◇Zenith Tower – Floor 61◇
I arrived at the sea of trees zone through the dungeon elevator.
I take a deep breath.
The air is humid.
The mist is thick.
Floor 60 and up will continue being the sea of trees zone, but the vision in Floor 61 is bad.
The annoying sounds of flapping could be heard from the other side of the white mist.
The Killer Bee scouts are most likely doing their rounds.
I heard a muffled scream.
I head towards the place where the scream came from while hiding my presence.
I thought I had to save them if it was another explorer, but…
(The one being carried away is a goblin, huh…) (Souma)
A completely exhausted goblin was being carried off by the Killer Bees above where I was hiding.
That goblin will most likely be carried to the beehive and become food for the Queen Bee or the larvas.
Goblins are troublesome for beginner explorers in the lower floors of the Zenith Tower, but in Floor 60, they are prey for the insect monsters.
And the explorers are no exception.
You can revive with the Resurrection Drop if it is below Floor 100 in the Zenith Tower.
But that’s when you haven’t been devoured by a monster.
Killer Bees and Army Ants show up around Floor 60 and the Arachne and Lamia appear above Floor 70.
All those monsters move in packs and are really aggressive.
Also, all of them are monsters with a big appetite, and they have the tendency of bringing back the prey they hunted.
(It was the right choice to hear the advice of Eri.) (Eugene)
I am currently a solo explorer.
I sorely lack attack methods.
Let’s avoid unnecessary battles.
Fortunately, the vision is bad because of the mist.
I erased my presence and slowly advanced through the dim sea of trees.
At the time when I got deep inside…
I heard voices from afar.
That’s not a Goblin or an Orc.
It is the voice of humans.
They must be fighting.
I can hear the sounds of clashing swords and explosions of magic.
And I heard the voices of people mixed in that.
(They have been attacked by monsters and are struggling…?) (Eugene)
I hurry there while making sure not to make footstep sounds.
“Damn it! There’s no end to them!!”
“You have to defeat the Army Ant’s captain or they will attack you endlessly! When an Army Ant dies, it will release a fluid that will call its allies!”
“I know that! The problem is that we need to defeat more than 100 Army Ants to defeat the Captain!”
“No! One more has fallen! Damn it!”
“If only we didn’t get involved with those suspicious people!”
“Leave the complaints for later!! Someone bring out a healing item!!”
I can tell that they are in a dire situation from their conversation.
No, I can tell just by looking.
The explorer party has been surrounded by Army Ants that are bigger than horses.
The explorers have a crest of a red cloth with a black sword on their arm.
Grandflare Empire explorers.
I came in to help without hesitation.
“I will help.” (Eugene)
When I said this, I began casting healing magic on the explorers that had fallen and were bleeding profusely.
The explorer that had lost consciousness from bleeding out wakes up.
“Any other injured?!” (Eugene)
“The others can move somehow! B-But who are you?!”
“A student of the Lykeion Magic Academy, from the Empire.” (Eugene)
“A student explorer, huh! The help is appreciated! But we have to do something about this swarm of Army Ants…”
“Let’s defeat the captain. That way they will lose their leadership and run away.” (Eugene)
Carlo-senpai told me the basic strategy when encountering Army Ants.
“That one is the Captain Ant… But it is being protected by the Army Ants and we can’t get to it!”
The person that seems to be the leader of the explorer party pointed at one Army Ant while looking mortified.
It is one size bigger than the other ones in the swarm, and there’s a horn growing on its head.
(That one, huh…) (Eugene)
I unsheathe the sword at my waist.
But a normal iron sword probably won’t get through the tough exoskeleton of the Army Ant.
I have no choice but to do it…
(I will borrow the mana of the Demon Lord Erinyes under the contract…) (Eugene)
The blade of the normal iron sword dyed black in darkness.
—Mana Sword: [Dark Blade].
(Kuh…the mana of Eri really is rough…) (Eugene)
I don’t think I can take too much time on this.
I lowered my waist.
“O-Oi, boy! What are you planning on doing?!”
One of the people from the explorer party spoke to me.
