The night passed, and with it, almost every remaining trace of Fran’s display of weakness. She still seemed a bit frailer than usual, but the look on her face demonstrated that she was back to being herself.
I decided not to pursue the topic any further, and instead decided to discuss the day’s plans with her over breakfast.
『How about diving back into the eastern dungeon and getting stuff done? You know, so we can rank up and all that.』
Both seemed totally on board with my suggestion, possibly in part because they’d seen the extent of the Beast Lord’s strength with their very own eyes.
I myself felt the same way. We would probably be able to take either Goldalfa or Royce one on one and somehow manage to win so long as we used everything we had at our disposal. It’d be pretty close, but not something we wouldn’t be able to handle. The Beast Lord, on the other hand, was on a whole new level. Beating him in our current state was more or less just flat out impossible.
First was the fact that his stats were through the roof. He simply overwhelmed us from a numerical standpoint. We didn’t even come close to holding a candle to his might. His skills more or less gave off the same impression. That is, he had a tonne of high leveled abilities we knew nothing about. He’d be able to exploit our lack of knowledge and completely obliterate us. The icing on the cake was his aura. He simply radiated an air of superiority. The way he carried and projected himself made him incredibly difficult to oppose.
The Beast Lord was a freak of nature, a walking natural disaster, and last but not least, an entity that could turn into to an enemy of ours at any given moment. To be honest, that very fact almost made me want to just instantly throw in the towel.
『Let’s just focus on finishing our quests as soon as possible instead of worrying about training and whatnot.』
We decided to try finishing all the requests we had on hand by the day’s end if possible. We knew for a fact that we’d be able to finish them some time tomorrow at the latest.
The reason we thought such a tight schedule was even remotely possible was because we already knew where the monsters and traps spawned. Hence, we figured that it wouldn’t take long for us to reach the dungeon’s lower levels so long as we went all out.
It took us about an hour to get everything ready and arrive at the dungeon’s entrance.
「Hey there little missy. You’re headed back in already?」
「Alright. I know you’re really skilled, so I think you’ll probably be fine anyways, but I guess I’ll tell you what I’ve been telling everyone else just in case. Be careful, the dungeon’s been acting up a bit as of late.」
「Acting up? Something happened?」
「Apparently the place has started to spawn magic beasts it didn’t used to spawn in the past.」
The guard cum dungeon receptionist stated that Evil Beings had been spotted within the dungeon’s confines. The specific species discovered were all variants of goblins or orcs.
「The dungeon’s structure hasn’t seemed to have changed yet, but, there does seem to be something odd going on inside of it, so you’d best be on your guard.」
We entered the dungeon while heeding the guard’s advice, only to run into a goblin almost immediately after entering the dungeon.
The goblin left me a bit confused, as it was several times weaker than all the other stuff the dungeon typically spawned.
If anything, it made it seem like the dungeon had gotten much easier to handle than it’d been before, especially seeing as how its structure and trap placement had yet to change.
Getting on Urushi’s back and having him dash through the place made clearing the dungeon a ridiculously simple feat. It only took us about 3 hours to reach the 15th floor.
We spotted Evil Beings in the forms of orcs, goblins, and kobolds as we engaged in our descent. Again, I noted that all three species felt out of place, as none of them fit the dungeon’s theme or feel.
They didn’t really have any stealth skills, nor did they take advantage of the traps that happened to be lying around. If anything, it was the opposite. They’d end up popping and getting screwed by the traps more often than they’d actually make decent use of them.
I couldn’t help but wonder what’d happened. I mean, the fact that Rumina had done something was a given, but the things she’d done made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
「Evil beings. Weak.」
『Yeah, but they’ve kinda made clearing through the place a lot easier than usual.』
An easier clear wasn’t the only benefit we derived from whatever it was Rumina was doing either. We also managed to get a tonne of creation-type skills from the monsters we encountered, something we hadn’t really had any chances to get much of up till now.
The High Ogres we met starting at the 12th floor were especially helpful in that regard, as some had smithing and leather crafting skills that went all the way up to level 5. Naturally, they also had pretty decent combat skills, so I was able to profit out the ass by absorbing their magic stones.
The smithing and leather crafting skills were the ones that leveled the most though, as both hit level 3. None of the other skills gained nearly as many levels, but we still managed to give a boost to what was almost 20 different skills for free, so I wasn’t complaining.
Again, I wasn’t really complaining, but I did happen to notice an issue. It felt that more and more of the magic beasts were slowly getting swapped out for Evil Beings, which in turn meant that we were going to have trouble finishing the requests we’d set out to complete, as they required us to hunt certain magic beasts in particular.
