The next day, Zhou woke Aura and I slightly earlier than usual. We then had a light breakfast outside his hut as Elka was still asleep. Right after the meal, he then told us to bring our weapons and prepare some rations while he packed a few essentials into his backpack. With that, we were ventured back into the forest through the southern gate.
As Zhou had said yesterday, we were to go to a place called a ‘Dungeon’. I had no idea what a dungeon was nor was I familiar with the word. However, according to him, it’s a place where there are a lot of monsters and it was a good place to train our combat capabilities.
Perhaps Zhou realized that there was only so much he could teach us without a proper risk. If Zhou were to just train us by his own then we would never learn about the true danger of facing an enemy that was prepared to kill. Like the time when I had to face a demon wolf alone without knowing what was going on in my new life, or the time where I had to also face the leader of the demon wolf pack while trying to protect Aura. Those were times where I had to actually take combat seriously as it was a life or death matter.
Zhou must have noticed his limitation as a tutor and decided to let us have a taste of the real world. That way we would properly grow as a ‘Traveler’ and learn the true nature of this world…
Or he was just doing all this for fun.
I don’t know.
I don’t really know Zhou after all.
Zhou was the first proper adult I got to know in this world. As a ‘Traveler’ just like me, he knew a lot more about himself and this world. He had always been helpful to us when in need and never asked for anything in return. He was also rather protective of us. Like how whenever we left the forest, he would always walk behind to make sure that the both of us were in his sight.
He was truly a man to be admired. I mean, he technically did single-handedly raised a village in a place far from his initial home ground which was definitely something not anyone could accomplish. That alone, at least to me, sounded like a huge achievement already.
Same goes for Elka. According to her, different races tend to discriminate other races and wouldn’t pay attention to their wellbeing. They would usually care about their own race above other races. Apparently it all started from the previous wars where different races were claiming unpopularized territories. Despite the wars have ended, it would take a lot more time for old grudges to go away.
However, Elka was different. She was willing to leave her home ground and travel to the other side of the world to help other people regardless of races. She even fell in love with someone not of her own race and followed him to help him achieve his dreams. If that doesn’t show how much of a selfless person she was, then I don’t know what is a selfless person anymore.
Elka always treated Aura and I with a lot of care and love. She would sometimes join our training session just to bring us some refreshments, making sure we were all staying hydrated although our training was tiring.
It was as if both of them were treating us like sons and daughters. Not that I dislike it or anything.
“The forest has gotten really dense out of nowhere, hasn’t it?”
Aura said as she looked around the forest as we traverse deeper in it. I then look around the surroundings and only to further confirm her suspicion. The forest I have seen thus far may have been rather thick already but it was never to the point where the sky was almost entirely blocked off by the trees.
The trees were taller and bigger and the flowers and mushrooms had more variety compared to the one nearer our village. If anything, they looked rather bizarre. There were purple flowers with red spots, blood-red flowers that smelt like burnt meat and some mushrooms with stems as long as my finger.
There were some small creatures around the forest. Mostly small birds that I had no idea what species they were. There were also signs of smaller land creatures wandering around as I could see footprints scattered around the forest.
It may sound like I had ventured into a paradise-like forest with majestic creatures and plants but truth be told, it was more disturbingly eerie than peacefully beautiful. The atmosphere was dark and I could barely see anything further than three rows of trees. There were a lot of fallen branches and the flowers were scattered randomly across the place, making the ground really hard to walk around. Kinda glad that Zhou was leading the way.
“Erm… are you sure this is the way?” I asked Zhou as I was getting worried that we would get lost in a dense forest like this.
“Don’t worry. I know the way like the back of my hand. Sort of?”
Zhou continued to walk towards his destination confidently while I followed behind him. I took a glance towards Aura and noticed she was also frantically looking around the forest. It was good to know I wasn’t the only one feeling anxious about the place we were going.
“When I heard the word ‘Dungeon’, I was expecting something dangerous. Now, I feel like the word ‘dangerous’ might have been an understatement.”