“…I will defeat the Captain Ant. Can you please draw the attention of the Ants for a second?” (Eugene)
“T-That’s reckless! You plan on rushing into that swarm?!”
“Yeah. There’s no time, so I’ll be going.” (Eugene)
“Kuh…! Someone support that boy!!”
It seems like he hesitated for a moment, but the leader gave the order.
“[Rain of Fire Arrows]!”
One of the mages in the explorer party casted a spell.
Around 10 fire arrows rained on the Army Ants.
The Army Ants stopped for a moment.
—Twin Heavenly Resonance Style: [Void Step].
I became a gust of wind and rushed into the swarm of Army Ants.
The Army Ants are packed up to the point that their bodies are touching, so it is impossible to weave between them.
I ran on top of the hard exoskeleton of the Army Ants and kicked them to jump onto the Ants deeper in.
I repeated that and closed the distance to the Captain Ant.
It is not like the Army Ants are going to watch silently. They obviously attempted to attack me.
The weapon of the Ants is the chin that has sharp fangs and the 6 knife-like legs.
(Barrier Magic: [Wind Armor].) (Eugene)
My movements are dull when I place a sturdy barrier.
I decide to use a barrier not to block the attacks of the Army Ants but to avoid them.
The Captain Ant in front of me raised a threatening warcry.
This Ant that is one size bigger than the Army Ants around came at me…but the Captain Ant is already in my range.
—Twin Heavenly Resonance Style: [Oni Slice].
I swing down the black blade.
There was no sound or resistance.
The Captain Ant’s head fell down to the ground as if I were cutting soft jelly.
“Man, you saved us there. You really did!!”
After defeating the Captain Ant, the swarm of Army Ants lost their line of command and panicked.
That said, there’s the tendency for a new Captain Ant to appear from within the colony as time passes, so we quickly left the place.
We have returned to the vicinity of the dungeon elevator.
My body feels heavy from the recoil of borrowing mana from Eri.
I don’t think I can continue my exploration today.
“Please let me thank you again. I am the leader of the explorer party affiliated to the Imperial Army, Edward. You saved us there. I don’t have any on hand, but I will pay you the assistance fee later.”
“I am a 2nd year student of the Lykeion Magic Academy, Eugene. My father is a member of the Imperial Army.” (Eugene)
I shook the hand of the leader that offered his hand.
It shouldn’t be that strange of an exchange…but the leader frowned.
“Leader, could it be that this boy is…”
“Hey, boy, can you please tell us your family name?”
Everyone reacted to my words.
“The son of the Imperial Sword…”
“The one that’s said to have fought off Cerberus alone…”
“No wonder he is that strong…”
A lot of things were discovered in an instant.
Well, it is a rare family name in the South Continent, so it can’t be helped.
“Excuse our rudeness! We have gone together with your father on the Great Demonic Beast subjugation expedition! Being able to face the threat of the Empire together is our honor!”
His tone did a complete turn, and they saluted me.
“P-Please wait. It is true that my father is a high official, but I have left the military school, so I am a normal student now. Please talk to me as you would normally.” (Eugene)
It would be so hard to talk to these people who are saluting and look like they are more than 10 years older than me.
It seems like he is not convinced, but I asked the leader to talk normally to me.
“By the way, that was dangerous just now. I heard that the number of their packs isn’t that large in Floor 61 though.” (Eugene)
I asked about the battle against the Army Ants.
I heard about it from Carlo-senpai too. The insect monsters begin appearing in Floor 61, but most of them are alone.
It should be rare to encounter a swarm of more than 100.
“Yeah… Actually, those Army Ants were set up by someone weird…”
The leader explained to me.
It seems like, while they were exploring Floor 61, there was an explorer in a gray robe hiding their face with no crest of the Empire, Federation, or Alliance**. <Changed Sacred Union to Alliance since it clashes with the Dungeon Union>
Of course, it wasn’t a student of the academy either.
The explorer clothes of academy students has the academy badge on it, so you can tell at one glance.
Normally, if you are explorers from the same nation, you would at least greet them; if they are not, you don’t get close to them to avoid unnecessary trouble.
