Operation Dungeon Conquest Begins! — Part 5
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
“I’ve brought your tea, oh revered Grandmaster!” Reyus presented me with a cup of tea from a canteen whilst acting as if it was something he diligently brewed.
“Excellent.” I was in the mood for a ruse, so I played along by accepting the cup and taking a sip. “It’s terrible. Do you truly think yourself capable of satisfying a woman with a cup of tea this awful!?”
The statement was completely and utterly unfounded. I knew literally nothing about tea and was not capable of judging whether a particular cup was good or bad. Still, I scowled and yelled at him regardless, all for the sake of the gag.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir! I’ll try my best to make it taste better next time!”
“That you should.” I nodded. “It seems that you lack motivation, so let me further your drive with something more concrete. Imagine meeting a girl who, by some off chance, you happen to serve tea. If the wonderful taste and aroma of your tea stood in contrast to your rough and tumble demeanor, you would be sure to leave a lasting impression. She’ll remember you, and for much longer than just in passing.”
“T-that’s a good point!” said Reyus in a manner that seemed to express that he had just attained a new level of spiritual enlightenment. “I see, I see! If you’re this confident, then you must be speaking from personal experience!”
“Errrr… y-yeah… I suppose I might be.”
And by that, I mean of course not. Again, I don’t know jack about tea. Me pulling off something like that is more or less impossible.
“This reminds me of the time you asked Leila to teach you how to make tea,” whispered an extremely entertained Nell, “I remember you calling it off because you felt like it was too much of a pain in the butt to deal with all the details.”
“Ahem…” I completely ignored Nell’s comment and cleared my throat. “Anyway, whatever the case, Reyus, what you need is attention to detail. We’ll have you put more thought into the details of your everyday life by starting with the art of tea.”
“Good, good. Just remember, you must work hard. Everything you learn will aid you in your quest and serve to become one of the many tools you can use to capture a fair maiden’s heart.”
“Yessir!” He said, as he bowed reverently.
While the three that had accompanied me on Path A had more or less understood the reason we’d bothered with our little skit, none of the others present were quite as up to date with the current state of affairs.
“What in tarnation is goin’ on here?” asked a thoroughly flabbergasted Griffa. At first, he had been looking on in silence, but seeing his party member act in such an unusual manner eventually led him to drop a confused comment.
“You don’t want to know…” Lurolle heaved a fed up sigh. She was done with Reyus’ shit through and through. “The only thing you’ll get from finding out is a headache.”
The impression I had of the mage was that she was the most mature member of the group, and that, though Griffa was officially the group’s leader, she was the one that took care of everyone’s needs and kept them in line. She just had that nice, slightly-older-than-you girl type of feel.
“…I assume your current behaviour means that you’re all doing fine, in spite of the fact that you were also just attacked?” asked Carlotta.
“Yeah. Sounds like we weren’t the only ones that got a sudden wave, huh?” I replied.
“We also had to deal with a mob of skeletons, albeit a smaller one.”
The two parts of our party had ended up meeting back up after repelling our respective waves. We’d both come to the realization that the other group had also likely been attacked, so we headed back to the crossroads and met back up. It turned out that we were spot on. Both sub-parties had similar experiences, with the size of the horde being the only major difference. We had dealt with about three hundred enemies, while they were hit by a mob about a third the size, which seemed to suggest that the demon lord viewed our group as the bigger threat even in spite of its relatively low member count.
In other words, he’d seen through my fake stat page. I’d configured it such that it was the same as it had been the first time I pretended to be human, but it wasn’t actually possible for me to hide my true power level from him while we were on his turf. Because like me, he had the ability to use a map. Like me, he was capable of checking the amount of DP that each individual was providing him. As far as my dungeon was concerned, I was worth literally no DP whatsoever, but that wasn’t the case here. Here, I was an invader, and my high stats were quite a bit higher than everyone else’s, which meant the price on my head was also much greater than that on any of theirs. The disparity between what he saw when probing my stat page and the dungeon’s UI told him wasn’t even worth considering. There was no reason for any sensible demon lord not to trust in the dungeon’s tools because, as far as I was aware, there was no way to trick a dungeon.
