“BROTHER! WAKE UP!!” My sister’s voice pounded through my head as she screamed at the top of her lungs directly next to my ear.
“What? What’s going on?” My eyes still half-closed, I whipped my head back and forth to see if there was an emergency.
“Sheesh! You suck at waking up, Brother.” Ellie probably woke up not too long ago, evident by her bedhead.
“Haha, you hair looks crazy.” I shot her a grin as I ruffled her hair.
“Eek! Stop it! Your hair looks weird too!” Hopping out of bed, my sister ran out of my room, reminding me to wash up.
“Aye aye!” I gave my sister an exaggerated salute, making her giggle, before going downstairs.
Sylvie woke up on her own from my sister’s shouting but her eyes kept blinking slowly as she unstably toddled behind me.
After washing up, I made sure I had a few basic necessities on me. This included my seal bracelet, my dimension ring with Dawn’s Ballad stored inside, the other ring used to signal my mother if I was in trouble, and the feather Sylvia left me that I used to cover Sylvie’s bond mark on my forearm.
The feather wasn’t necessary to cover the mark, but I liked to keep it on me just as a memento. Having a part of Sylvia with me always comforted me.
Walking downstairs, my nose picked up on the soft scent of a meaty soup. When I reached the kitchen, I spotted my parents and little sister sitting around the table, drowsiness still evident on their faces from being up early at dawn.
“Hope you don’t mind. The chef is cooking breakfast for you. We’re probably going to go back to sleep after we see you off.” My mother gave me a tired smile.
I pulled up a chair and took a seat next to Ellie. “Not at all. In fact, you really didn’t have to wake up and see me off.”
“Be vigilant, no matter how easy you think the dungeon may be. It’s called a dungeon because you never know of the dangers inside,” my father warned me, his bedhead ablaze.
Looking at my mother, the strain on her face was hard not to notice as she struggled for the right words. “…Just, please be careful, Arthur. I know how strong you are but I can’t stand it every time I see you hurt, it’s just that…” Her voice faded at the end.
“Hmm?” My mind flashed back to what my father had said in the hospital room back at Xyrus Academy; the event that made her unable to heal anyone seriously injured.
“It-It’s nothing. Just be safe…. and keep your eyes on that girl, Tessia, as well. You have to protect her if things get tough, okay?” Giving me a gentle smile that didn’t seem to reach her eyes, she reached forward and patted my head.
The house chef brought in my food at this time, which consisted of dry bread and a creamy soup that I assumed was used to dip my bread in. After Sylvie had a nibble on the bread, she whined and just curled up again. By the time I’d finished, the sun was starting to peek out from the mountains.
“Are you going to be coming home right after your dungeon excursion?” my father asked after giving me a hug.
“No, not right after. I’ll be back for a whole week next week though, for break. There’s some kind of special festival going on in the city, right?” My professors had all announced it a few weeks in advance that once every ten years, there was a phenomenon that occurred. Supposedly, during that entire week, the mana density in this continent reached its peak, giving mages the resources to make breakthroughs and even allowing non-mages to experience what it’s like to feel mana. For that week, classes were cancelled and students were allowed to either stay on campus or go back home to meditate and train as much as possible.
“Ah, right! The Aurora Constellate is happening next week. So you’re going to stay here for the festival too?” My mother’s mood brightened.
“Wow! A whole week?” My drowsy sister perked up at this and pulled on my sleeves.
“Yup, that’s the plan. Let’s all go to the festival together.” Looking at my family, I gave them a smile and hugged my sister and mother before walking down the stairs.
“Be careful!” my mother shouted one last time while waving. Waving back at them, I stepped inside the carriage. Once inside, I followed Sylvie’s lead, catching up on my sleep until we arrived.
“Arthur!” Stepping out of the carriage, I spotted Curtis waving at me, his smile wide and genuine.
“How was your trip back home? Did you get to catch up with your family?” Claire patted me on the back when I reached the group of students waiting at the front gate.
“Good, you made it!” Professor Glory gave me a smile too as she began her headcount. Looking around, besides Curtis and Claire, I saw Clyde, Lucas, and a few other students that I never really paid attention to. I did one more quick check but didn’t see Tess, and by the frantic look on his face, neither did Clyde.
“Sorry I’m late!” Once Tess ran through the front gate, she caught her breath, her face flushed and hair messy.
“You’re the last one, Princess Tessia. We can start heading out now.” Professor Glory took note of everyone’s presence once more and nodded in satisfaction before turning around and leading the class of fifteen students to the teleportation gate.