It is rare to see someone not affiliated to any of the 3 nations in the South Continent.
It is either an explorer from a different continent, or…
“The Dungeon Union has communicated that the Snake Church has been coming and going from the Zenith Tower.”
“The Dungeon Union has told us to report it whenever we find them.”
“That’s why we spoke to them just in case, but…”
When they spoke to that suspicious explorer, they ran off without saying anything.
They hesitated whether to chase them or not, but a pack of monsters suddenly attacked them.
“They probably used a Luring Flute to call the monsters.”
“I certainly heard the faint sound of a flute that had mana mixed in it. But why do something like that…?”
“Who knows. But they must have been doing something that would have been bad if it were found out.”
“Speaking of which, in the past…” (Eugene)
I told them about the silver necklace that served as the mark of the Snake Church.
By the way, I submitted that silver necklace to the Dungeon Union.
“The Snake Church, huh…”
“What is the Demon Lord worshiping bunch thinking?”
“Obviously to bring back the Demon Lord.”
“Give me a break.”
“Anyways, let’s wrap it up here for today. We have to make enough preparations for the next exploration.”
The leader said this and clapped his hands.
“By the way, why are you going out of your way to explore Floor 61 alone, Eugene-dono?”
One of the explorers asked me in wonder.
“I have 2 party members, but they have other business they have to attend to.” (Eugene)
“If I remember correctly, the top candidate for Holy Maiden from Caldia, and the Fire Half-God that came from a parallel world.”
“How do you know that much…?” (Eugene)
“Hahaha! The Imperial Army is filled with rumors about you.”
“Wouldn’t you be able to return to being an officer candidate as you are now, Eugene-dono?”
“Oi oi, Eugene-dono is challenging the Floor 500 legend, you know? There’s no way he would be satisfied with just Floor 61.”
“No, I…” (Eugene)
Unfortunately, I can’t return to being an officer candidate.
According to Eri, I can apparently only borrow her mana from the area near the Zenith Tower.
I obviously can’t bring Sumire to the Empire either.
In the end, I am still a swordsman that can’t fight alone.
“By the way, have you had any contact with your father? Like at the time when you defeated the Divine Beast.”
“No, my Pops is the type that doesn’t interfere.” (Eugene)
“As expected of the Imperial Sword-sama. So he is saying to not be complacent with just defeating a Divine Beast.”
I laugh dryly.
It is true that it would be fine for him to call me at least once if I have become the talk in the Imperial Army.
But he hasn’t called me once since the time he told me ‘take it easy at the academy and widen your vision a bit’.
I didn’t return to the Empire last year.
(I should show up at the next anniversary of my mother’s death…) (Eugene)
I thought that.
After that, I used the dungeon elevator together with the other explorers from the Empire and returned to the surface.
My body felt heavy because I used the mana of the Demon Lord, but I was told ‘please let us treat you to a meal as thanks!’, and I ended up having dinner at the tavern they frequent.
I managed to hear about the recent state of the Empire and the Imperial Army.
That said, I have only been away from the Empire for a bit more than a year.
There wasn’t that big of a change.
His Imperial Majesty is aiming to unite the South Continent and expand the military for that purpose, but the Sacred Alliance and the Blue Water Federation are also expanding their army as a response, so it is the same old.
The South Continent’s characteristic monster outbreak called the Great Demonic Beast is a Natural Calamity Designation that has been growing in frequency, and the nations are busy dealing with that.
There’s also rumors of the Great Demon Lord resurrecting, so I doubt there will be a big war soon.
The last one was about the dispute of the next emperor. The present Emperor is still lively, so it still hasn’t gotten drastic, but the candidates are being narrowed little by little.
…The name of my childhood friend still remains in the candidate list.
“Well then, thanks for today, Eugene-dono!”
“If there’s anything troubling you, call us!”
“We were the ones that got saved though?”
“No, I had fun today. Please be careful on your next exploration.” (Eugene)
“Can you…please hear me out on just this one thing? You can think of it as me being a busybody.”
“What is it?” (Eugene)
The leader said with a serious face.
