands.
“I’m not quite sure of the real reason myself,” responded Carlotta. “The brass informed us that we were free to ask you for assistance if necessary, in spite of the fact that we’re typically barred from requesting help from outside sources. Knowing your incredible capabilities, I saw no reason not to go ahead and do what was effectively instructed.”
Oh… I get it now… I rolled my eyes internally. I bet this is that crafty old bastard’s handiwork. The suspicious circumstances, which had even the holy knight’s captain baffled, was far too convenient to be a mere coincidence.
“…I guess he’s telling me to put my hands where my mouth is and live up to what I said,” I muttered, too quietly for anyone else to hear.
Of course, while I was certainly willing to step up and protect Nell, as I’d told him I would, I was not by any means happy about him using me. Knowing that I was dancing in the palm of his hand irritated me to no end. I knew I should’ve killed him when I had the chance. God fucking damn it.
“What’s wrong?” asked Nell.
“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.” I took a breath and regained my cool. “Your turn, Carlotta.”
“R-right…” stammered the knight. “Then I suppose I’ll take… this one!” Her face contorted in a mix of shock and despair the moment she flipped the card around.
“Making a face like that’s only making it obvious you just drew the old maid,” I said with a laugh.
“I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen Carlotta react like that…” said Nell, with a wry smile.
On a typical day, playing cards would’ve entailed playing President, Trump, or some other relatively complex game. But as Carlotta had no experience with my world’s games, we started with the easy-to-understand classic that was old maid. Unsurprisingly, she ended up losing.
“The cards themselves are fairly simple, but the games are much more complicated than I expected,” she said. “But, I’ve now memorized all the suits, symbols, and corresponding numbers.”
“Wait, seriously? Already?”
I couldn’t help but not believe her. We’d only played a single game of old maid.
“You managed to do a number on me while I was still adjusting, now it’s time for me to pay you back in kind.”
“Uh huh… So what’s this?” I asked, as I held up a jack.
“The eleven of diamonds,” she replied, immediately.
Uhhh… wow. This lady knight’s got one helluva head on her shoulders. Though I guess that really shouldn’t surprise me, seeing as how she’s in charge of a whole order and whatnot.
“Alright, fine. Challenge accepted,” I said. “The training wheels are coming off. I’m going to show you just how deep the mind games can run.”
The games we played back at the dungeon had long escalated beyond the realm of casual. I’d been made to learn, through them, that this world’s people were higher spec than those that I’d known prior to my reincarnation. Their enhanced senses allowed them to hear heart rates and discern subtle changes in one’s expression amongst various other insane feats. And they would use all the information they gleaned from their observations to aid in determining the contents of their opponents’ hands.
When Lefi and I played, it almost always came down to a contest of predictions and calculations. And that’s pretty much why I always win. Lefi’s poker face totally sucks.
“That’s just what I was hoping to hear,” said the knight with a grin. “I’ll see through and stomp every one of your techniques.”
With our shit talking out of the way, we shuffled the deck and moved onto round two.