Live Dungeon!: Chapter 202: Omens of a New Stampede
After some further discussions, Leleia agreed to stick to the plan and apologized to Amira the next day, ending this incident without the two of them having a duel. As a result, Amira looked as if she was having trouble digesting the breakfast she had just eaten. While Daryl was minding his own business, she grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, seemingly taking him away as a dueling opponent in Leleia’s place.
“C’mon, let’s go on a date! And by dat, I mean FIGHT!”
Tsutomu also minded his own business, reading the morning newspapers while Daryl’s voice faded into the distance. Hannah, also full of energy, was bowing to Amy for some reason.
“Miss Amy! You gotta teach me how to steal the Winter General’s swords! Please!”
“Yeah, sure, why not? Let’s go! To the training grounds!”
“Thank you! Thank you!”
“So the key is to keep your eyes on the prize, and then go… SNATCH! Like that!”
“Ooh! I see! So that’s how it’s done!”
[The hell? How’s anyone supposed to get any information from THAT?] Tsutomu thought to himself as he heard the exchange between Amy and Hannah — and saw the latter mimicking the former’s movements.
Garm, in another corner of the room, began preparing to head out for his morning run. It seemed that Xeno would be going with him today.
“Would you like to join us?” Xeno came over to ask Tsutomu, cracking a refreshing smile on his face. “Working up some sweat in the morning is sure to make you feel refreshed!”
“I’m good, thanks.”
“No, you’re not good at all… I can see that you are sorely lacking in stamina! Don’t you worry, though — running alongside someone else can bring out a surprising amount of extra strength you never knew you had! Come on, let’s go!”
“He does have a point,” Garm said, appearing behind Xeno, “You’d better get some exercise in, Tsutomu.”
Tsutomu proceeded to look around for help, but Korinna — who was still working away at her hefty breakfast — promptly avoided eye contact with him. Leleia, sitting on one of the sofas, did make eye contact and proceeded to nod.
“I would like to take part in this as well.”
“Oh come on, not you too…”
“Nuhuhu… Unfortunately for you, you don’t seem to have a choice. Come, let us join them.”
“…So it’s one of those offers I can’t refuse, huh? Okay, fine…”
And so Tsutomu, unable to even call out the creepiness of Leleia’s chuckle, was forced to go for a morning run with the others. Diniel waved to Tsutomu, sending him off while she requested some snacks from Ollie’s apprentice.
“Hello, hello! Good morning, everyone!”
“Keep it down, man…”
Xeno weaved his way through the crowd, occasionally high-fiving some random people. Though a handful of people expressed mild annoyance, no one seemed to actually mind this behavior of his. At some point, Xeno was even treated to some honey-baked bananas by a middle-aged man running a food cart.
When the group arrived at the outer walls surrounding Dungeon City, where there were relatively few people, the four started running with Xeno in the lead. Tsutomu followed them, his expression gloomy from the start due to the speed at which they were going.
“G-guys, I think that’s too much for me…”
“Keep at it! Go, go, Tsutomu! Eyes forward! Forward, forward, forward! Look at me! At my beautiful face! I know you can keep running!”
“Hang in there.”
Tsutomu was ready to give up not even five minutes in, but Xeno in the lead would not let him rest. Leleia and Garm also pulled Tsutomu’s arms, making him run until he felt nauseous.
And so, the run continued until Tsutomu could not move anymore. With him lying on the ground exhausted, Garm and Xeno proceeded to continue running, while Leleia helped Tsutomu back to the Clan House.
Like an old man, Tsutomu used his staff to support himself as he practically crawled his way back. Leleia seemed at least a little bit amused by what she was seeing.
“Here you are,” Ollie said, handing the sweat-drenched Tsutomu a cup of cold water before heading away towards the laundry room. “I’ll get you a towel.”
“W-welcome back,” Korinna came over and said, sounding quite concerned, “Are you all right?”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think they were trying to kill me…”
Tsutomu was decently fit due to having been exercising regularly since he arrived in this world, but he still was not as strong as Korinna. And although he had cast <<Medic>> and <<Heal>> on himself on the way back, they did not remove all of the fatigue, so it was still hard on him.
Leleia, also receiving a towel from Ollie, said to Tsutomu with a straight face,
“Maybe not…” Tsutomu replied, glaring at her with resentful eyes. “And whose fault do you think it is?”
“Xeno’s, most likely.”
Leleia put a hand over her mouth and laughed, the innocence beaming from her smile prompting a fair bit of surprise even from a teammate of hers like Korinna.
“I mean, with or without my involvement, they would have forced you to go anyway. I am not the one to blame here, I say.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know…”
“Aww, don’t be so grumpy. I can wipe your hair for you, if you’d like.”
“Uh, no, I can do it myself.”
“Don’t be like that. Stay still and let me help.”
Leleia, in an unusually good mood, proceeded to carefully wipe Tsutomu’s sweat-soaked hair. While Tsutomu showed some signs of resistance, she was much stronger than him, so all she had to do to keep him still was firmly grab his head.
Seeing Leleia wiping Tsutomu’s head like she would a pet dog that had been out in the rain, Korinna said with a blank stare in her eyes,
“You two seem to have become… awfully close these days.”
“You think?” Leleia feigned ignorance, tilting her head.
“Hmm? Nah, that can’t be right…”
Tsutomu narrowed his eyes.
“Well, I think it’s because of that important talk you had the other day?”
“Yes, perhaps that was it.”
“Huh, yeah, maybe.”
“And your team’s had less friction among them since then, so that’s all good, I guess?”
“Yeah, I’m well aware of that,” Leleia said, closing her eyes as if to ignore Tsutomu’s fully-loaded sarcasm, “No problem at all.”