I glanced back to see Tess walking alongside Clyde when she caught my gaze. Giving me a shy smile of affirmation, I replied with a small wave but otherwise continued making small talk with Curtis and Claire until we arrived at the gate.
The guard stationed at the gate adjusted the settings as he asked our professor a few questions. After several minutes, Professor Glory signaled for us to enter through the gate one by one, stepping in herself after all of us. Again, my stomach turned from the feeling of traveling through, but luckily, the trip never lasted more than a few seconds.
“Welcome! I assume for most of you, this is the first time you guys have stepped foot in the Beast Glades, correct?” Professor Glory chimed while placing her hands on her hips.
“Hmph. I’ve been here countless times. I was an A-class adventurer after all.” Lucas stepped forth with his chest out. With this, a couple impressed murmurs from the students made Lucas even more arrogant until Professor Glory replied.
“Ah, yes. I’ve heard from Director Goodsky that you were indeed an adventurer. I’ve also been notified that you had your license revoked due to classified reasons.” Raising an eyebrow, Professor Glory continued on.
“Tch. It’s all because of that damned masked bastard.” The professor didn’t hear Lucas mutter under his breath as he leaned against his staff.
“Right now, we’re near the edge of the Grand Mountains. If we walk a few hours this way, we’ll arrive at a famous pub of gathering called Dragonspine Inn. Back when I was an adventurer, that was the place to chat and get information on various mana beasts and dungeons. We’ll be going to a rather low-level dungeon so don’t worry too much. I will also be with you at all times but I’ll refrain from helping unless it is absolutely necessary so don’t look to me for answers.” Professor Glory waved her right hand and from her dimension ring appeared a small pile of black cloth.
“These are shawls that you guys will need to wear inside the dungeon. The dungeon we’re exploring is called Widow’s Crypt. It’s a fairly straightforward dungeon without any traps or mazes so don’t worry about getting lost. It is, however, very cold in there, which is why you need these shawls. The mana beasts you’ll mostly be facing are nasty little creatures called snarlers. There are two types of snarlers in this dungeon that you’ll need to be wary of: the minion snarlers and the queen snarler. The minion snarlers are the ones you guys will be facing. Their queen burrows to the bottom floor of the dungeon so you won’t see it, but just know the difference. You’ll see what the minions look like once we go inside, but for now, we’re going to split you up into three teams of five.” As Professor Glory finished informing us, she pulled out a small piece of paper from the inside of the shawl she was wearing.
“I’ve already decided on how teams will be split so take a step forward as I call you. Curtis, Claire, Dorothy, Owen, and Marge; you guys will make up the first team.” Our professor motioned for them to pick up their shawls and step to the side. She then called the next five students, which left me with a bitter feeling.
“That leaves us with Arthur, Lucas, Clive, Tessia and Roland.” she said as she pointed at the pile of shawls left.
I had to be in the same team as Lucas again? Was she doing this on purpose? No, there were only fifteen students in the class and she had no idea that I was an adventurer before. But she was also the one that stopped my little scuffle with Lucas.
Debating whether or not to ask to change with someone, I ultimately decided to stay after remembering what my mother said this morning. Even if she hadn’t said it, I didn’t trust Lucas being in the same team as Tess. I should be there just in case.
“Any questions? No? Okay, then it’s settled. It shouldn’t take us more than two hours to reach the dungeon entrance so let’s hurry.” With that, we took off, taking long strides amidst the thick trees covering most of the sunlight.
We all traveled in silence, most of the students scared that they might attract unwanted attention from the mana beats that might be nearby. Soon, the trees cleared up as we began descending down a slope.
“We’re almost here. There’ll be a place to stay on standby next to the dungeon so don’t go inside.” With that, our professor stepped to the back, doing a headcount again while each of us carefully slid down the steep slope leading to the dungeon entrance.
“Before we go in, are you sure you want to bring your bond inside the dungeon, Arthur?” Professor Glory shot me a concerned look.
What do you say? Do you want to go hunting since we’re at the Beast Glades anyway? I mentally transmitted to Sylvie.
‘Sure!’ With that, my bond hopped off of my head and disappeared into the woods for the wrong reason that everybody else was thinking right now.
“Good choice, it’ll probably be safer if she stays out here and lays low.” Professor Glory gave me a nod before climbing up onto a rock so she could see everyone.
“Now. Split off into your groups and get to know each other. You guys have probably seen what everyone in your group is like from class but share your strengths and weaknesses. Communication and trust is vital in team-fighting. You’ll also have to decide on a leader before we go inside.” As our professor took a seat on the rock, our group came together and sat in a circle. While everyone looked at each other, not wanting to speak, the only one in our group that I didn’t really know, Roland, spoke up.