Aura said as she followed Zhou’s exact footsteps as she would make sure to step on the exact same spot he had walked on. She must be worried that something would happen if she would to take a different path. I then continued the conversation by teasing her a bit, taking advantage of her in her vulnerable state.
“I guess even a calm girl like you can be afraid after all.”
“Of course I would. I mean, who wouldn’t? One day you were in a village seeping tea and the next day you are sent to a dark forest and entering a place filled with monsters. Actually, I’m still surprised we aren’t ambushed by any monsters yet.”
“That is true, I would expect monsters to attack at any moment. Since we are going to a monster lair.”
Zhou overheard our conversation and clarified our suspicion.
“Monsters are usually nocturnal. Right now, most of them are inside the dungeon, sleeping like an ugly baby. Oh, we are here.”
As soon as Zhou said that. I noticed there was a small opening up ahead. There were small glimpses of light peaked through the trees ahead. As we crossed those trees, we had found ourselves entering an open area.
What was in front of me was a giant cave. However, the entrance of the cave was only big enough to fit two people, side by side. It wasn’t tall and if we weren’t careful, we could knock our head onto the roof. The cave looked so dark that I could imagine extending my hand into it and it would just disappear into the darkness.
“S-so, this is a ‘Dungeon’?” Aura said while she kept her eyes glued on the dungeon entrance.
Zhou then squatted down and started to unpack his backpack. He pulled out two wooden sticks tied with a cloth on one end and a bottle of oil. He also pulled out some dried bread that what I would assume to be our rations for later. Lastly, he pulled out some bottles filled with some sort of liquid substance. They were light green in colour, definitely not something to be consumed.
“This is a dungeon. Dungeons can be found all over the world. They essentially serve a purpose as shelters for monsters. After hunting and raiding villages, monsters need a place to keep their valuables. Thus, dungeons are usually filled with treasures and since no one owns it anymore, it’s for us to keep. Therefore, dungeons are great places for ‘Travelers’ and ‘Adventures’ to level up, learn skills and also get treasures.”
Zhou then pulled out his large sword behind his back and held it on his hand. He then continued his explanation.
“Well, the only issue is you wouldn’t want to go into one alone. Dungeons are really dark inside and have really narrow roads, sometimes you wouldn’t even notice there are forks around the paths. Usually, you would need a party to cover up each other’s weaknesses. That’s why I couldn’t explore this dungeon much. But things change now that you two are here!”
“Us?” Aura and I said in unison as Zhou turned to look at us.
“Now that you two are here, we can properly explore the dungeon. You two will be the front-liners while I will work as a support at the backline. So here, put these on. They will serve a better purpose as protection than the simple clothes you have on.”
Zhou handed us a pair of leather gauntlets and a pair of leather boots where only the feet part if encased with iron. He also gave us an iron breastplate to keep the vulnerable parts of our bodies protected. I’m thankful but at the same time, didn’t really understand why would he carry them all the way here instead of just letting us wear them before coming here.
Well, thankfully Aura dropped the bombshell earlier than I did as she questioned Zhou before I did.
“Why didn’t you just let us wear it before coming to the dungeon? Wouldn’t that be a lot easier than to carry all of that all the way here?”
“No particular reason, I just needed my morning training. Besides, it’s not that heavy.”
“Not that heavy?”
I felt the weight of the equipment as I put them on. It wasn’t as heavy as I thought but keeping two sets of these in a backpack was no way not going to break a spine. But I didn’t bother to question him any further and just leave it at that.
“Everyone ready? Then, prepare your swords and we’re going in.”
Dark is an understatement. Even with the torches in our hands, I could only see up to four steps away. Clearly, if there were monsters in here, we will not be prepared for any ambushes. I was scared but also had to keep my guard up at all times while holding onto my sword with both hands like a paranoid idiot.
The ground was slightly uneven but it was enough to tell that it was a common path. The walls were narrow and the roof wasn’t that high up, making swinging a sword a hassle. Probably the best way to attack is to make use of stabbing an enemy rather than slashing through, as the walls around the cave would definitely be in the way.
