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 Chapter 54. What It Means to Climb the First Dungeon (1)

How much time passed? When I noticed Ellos' message that he arrived in front of the door, I was dripping with sweat.

[Thanks for waiting, friend.]

"Nah, I didn't wait that long."

[I'll make a party right away.]

When I found the party Ellos made and tapped it with my finger, the scenery warped. In front of me was Ellos, who I now saw for the first time in 4 years.

"Ellos!"

"... Who are you?"

Ellos had grown a lot since the last time we met. His slightly frail body now had muscles, and his pretty boy face was a lot manlier. If I were to bring him to Earth, he could even debut as an actor straight away.

However, Ellos was tilting his head as he was staring at me.

"Sorry, but this party is already full. Can you look for another...?"

"I'm Kang Shin. What are you saying?"

"Hahaha, you kid... Eh, you have the same voice!"

Ellos' expression went stiff. The shield warrior behind him, who I believed was named Paul, stepped forward.

"No way, the monster from back then became this handsome? What did you pick up and eat?"

"Well I did technically pick and eat things, but..."

Handsome? He was flattering me too much. It was simply a monster becoming human again. Taking out Flesh Golem's Giant Toe from my inventory, I placed it in Ellos' hand and said, "Here's a reunion gift, Ellos."

"Eck? What's this, a toe? Eh, an install item? How creepy!"

I got the reaction I wanted and was satisfied. I then looked at Ellos' companions. There was Paul who I met on the 5th floor and a woman I had not seen before. If my memory served correctly, there should a man named Celtine... Eh? He wasn't here?

"What happened to Celtine?"

"He died. It was a heroic death in battle against dozens of invaders."

"..."

Ellos' calm expression while talking about the death of his comrade gave me chills. Ellos then showed a bitter smile and tapped my shoulder lightly.

"Don't worry about it. The moment we became warriors, we prepared ourselves for death. He used his life to protect everyone. Even though he's no longer here, he lives on in our hearts. I decided to honor his death by chasing the invaders away from our continent."

"If you're okay with it, I won't say anything."

"Yeah, thanks. Anyways, it's great meeting you again, Shin. The aura coming off of you surprised me. I had heard the rumors, but you really were a Hero."

"Sorry, but I don't really know about that Hero thing, though I've heard it a lot."

I proceeded to shake hands with Paul, then faced the woman standing behind Ellos. It was my first time meeting her. She was a beautiful woman with deep-violet hair which was tied down, and a pair of calm eyes matching her hair's color. She wore light clothing that made it easy to move, had a large bow in one hand, and wore a quiver on her back. Strangely, a silver ring on her ring finger stood out.

I looked at Ellos. He was also wearing a ring on his ring finger.

"So this is your fiancée!"

"Oh, you're unexpectedly not dense. Right, this is my fiancée, Baruela Atuna. Isn't she pretty?"

"Hello, I'm Baruela Atuna. I've heard a lot about you from Ellos."

Baruela put her free hand (sorry, but it looked frail) on her chest and lightly bowed. At her formal greeting, I couldn't help but return the same greeting.

"We're both from the Resistance Army."

"Well done, Ellos. You managed to snatch up a beauty like her..."

At my words, Ellos made a dumbfounded expression.

"You're one to talk. You have the undivided attention of the crown princess, who's famous even throughout the First Dungeon."

"If you're talking about Palludia, I can only be disappointed in your eye for people..."

At that moment, an area became warped and four dungeon explorers appeared. Ah, two of them were faces I'd seen before. One was the long-eared woman, who I now knew to be an elf, carrying a bow and quiver like Baruela, and the other was the rapier warrior woman who said I had a cute face. Even after all these years, the two of them had the same faces. I knew elves lived for a long time and aged late, but I was shocked the rapier warrior didn't change at all.

However, I had never seen the other two before. They were both extremely beautiful. One of them had a shield long enough to cover her body entirely, and was about 175 cm.

She had pink hair that curled down her shoulders, and had moist, pink eyes that were strangely charming. However, the way she held her shield or the way she trembled like a baby deer unlike how mature she looked, both looked somewhat familiar.

Where did I see her before...? Ah!

"Ah, it's Miss Shuna! You became so pretty!"

"H-Hello, Crown Prince-nim! I-It's an honor. Crown Prince-nim is really handsome too. ... Uuu, what do I do, I talked to him. Ludia, I talked to Crown Prince-nim!"

"Why do you only recognize Shuna!? I'm the one you have friended!"

