Chapter 57. What It Means to Climb the First Dungeon (4)
"Huk, he can even use that skill!"
"Just what is a Hero?"
"Look, the ghoul!"
Dark Thunder Explosion attacked all targets in its area of effect. Even though the Giant Ghoul was huge, his entire body was within Dark Thunder Explosion's range. He had essentially received the entire force of the attack, which would usually be spread out across dozens of enemies. Plus, at the same time I used the skill, I punched my fist in his head.
"Die! Die! Die!"
By the time Dark Thunder Explosion came to an end, the Giant Ghoul looked no different than before he used Diehard. I wasn't done yet. I called Peika. Since I had canceled Spirit Aura after throwing the spear, she answered immediately to my call.
"Peika, come inside my gauntlet!"
[Uu, you're using that again?]
[Okay... But you have to listen to one wish, Master!]
With a bit of complaint, Peika infused herself into my gauntlet. Thinking that her wish was probably for me to play with her later, I shouted.
Seeing lightning shoot out from my body, Ellos seemed exhausted as he said, "I'm too tired to even be surprised."
Of course, I didn't pay him any attention. I simply put my first through the Giant Ghoul's uselessly large head.
Not long afterwards, he collapsed. He was burnt to a crisp, but let out a disgusting smell that anyone would run away from.
[You became level 26 and obtained the qualification to climb to the 26th floor.]
[You obtained 5 bonus stats.]
[30,000 gold is distributed evenly among party members. You received 4,286 gold.]
[Rewards will be distributed in order of contribution.]
[Kang Shin-nim's contribution is the highest. Choose your reward.]
[1. Giant Ghoul's Pants
2. Double Potion
3. 10,000 Gold
4. Skin Strengthening Elixir
5. Giant Ghoul's Boots
6. Rotten Ebony Staff
7. Giant Ghoul's Shoulder Blade]
Hoping that Giant Ghoul's Shoulder Blade wasn't part of the set equipment, I chose the Skin Strengthening Elixir. I was glad it wasn't like the Muscle Strengthening Elixir, where it would only appear with 2 people. Since the Skin Strengthening Elixir came out this time, I suspected one of the Floor Masters would soon have Bone Strengthening Elixirs.
While I was picking my reward, the party members were going crazy.
"We did it!"
"I can't believe we cleared it on our first try. This is a miracle!"
"Crown Prince-nim, you really are amazing... you single handedly brought us victory."
"I can't help but be jealous. Just 4 years ago, he couldn't even advance to the 6th floor as he lacked mana..."
"He's a Hero. This is his destiny."
I got annoyed, as it felt like she was saying I got stronger only because I was a Hero. I didn't even know what a Hero was! When I snapped my head at them, they all looked away, pretending not to have said anything.
I smirked and swallowed the Skin Strengthening Elixir. I wasn't planning on continuing with them anyways, and I only knew them through Ellos and Palludia. I wasn't motivated to argue with them in the slightest.
[By consuming the Skin Strengthening Elixir, your skin becomes tougher and more resilient. Constitution and Charm both increase by 1.]
Since my defense went up, it made sense that constitution went up, but why did charm go up as well? Could this Skin Strengthening Elixir be used as a beauty product? Mother would go crazy if she knew. Alright, I'll let father grind them. It was his wife becoming more beautiful, so I'm sure he'd do it on his own. Yua? My Yua's skin was and would always be perfect!
I turned around. Perhaps it was coincidental, but all the party members were staring at me. It seemed they already finished choosing their rewards.
"Crown Prince-nim, thank you. I'll be going ahead."
With just that, the surviving member from the Pilos continent's party left. I was slightly lost for words at his lightning fast exit, but I wasn't concerned with him.
Ellos approached me, handing me my Black Earthen Spear that he likely picked up while I was busy.
"Friend, we won because of you. Just like 4 years ago."
"No, you could have won without me, though most people would have been kicked out of the dungeon in the process."
"... I'm going to fight him again. I have to help Paul get through."
"I won't help you with that. I joined this party to raid with you, not to help you pass through... I only helped today because I didn't want to see people dying in front of me for no reason."
Ellos smiled bitterly. He'd made only one miscalculation, and that was my strength. He must be thinking our difference in ability made this laughable result.
However, I thought differently. I didn't like the mindsets they had showed since the beginning. In attitude during battle or anything else, they could not even compare to Ren, not even Ellos.
"Why is everyone so conservative? It's not like they'll really die, so why can't they be a little more daring? I've realized this as I watched different dungeon explorers, but that's just how you guys looked today. Like people that didn't want to advance to higher floors."
At my words, the people remaining flinched slightly. What, was that true? My mouth half-opened from the shock. Of course, Ellos was the only one who would answer my suspicions.