I noticed the walls had a few claw marks and I could see a few animal bones scattered around the corners of the path. Sometimes, we would come across walls with dried blood stains splattered on them. Clearly, the dungeon was a dangerous place to be and we had to be prepared for any attacks from all directions.
Zhou was leading the way for the moment while Aura and I followed behind. When encountering an enemy he would then retreat behind us and work as our support and also as a magic caster. He said that he may be more of a swordsman, he could use ‘intermediate level’ of magic, whatever that meant.
Right before we entered, Zhou showed us his ‘Status Card’ to further understand what he was capable of. Well, there wasn’t much I could remember what was shown on the card because the list of skills he had was endless. From combat abilities to magic proficiency. There were so many words that all it took me was a glance for me to understand that having him with us would be us at ease.
There were a few things that caught my interest. His level was 104. I don’t know much about levels but as someone who was only level 10, he had to be super strong.
He had a few titles. I think the ones worth mentioning were ‘A-Rank Traveler’ and ‘Swordmaster’. According to Zhou, there was a ranking system used by the ‘Traveler’s Guild’ to determine where they stand among the other ‘Travelers’. As an A-Rank, he was listed as an experienced individual in his hometown.
The other title, ‘Swordmaster’, was given to him by his master that showed his prowess in his combat capabilities while using a sword. The title also gave him permission to set up his own dojo to teach other individuals the way of the sword.
The rest of the titles were either non-combat titles or titles that made no sense to me. Either way, he was indeed a man among men.
As Zhou guided the way, he also explained more about the dungeons. I guess he wanted to keep the mood cheerful despite the circumstances we were getting ourselves into.
“As I said, ‘Dungeons’ exist all over the world. Whether it was located in the mountains, underground or even under the sea. ‘Dungeons’ also come in many different sizes. Some are small and only contain weaker humanoid monsters or creatures. There also exist some really big ones. Some big enough to contain magic portals that could teleport us around the dungeon or giant boss rooms that contain huge monsters that needed to be defeated before we could go in any deeper.”
“That’s great and all. But how do these dungeons exist anyway?” I asked as I continued to keep my guard up.
“According to the locals, ‘Dungeons’ had existed for a long time, some even older than the times of men. Some said that they were made by Gods to store the dark energy of the world, keeping it from spreading around the world. While some said that dungeons were home to ancient civilizations. Regardless, no one truly knows the purpose of their existence.”
According to Elka, gods were higher beings that governed the entire universe, overseeing the acts of their creations. Different races also pray to different gods and different gods have different ways of interacting with their creations.
I guess that meant we were able to connect with gods after all.
“By the way, this dungeon is classified as a big dungeon,” Zhou continued. “Sadly I wasn’t able to go too deep into the dungeon.”
“And why is that so?” Aura asked.
Suddenly, we heard stones kicking across the ground as the sound echoed throughout the cave. Zhou quickly handed the torch in his hand to me and quickly pulled out his sword. He hopped to the back and guarded the rear with his sword shielding his entire body.
As soon as Zhou said those two words. Aura and I tighten to grip of our swords and held our ground. It was clear to us that we were about to get ambushed by someone or something.
It wasn’t long till I saw a silhouette of a distorted humanoid creature popping out from in front of me. I raised my torch higher to shine the light around us clearer.
The creature in front of me was green in colour. It was shorter than me, about half my height. Its arms and legs were skinny but it had a big head and their belly looked bloated. It had a short knife on its hand. I looked at its face to see it had small and sharp eyes. It had a long nose and a huge mouth with two small fangs, hanging from the top.
That one word came out from Zhou as he looked in front of him. Apparently there were another three goblins from behind us. We were pincered by them. It was lucky that Zhou had our backs. If not, we would properly be in deep trouble.
“These guys may be dumb but they are annoying. Just focus on them one by one and we should be fine. I will focus on diverting their attention to me and you two will kill them while they are distracted. Got it?”
“Yes, master!” Aura and I shouted in unison as we prepared ourselves for battle.
“Then, trust in yourself. And trust in the sword.”