Even without factoring me into the equation, the enemy demon lord likely still found our group to be the bigger threat given Nell’s presence. The rest of her order was certainly still competent, and Carlotta was undoubtedly a threat worth writing home about, but both of these statements were only held true in reference to human norms. Unlike the hero, which for all intents and purposes was potential incarnate, they were only human.
Whatever his reasoning, the demon lord had judged our group as the bigger threat and sent a larger wave our way. It was a good choice, but in the end his efforts had proven themselves to be in vain.
“We ended up hitting a dead end,” I said. “You guys find any leads, or are we stuck?”
“I’m fairly certain we found him,” said Carlotta.
“Wait, really?” I did a classic double-take; her response had defied my expectations. I had been anticipating a scenario in which we would have to camp inside the dungeon overnight because we were stuck and unable to find ourselves a way forward. Evidently, I was wrong.
“But there’s a problem,” she frowned. “Though I suppose it’d be more accurate to call it an annoyance. It was why we decided to regroup over moving forward.”
“Calling what we was seeing an annoyance sounds pretty much dead on,” said Griffa, with a bit of an awkward smile.
An annoyance? The fuck is that supposed to mean?
“Showing it to you will be easier than trying to explain it,” said Carlotta, who saw through my confusion with a glance in spite of me wearing a mask. “Follow me. I’ll lead the way.”
Before me lay a bleek, foggy cemetery. Decrepit gravestones were sprinkled throughout, obscured by a thick, heavy fog and an equally hazy overcast night sky. The ground here was solid, and the complete and utter lack of any rocking almost made it seem like we weren’t actually on a ship. It was like we’d stepped into a whole other dimension. In other words, it, like the grassy plains atop which my castle was situated, was a floor, a distinct realm of perpetual night in which the demon lord held absolute power.
“Yeaahhh… So… I can see why you guys were calling this an annoyance.”
The sight I was presented with was nothing short of a pain in the ass to navigate. Because it was, quite literally, filled to the brim with traps. My magic eye detected an absurd number of magical signatures hidden beneath the earth. And they likely weren’t the only ones. While I held the ability to see anything tampered via witchcraft, I wasn’t capable of making out anything that did not rely on sorcery. Chances were, pitfalls, spike traps, boulder traps, and other similarly lethal but non-magical mechanisms existed alongside the numerous dangers I was capable of making out. Hell, he’s probably split his traps 50/50. I know that’s what I’d do.
“Oh boy, I love traps,” I grumbled.
“We’ve confirmed that they’re everywhere,” said Carlotta, in an equally dispirited tone. “There also seem to be a fair number of monsters using the cover of night to their advantage.”
“Yup… I can already make out a good few,” I said. “So… what makes you guys think this place leads to the demon lord?”
“I believe Griffa mentioned that his party left a mark outside its room,” said Carlotta.
“That is how it is,” said Griffa. “Y’all weren’t with us last time, so you ain’t in the know, but we was making sure to mark places we went. We put that one just outside the door that led here since it led to the floor master guarding the door to the demon lord last time.”
He pointed at the floor’s entrance as he spoke. Surely enough, there was certainly a mark just outside of it, drawn in what appeared to be chalk. Thinking back, I realized that I’d seen that mark several times already, and that I did vaguely recall the adventurers using it to distinguish between paths they’d taken and ones that they’d yet to explore.
“I guess we must’ve freaked him out last time, eh mate?” said Reyus. “He probably doesn’t want anymore invaders, especially not ones like you, Grandmaster.”
“Yeah, sounds about right. I guess going down this path is probably going to end up being more fruitful than investigating further, huh?”
“So… Reyus…” Griffa addressed his party member as I contemplated our next steps. “Why’s it that you’ve started calling the mate in the mask your master?”
“Because that’s exactly what he is, boss. The man’s teaching me the ways of the heart.” The archer flashed a thumbs up.
“…I don’t understand.”
Despite the “explanation,” Griffa remained taken aback and unsure as to how to react.