『We should probably be a bit more careful of the traps from here on out. That said, let’s keep pushing forward.』
『Urushi, you keep an eye out for enemies, alright boy?』
The only requests we had left to complete all involved retrieving materials from magic beasts that’d been rare and difficult to come across to begin with. It getting harder for us to find them only meant that actually finishing the requests would end up being a huge pain in the ass.
Or at least that’s how things would’ve been had I been right.
『Sweet. That’s one request out of the way.』
There basically weren’t any Evil Beings past the 15th floor. If anything, there seemed to be more monsters than usual, so we actually managed to finish all the stuff we had to do without really eating up all that much time at all. I didn’t get why everything had ended up the way it was, but it worked for us, so again, I didn’t really mind it. That said, I figured it’d probably be a good idea for us to ask Rumina what was going on seeing as how we happened to be in the area anyways.
『Looks like we’re done. Should still be around evening right now.』
「Will go visit Rumina.」
『Go for it.』
I didn’t know whether or not Dungeon Masters actually slept, so I actually would’ve been a bit concerned about visiting her if it was any later in the day. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t.
We kept on guard as we entered the boss room, the room in which we defeated the Disaster Pillbug. Rumina had said that we’d be able to pass right through it, but we were a bit concerned that may no longer be the case given that there seemed to be something wrong with the dungeon.
But once again, my suspicions turned out to be needless. The worry we’d spent was completely wasted, as we were promptly greeted by both the teleporter that led back up to the dungeon’s entrance and the passage that led to Rumina’s quarters.
Naturally, Fran, Urushi and I chose to enter the latter of the two options presented, and made our way over to the room Rumina had invited us to last time.
She was in a bit of an unusual state; she was kind of just sitting there, completely zoned out. She didn’t actually raise her face till after Fran called out to her.
「Why… Good evening, Fran…」
Wait, did she not actually realize that Fran’d been here? Was she maybe feeling a bit under the weather?
I couldn’t tell. What I could tell was that she began beaming the moment she saw Fran, but reverted to a stern looking expression shortly after.
She was acting a bit cold. Last time, she welcomed us. This time, she didn’t even do so much as even offer Fran a seat.
「Evil Beings appearing in dungeon.」
She barely responded even when Fran tried talking to her. It almost looked like she didn’t want to welcome the younger black catgirl.
「Fran, it would be best for you to leave.」
「I have much to attend to, and very little time to mind you.」
Rumina grabbed Fran, who was staring in blank surprise, by the shoulders and started pushing her towards the exit.
Wait what? Why was she acting so different?
I figured she probably had a reason of sorts, but I couldn’t bring myself to accept her actions.
「Leave. You are disrupting me.」
「Never return to my quarters.」
Fran was, once again, flabbergasted. It didn’t look like she could grasp Rumina’s sudden change in attitude either.
I’d tried using the Principle of Falsehood real quick to double check whether or not she was just bullshitting us, but apparently she was telling the truth, Fran really was getting in her way. That, however, didn’t necessarily mean that she really wanted to treat Fran the way she was. The Principle of Falsehood wasn’t almighty. It could tell the difference between a true statement and a false one, but it wasn’t capable of figuring out the emotion that drove the statement. That was left to its user.
In my opinion, it’d be best for us to straight up ask her what was going on, for Fran’s sake. Leaving the dungeon here and now, and thereby not fishing out Rumina’s emotions, would lead to uncertainty. Fran would never know whether or not Rumina had really come to hate her, especially seeing as how it’d also become extremely difficult for the two to ever meet again.
Fran, however, would never be able to actually ask Rumina for the truth herself. She was too crestfallen, too… afraid. The fear she felt wasn’t the same type of terror she’d felt when she met the Beast Lord. It was a sentiment much more emotional in origin than the primal, instinctual rejection of death. Fran was instead afraid of losing someone she’d grown attached to. She was afraid of being disliked by one of the few people she admired.
Rumina was the first fellow Black Catkin Fran had met after a life of solitude, the life she’d lived after losing both her parents and being sold into slavery. Moreover, she was someone that not only earned Fran’s respect, but also treated her with affection. That was precisely why I found Fran’s confusion to be completely understandable. She was in shock. There was no way she’d be able to doubt Rumina, let alone analyze her given the circumstances.
And that, in turn, meant that it was up to me to ask the question. It meant that I would have to expose myself, but I honestly could care less so long as it cleared things up between the two catgirls.
Given that, I steeled myself and spoke.
『So, are you really trying to reject Fran?』