When I was exchanging greetings with Shuna, Palludia, who was standing next to her, hit me. Because it was within my expectations, I blocked her with my arm. Seeing Palludia rolling on the ground in pain, I felt very satisfied.

Although I didn't recognize them, I realized who they were when I saw the other two. If four people from Luka continent were here, Palludia and Shuna would naturally be among them. I was simply embarrassed to face her. That's why I acted that way.

Palludia got up, holding back her teary eyes. She was vastly different than before. 4 years ago, she was a little kid who had not even been 140 cm, but she had now become a fairly tall, 170 cm lady.

Her once child-like, twintailed blonde hair was now flowing down to her waistline, glistening a lustrous gold. Her sapphire eyes were deep, like they contained countless years. Furthermore, her white skin looked smooth enough that water droplets could flow down seamlessly. She had a not too large and not too small nose, which a sculptor seemed to have devoted his heart and soul to creating. Finally, her moist lips glowed with a peach-like light pink.

Her appearance was terrifyingly beautiful, to the point that it seemed to suck in anyone that laid their eyes on her. It was the type of peerless beauty that I never would have imagined myself seeing. If anyone with a weak heart was watching, his heart would undoubtedly stop at this breathtaking beauty. Just what did she eat for 4 years to grow so much? I couldn't believe my eyes.

Wait, no. I remembered Shina saying that people from Luka continent had a sudden growth spurt. Although I had not paid much attention to it before, Shuna and Palludia were both from the Luka continent. I couldn't believe my stupidity. So that's why Palludia was saying she wasn't a little kid.

That said, it was slightly iffy to say she was fully grown. As her robe that stuck to her figure showed, her chest area was more or less the same. Had they not fully grown yet? Or was that how they were when they were fully grown? If I were to make a hasty judgement, she was like Yua!

Of course, even without much of a chest, her slender arms and legs, and elegant curves made her figure extremely charming. However, I did not say any of this out loud.

"Ahahaha, you grew a lot. In height."

"Why is that the first thing you say, you O... Or... Orc?"

Although her beauty made it hard for me to stare at her, I remembered the Palludia from 4 years ago and barely met her eyes. At the same time, Palludia, who was looking at me from head to toe, made a blank expression.

"Y-You, are you really Orc?"

"No, I'm not Orc, but I am Kang Shin. You still say rude things so easily."

"... I-It really is you."

Palludia was frozen in place like she was hit by an ice magic. For some reason, Shuna, who was standing next to her, kept covering her face with her shield. I turned to face the rapier warrior, and asked.

"Did they eat something strange while growing up?"

"Ahaha, Crown Prince-ssi is the bad one. I heard stories, but what happened to turn you into such a... Mm, how fine. My eyes weren't wrong. Wow, look at this toned chest."

"Um, can you not approach me? Also, please stop touching me like that."

When I asked her as I slowly backed away, the elf archer pulled the rapier warrior by her ears and pulled her away. As I thought, all elves except Loretta knew manners!

"W-Wait. Don't you have anything else to say? To me!?"

After finally snapping out of her frozen state, Palludia asked me. It seemed she only grew up in appearance, as her way of talking had not changed in the slightest. If she didn't open her mouth, she really was like a princess from a fairy tale. How unfortunate.

Looking at her, I tilted my head.

"Mm... Like what?"

"A-A lot! Like how much you wanted to see me, or how much prettier I became!"

"Mm? Well, I did wonder how you were doing occasionally, and I do think you became really pretty. But what about it?"

"..."

Palludia became silent. Her face was bright red to the point I was afraid it would blow up. What should I do about this awkward atmosphere? Did I do something to irritate Palludia again?

Then, I suddenly remembered. The Headband of Wisdom I got from the 19th floor's named lizardwoman! I had planned to give it to Palludia. Hoping it would ease her anger, I took out the Headband of Wisdom from my inventory. When she saw it, her eyes became wide as she asked.

"W-What's this?"

"An accessory. I happened to pick it up. I thought it'd suit you well. It's a gift. You know, a reunion gift."

"G-Gift?"

Palludia's face became redder than the Headband of Wisdom. Did I do something wrong again!? Did she hate headbands? I thought it was perfect for her class, since it raised magic and intelligence. I didn't understand where I went wrong.

Even so, when I put the headband in her hand, she calmly took it and slowly put it in her hair. Mm, it seemed she didn't hate it that much. When I smiled with satisfaction, Palludia covered her face with her hands.

"Uuu, y-you're just, Orc...!"

"Ellos, he..."