Seeing the two apparently hitting it off, Korinna’s confusion only deepened.
While Garm and Xeno were resting in the living room after returning from their run, Tsutomu was reading the newspapers, raising an eyebrow upon seeing what was currently the most prominent topic of discussion.
[Everyone’s talking about the Stampede.]
It was almost six months since the appearance of the Devourer Dragon, meaning the next Stampede was drawing near. As Tsutomu read the articles, he had quite a serious look on his face.
Here, the Stampede was a half-annual phenomenon in which a large number of monsters overflowed from the various Dungeons throughout the region, attacking places with large enough concentrations of Magic Stones. In order to reduce the damage caused by the Stampedes, monster populations in the Dungeon were regularly thinned out mainly by the Labyrinth Conquerors, Explorers, and the nobility’s private military forces.
However, seven years ago, God’s Dungeon suddenly appeared — a Dungeon in which death was not permanent, and where one could easily obtain Magic Stones and valuable loot. Moreover, if one created a Status Card, they would receive a blessing from God in the form of a Job and the ability to use special skills — and as one’s level rose, their parameters increased, eventually reaching levels of inhuman strength.
There was no reason for people not to gather there — and as such, most Explorers went to God’s Dungeon. Now that anyone could use special skills and gain power from boosted parameters, the power of magic, which had been monopolized by the nobility, started losing its prominence. At one point, this resulted in a wave of revolutions, in which corrupt nobles, who had been flaunting their magic, were hanged by the same people they had been exploiting.
Overall, those revolutions had been a positive thing for the people, particularly since they rid the nobility of their excessive power. Not all was good, however, as their private military forces — which had been thinning out the monster populations in the various Dungeons — had reduced considerably in numbers. After all, even the corrupt nobles’ military forces had been doing their part in keeping the monsters at bay.
And as no alternative to them and the Explorers could be found, the burden fell heavily on the Labyrinth Conquerors. Since the Stampedes had not caused any major damage in recent decades, even the Labyrinth Conquerors began to be treated with neglect, their funds and donations dwindling with each passing year, resulting in their severely reduced monster hunting efficiency.
Labyrinth Conquerors, many of whom knew the horror of the Stampede, were quick to warn others of the dangers of not thinning out the monster population. For decades, however, they were so good at what they did that the Stampedes barely caused any real damage — which was a main reason their warnings were not taken seriously, with another being the fact that the people had grown prideful due to the powers they had gained from God’s Dungeon.
[It’s ironic, really…]
As time passed, the monster culling grew less and less effective, resulting in the Dungeons overflowing with monsters, the denser and denser magical energies giving birth to Dragon-type monsters — the worst of which was the Devourer Dragon, the rampage of which resulted in significant damages to the region around the northern Dungeon.
In the end, the casualties resulting from the incident exceeded 500. Despite healing skills having the ability to physically restore those close to death, many people had been killed in the ensuing battles. Collateral damage and the amount of compensation to the bereaved families were also extraordinary; without assistance from the Royal Capital, it would have taken a much longer time to rebuild the city.
Last time, the devastating Stampede had come from the north — and this time, it was coming from the south of Dungeon City. A monster comparable in strength to the Devourer Dragon will once again attempt to invade Dungeon City. The ruling class in particular was in panic… due to the fact that the Royal Capital was located somewhere along the way.
[I wanna get outta here…]
Tsutomu was not — and probably will never be — ready to fight a monster as bad as or even worse than the Devourer Dragon in an environment where he could permanently die. Moreover, the news articles about the Stampede were all disturbing.
[I mean, NOT having any monsters there makes it even scarier…]
Ealdred Crow, which had been out to cull the Dungeons for some time now, had often times reported that they had encountered absolutely no monsters in the southern Dungeons. Moreover, despite it being close to half a year now, there had been no signs of the Stampede beginning.
Considering these were nothing but disturbing signs, those of the Royal Capital seemed quite concerned, and now they were gathering as much manpower as they could. The head of House Babenberg, the noble family that oversaw Dungeon City, and their officer Melchor had also been recently summoned there.
[As for me, well, I don’t really care about that place…]
Tsutomu had also received word from House Babengerg that the Royal Capital’s invitations also extended to him, but he had politely declined. In this fantasy world, he did not care what happened in the Royal Capital — nor anywhere else where God’s Dungeon was not located. And as he was not a hero out on a quest to save the world, he did not particularly care about the death toll, either.
Then again, since he was somewhat grateful to House Babenberg for what they had done during the previous Stampede, he did intend to cooperate with them in the defense of Dungeon City. In the first place, it would be most troublesome if Dungeon City were to fall and prevent him from exploring God’s Dungeon — not to mention that, since he had been living here for nearly a year, he had grown at least a little bit attached to it.
[Oh yeah, it’s already been a year, huh?]
He had been so busy that he only noticed just now how long it had been. It had been long enough, in fact, that he was about to find himself wondering if this was more real than his original world.
[…Well, better not get too attached. I’ll have to go home eventually.]
But games were games, and real life was real life. No matter how addicted he was to a game, there would come a time when he had to return — like the call back to reality when the game world of Live Dungeon announced the closing of its server.
Tsutomu had played Live Dungeon like a fanatic, sacrificing hours upon hours of his life, but he had never abandoned his responsibilities. He had controlled himself during the university entrance examination and job hunting, and took regular baths and bathroom breaks just as any self-caring person would.
This world was quite similar to Live Dungeon, and as such, to Tsutomu, it was like paradise — but at the same time, like a game. He had to eventually leave it behind — or so he thought.
[Wait, what if when I get back it turns out a year has also passed over there? Man, that would suck…]
Tsutomu folded the newspaper, thoughts about what would happen upon his return swirling in his mind.