"In truth... you might be right. After becoming dungeon explorers, they receive the highest treatment from their respective countries. Although it is to be used as tools for battle against the invaders, the good treatment comes before that. After reaching a certain level... that is, after becoming Silver rank, they're treated almost like royalty. Until they're sent to the battlefield, that is."
"When their level goes up, their countries would treat them better, but they would also be sent to more dangerous places... All dungeon explorers want to avoid that to a certain extent, and this sentiment might have been reflected as being conservative in Floor Master battles. If they died in the process, they would be safer and they can use the excuse that they did their best, while fully enjoying the benefits of being a dungeon explorer. It's probably the same in other worlds. For dungeon explorers, their initial ambition of wanting to protect their worlds becomes fainter as they climb..."
After hearing this, I remembered. At the 5th and 10th floors, the explorers were happy and excited at the prospect of advancing forward.
But starting from the 15th floor, people were more surprised and shocked than happy. Perhaps that party leader from my first Dark Ratman raid wanted to lead the party to its death on purpose.
In the one raid party I had on the 20th floor, the party members became angry at Ren for making their friends die. They should have been happy first, or thanked me for my work.
In other words, they might not have been happy to advance past the 20th floor. Of course, that wasn't to say they weren't happy in the slightest, but they must have felt equal or greater pressure from having to advance onward. It was absurd.
"Stupid! That weakness of theirs is going to lead to their deaths one day! That's simply in the present!"
"... I know. I know full well."
Why dungeon explorers didn't adventure. I finally understood a bit of what Loretta and I talked about. These so-called First Dungeon explorers! Even if they were chosen by other explorers and not by the dungeon itself, how could they be so shameful!?
"But not everyone is like that, Shin! I hope you aren't too disillusioned about dungeon explorers."
"I know. If the dungeon only had people like them, their worlds would have been ruined already! ... And I don't think you're someone like that either."
"Thanks, but in truth, I'm not that different. Both in terms of ability and bravery, I'm no match for you. I learned a lot from you today. 4 years ago, I came to admire you and aspired to become like you. I remembered that feeling today."
I hesitated. Ellos' eyes were sincere. At least in my eyes, his willpower was there.
"Orc... Kang Shin! I, I'm the same. Don't misunderstand! I'm only trying to grow stronger so I can fight the demon race!"
"Yeah, Palludia, I know. You were a lot different than 4 years ago. Your performance today was dazzling."
I meant to compliment her, but Palludia let out a strange squeal and shrunk back with a bright red face. She really was weird. Shuna was standing next to her stealing glances at me from behind her shield. I didn't know why, so I just let her be. Instead, I looked at Ellos.
"Ellos, how about you come with me for a little while? Climb the dungeon with me."
Of course, I didn't mean I'd continue with him forever. It was just temporary, until he learned something from me. However, in a way, I already knew how he would respond. It was better to say I was going out of my way to sever the lingering attachment he would have.
As expected, Ellos shook his head.
"Sorry, Shin. But I have to lead my party members."
"I see. Well, you are a leader before you are a warrior."
That was enough. Ellos didn't need to change drastically. Rather, it was his party members that had to change. Both Paul and Baruela had the right mindset. It was their skills that were lacking. But there wasn't much they could do about it. They could only keep working hard. If that wasn't enough, although it was a bit cruel, that was the extent of their talent.
"You're not going to change your party, right?"
"Yeah. I want to keep going with them until the end. I believe I can."
"Then that's good enough. Good luck. You'll all need to change a lot. I'm off."
"Yeah, thanks. I'll contact you again. Today was a great experience."
"Kang Shin, wait!"
After saying my goodbye to Ellos and even turning to Baruela and bowing goodbye to her, I wanted to return to the dungeon I came from, but Palludia grabbed onto me. When I looked at her, she seemed to be lost for words as she her lips trembled without making a sound.
When I urged her on with my gaze, she finally managed to open her mouth.
"R-Resi... Residential Area, have you been there?"
"I-If you come... contact me."
"Just do it!"
For some reason, Palludia looked like she was about to cry. Plus, her face was bright red like it was about to blow up. She looked dejected, yet also happy. I didn't know what her face was trying to say. Next to her, Shuna glanced back and forth between my face and Palludia's as if she knew what Palludia meant.
"Ludia! You... how...?"
"Shuna, be quiet! I have no other choice!"
"But that's not what you said before! Liar! Just admit that you just fell in lo... ooop! Ooop!"
Palludia covered Shuna's mouth with her hands, and dealt a knee kick to her waist. With her high defense, Shuna didn't seem to be in pain, but seeing two grown-up women in such an active posture made me feel slightly embarrassed.
"I'll contact you. Can I go now?"
"H-Hurry up and leave!"
I turned my eyes away from Shuna, who was trying to tell me something even as Palludia was trying to stop her. My eyes then met the elf archer's, who gave me a respectful bow. I still didn't know why she was acting that way. Then I left the party.
Although a lot of confusing things had happened, the raid had finished successfully.