"Don't say it, Paul. Don't say it..."

Eh...? This was different from the reunion I imagined... Looking at Ellos and Paul shaking their heads as they looked at me and silent Palludia, who was still looking down while covering up her bright red face, my mind fell into chaos. This, did I need to use Orc Lord's Warcry? Seeing that Baruela-ssi seemed fine, I went and talked to her. She simply covered her mouth with her hand as she snickered. After hearing what I said, the other party members looked at me with cold eyes and each said a word.

"Fool."

"Idiot."

"Crown Prince-nim is stupid."

"Uuuu... you stupid Orc."

'Hey, I'm not stupid anymore! My intelligence is above 20 now! I'm not an orc either!' Unable to figure out just what I did wrong, my mind fell into chaos yet again.

Edias continent, Luka continent, and two more from Pilos continent. A total of 10 people including myself stood in front of the 25th floor's door. Other than Baruela, who replaced Celtine, all 9 members were the same as 4 years ago. It didn't feel different in particular. Ellos seemed to have thought the same thing, as he only made a short speech as the party leader.

"Don't think it will be as easy as it was 4 years ago. I'm sure you've all had your fair share of experiences as you climbed to the 25th floor, but Floor Master battles only get harder. This was especially true for the 20th Floor Master, Lizard Knight. However, I believe that with the members present, it is fully possible to defeat the Floor Master within 5 tries."

He was blabbering some weird things.

"Five tries? Wouldn't it be hard to succeed in five tries even if we know the strategy beforehand?"

An axe carrying warrior from Pilos continent said with a bitter smile. Although he wasn't that close to me, it seemed the two people from Pilos continent kept in touch with Ellos. It was why they could meet us here today. However, he was blabbering even weirder things.

"Haha, but this time, we have Crown Prince!"

"Ah, right, Crown Prince."

"If we clear it within five tries, we can really jump ahead of others."

"Huhu, we are so bad ourselves."

The other party members began blabbering. Everyone was only saying things with an overwhelming sense of defeat. I thought this was a dream team of sorts, but what was this feeling of helplessness!?

"Ellos, is the 25th Floor Master hard?"

"I hear it's a Giant Ghoul."

"So this is where he appears!"

Was he trying to vent his anger for being unable to appear in the Event Dungeon? At my shout, the other party members tilted their heads. I figured I would only receive looks of envy if I told them about the Event Dungeon, so I didn't.

"As you can expect from what you've been experiencing since the 21st floor, tons of zombies are said to appear. Since Miss Palludia, Mitarus' priestess, is here, we won't have to worry about being infected, but be sure to have Holy Waters handy in case something goes wrong. Also, the zombies are known to act without set patterns so always stay on your guard and help each other out. Paul, Miss Shuna, can I trust you two to tank the Giant Ghoul?"

"Leave it to me!"

"Yes, blocking is one thing I'm confident in!"

I didn't know about Paul, but seeing Shuna, who was an untrustworthy little girl just 4 years ago, now nodding her head confidently with her slender figure and curly pink hair, I did feel rather touched. However, her eyes still had a hint of uncertainty... Ah. When she met my eyes, her face became red, and she dropped her head. It was rather hurtful.

I thought I wasn't ugly enough to hurt anyone watching anymore... What was it? My face? But mother said my face took after hers and was very handsome...

"Shin, you."

"I'll take care of the minions. I don't need support so you guys can focus on the Giant Ghoul."

"H-How reassuring."

Ellos seemed a bit taken back by my confident speech. Everyone else showed signs of anxiety, but Palludia was silent unlike herself 4 years ago. Rather than having no complaints, it seemed she respected the name I had built up.

"There must be a reason you're called Crown Prince. You better do your job properly."

"You better heal people properly too."

"Hmph! I'll be focusing on the tanks, so don't you get hurt while you're distracted!"

"Miss Palludia, how cute. Huhu."

"I agree. How cute. Kuku."

"W-What! Why is everyone snickering!? Look away!"

Just what was cute about Palludia there? I could only see her acting grumpy... These guys, as I thought, they're all weird!

"Today, we'll focus on getting used to the Giant Ghoul's habits and skills. We want to avoid dying without any gains. Let's do our best. I believe in everyone's ability that helped us climb to the 25th floor."

With that, Ellos looked at me. In response, I confidently nodded my head. I mean, I could kill it alone, so why wouldn't I be able to kill it with 9 other people?

"Then, let's go in!"

Ellos opened the door to the Floor Master. What greeted us was a large graveyard.

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