“Can you please refrain from exploring alone? Especially at this time when suspicious people are wandering in the Last Dungeon. Skilled explorers prefer going solo or in a small group of elites, but they mostly die over a single mistake. Please be careful.”
I listened to his warning and nodded.
I separated from the explorer party in this fashion and returned to the dorm.
It has been a while since I had a lively talk about my homeland. It was fun.
Thanks to that, I ended up having a dream of my childhood friend.
◇A few days later◇
“…E-Eugene-kun, have the monsters really not noticed us?”
Sumire, who was holding my hand, was looking around the dungeon restlessly in wonder.
We are currently in Floor 52.
The continuation of what we did the other day with Carlo-senpai.
This would be my 3rd time, so it would be a floor I frequent now.
“Yeah, Hide Location lets us assimilate the scenery around us. Your mana is high, so I was worried that monsters would notice us, but it seems like we are fine.” (Eugene)
I have been exploring alone for a while, but it seems like the magic lesson Sumire was doing has been wrapped up for now, so I invited Sumire to the Zenith Tower.
My current record is Floor 65.
Sumire’s is Floor 52, so there’s a difference now.
I was thinking about getting rid of that.
We avoided pointless battle and headed to the higher floors with certainty.
By the way, the next Floor Boss of Floor 60 was a smaller size of the Treant King of before.
Sumire used a powerful spell she mastered recently called Fire Monarch Magic: [Phoenix] to burn it down.
What was my struggle before…?
We are currently advancing Floor 65 silently.
Sumire screamed in a low voice.
The Killer Bees were busily flying above the sea of trees.
We would at times hear the dying screams of the pitiful captured monsters.
The scream just now must have been from an Orc.
The strange sounding footsteps are from Army Ants.
A few unfortunate Goblins were being eaten over here.
A rigorous world where the strong eat the weak.
Sumire grew pale and looked away.
“Are you okay, Sumire?” (Eugene)
“I am oka—woah.” (Sumire)
She nodded bravely.
It doesn’t look like she is doing too well.
I throw her a topic to divert her attention.
“The spell that you used to defeat the Treant King was impressive. Fire magic is effective against insect monsters, so I am counting on you when that happens.” (Eugene)
“Y-Yeah… But don’t insect monsters get attracted by fire magic?” (Sumire)
“It might be.” (Eugene)
“When that happens, I will burn them ALL down!” (Sumire)
She resolved herself with a grim face.
That said, the monsters didn’t notice us.
The Killer Bees and Army Ants are not monsters with high intelligence.
As long as we understood their movements and patterns, and avoided them appropriately, we didn’t have to fight them.
“We…somehow reached Floor 69 easily.” (Sumire)
Sumire made a baffled look.
“Yeah, but the Floor Boss lies above. We can’t avoid a battle.” (Eugene)
“Sara-chan…won’t be coming, right?” (Sumire)
“I did call her.” (Eugene)
Sara’s record is Floor 89.
That’s why she can come to Floor 70, but…
“I-I can’t deal with insect monsters…” (Sara)
Sara told me this extremely apologetically.
She said she would be a hindrance instead, so didn’t participate.
Also, Sara still has student council work left.
The stairs to go up to Floor 70 are in front of our eyes.
“What do we do, Sumire? Want to take a look at the face of the Floor Boss?” (Eugene)
“Y-Yeah…let’s do that.” (Sumire)
She doesn’t seem to be too into the idea, but she didn’t complain.
We slowly step onto Floor 70.
We were welcomed with a thunderous sound when we arrived at Floor 70.
I understood one second after that that was the sound of the Killer Bees’ wings flapping.
I heard Sumire gulp lightly at my side.
And then, I looked around and my breath stopped for a moment.
Several tens of thousands of Killer Bees were looking at us, the intruders of Floor 70.
And within them, there’s a monster in the figure of a beautiful woman shining golden that stands out an awful lot.
She is looking down at us with ice-cold eyes.
“A Queen Bee, huh…” (Eugene)
A Queen Bee that rules over several tens of thousands of Killer Bees.
That’s currently the Floor Boss of the 70th Floor.