“Ahem! My name is Roland Alderman and I am a water attribute augmenter! My hobbies are relaxing, shopping, going on dates with pretty girls and…”
“No one asked for your hobbies,” Clive interrupted while massaging the bridge of his nose in irritation.
“Well someone’s a little grumpy. Anywho… My strength is in mid-range fighting, using a water whip skill that was passed down from my family. My weakness is close-range combat. Next!” he finished, tossing the imaginary baton to me, who was sitting to his left.
“Arthur Leywin. I’m a wind and earth attribute augmenter. I’m adept at all ranges but prefer mid-to-close,” I stated simply, looking directly at Lucas who was across from me.
“Clive Graves. Wind attribute augmenter specializing in long-distance fighting with a bow. I don’t really have a weakness,” he said tersely.
“Lucas Wykes. I am a conjurer with a single specialization in fire. As for strengths and weaknesses, let’s not bother going over that.” Rolling his eyes, he just leaned back as he sat cross-legged.
Sensing the hostility in the air, I noticed Tess looking a little uncomfortable. “Tessia Eralith. I am a conjurer with a dual specialization in wood and wind. My strong suits are middle-to-close-range fighting…” Letting her voice trail off, our group became silent, as we all knew what the next topic would be.
“I elect myself to be the leader.” Lucas was the first one to speak.
“Oh? By what standards do you see yourself as the leader of this group?” I tilted my head, giving him an innocent look.
“By strength of course. Let’s be real… I can beat any of you guys in a fight. Isn’t it natural for the strongest one to be the leader?” Lucas shot back, looking back at me incredulously.
“I vote for Tessia! She’s the only girl and is pretty, so I like that. We can even name our team the Queen and Knights!” Roland had this sparkle in his eyes as his mind wandered off into his own little fantasy land.
“I also think that Princess Tessia should be the leader, ahem… not for the same reason of course, not saying that she isn’t pretty but I mean… Since she is the Student Council President.” Clive ended up looking down as he mumbled, his flushed cheeks looking unnatural on his serious face.
“Wait I don’t want to be the leader! How about Art…thur? Arthur Leywin,” she voiced, shaking her hands in defense.
“I also think that Tessia should be the leader.” I raised my hand up as everyone ignored her comment. I didn’t mind just as long as Lucas wasn’t the one leading.
“Tch. Idiots.” Lucas just rolled his eyes once more before we all got up.
“All right, since it seems like everyone is done, let’s head in. Brace yourselves once we get inside, it’s going to be chilly!” Professor Glory announced before stepping inside the entrance, which appeared to be a narrow stairway leading into darkness.
In a single file line, we all started making our way down the stairs and I could swear that the temperature dropped noticeably with every step we took.
“W-W-W-What the hell? W-W-W-Why is it s-s-s-so c-cold?” Roland managed to say in between his chattering teeth.
“Augment yourself, you dolt.” I heard Clive’s voiced from behind. It was really dark so I couldn’t really see anything more than the vague outline of each person.
As we walked down the stairs, I felt something grip my wrist but before I pulled away, I realized what it was. Looking back, just a step behind me, I could see the vague outline of Tess’ head. Even without seeing, I could tell she was already blushing by how warm her hand was. Passing off her gesture as a result of feeling scared, we walked silently down the seemingly endless flight of stairs.
Even without augmenting myself, the frigid temperatures in the dungeon was bearable due to my assimilated body, but as the dungeon got brighter, that soon changed. A gust of piercing cold air blew through the opening at the end of the tunnel, forcing me to shield myself with the shawl. As my eyes adjusted to the change in lighting, I couldn’t help but become excited, seeing the first floor of the Widow’s Crypt.
The cavern stretched out for hundreds of yards, making me wonder how it even supported itself. The stone that made up the large cavern sparkled with a dim blue light as a thin layer of ice covered the floor and even formed icicles on the ceiling. Looking closely, I could see the nearly transparent layer of moss that covered the cavern walls and ceiling, enveloping this floor in a serene light.
“That’s odd, usually, we’d see a fair amount of snarlers already. Why don’t I—”
All of a sudden, hideous noises began echoing all around us. Peeking out from behind the numerous boulders and from small caverns spotted around the walls of the cave were an uncountable amount of beady red eyes.
“Th-That’s a lot of snarlers…” I could hear Roland gulp as his eyes widened. It wasn’t just him that was shocked at the sight but everyone in the class. Even Curtis and Claire looked. I looked at Professor Glory and from her expression, I didn’t think she anticipated seeing this many snarlers either.