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Chapter 12: Pursuer

Pursuer

"Are we being followed?"

Having entered a space to rest on the sixteenth floor, we decided to bring our third day to a close.

Even like this, we were able to reach the eighth floor on our first day, but with a completely new maze stretched out before us, our pace dropped greatly.

We had planned to get through the fifteenth on the third day, so we had already completed our goal.

On the first day, our rest point was taken up by another group of adventurers.

From there, the gears started to misalign. We had gone further in then previously planned, but we didn't have the necessary degree of rest.

Looking over our party, Poyopoyo and Shannon were clearly sensing something.

"They're holding a set distance, and pursuing in a range where they're sure we would not be able to detect them. I am troubled over what to do over it, but I can't imagine it to be a coincidence."

While thinking of how capable Poyopoyo was, I found that Shannon was capable as well.

"I'm of the same opinion as that scrap, and it seems they're overly concentrated on our party. Even when they get into battle, they move on without collecting any materials."

Miranda and Aria were lying down asleep.

For Aria, who went up front to scout out the area, her physical expenditure was the most severe. Clara and Novem were on watch around the entranceway, but originally, I wanted to have them rest.

However, with our low numbers, that wasn't going to happen.

Shannon spoke.

"Before we departed, they were at the mansion as well."

Hearing that, I grasped both of her shoulders.

"Why didn't you say anything about that!?"

And...

"Eh? I mean, Novem and Onee-sama both noticed it as well, so I assumed..."

Poyopoyo let out a condescending laugh.

"Oh, so you didn't notice it."

I couldn't say anything back to that, but having finally received the information, I thought.

(They're keeping a fixed distance? What does this mean... are they thinking of attacking us? Will they aim for when our baggage is fully loaded? I don't think they have one among them capable of moving Porter, though.)

From the Jewel, I heard the Third's voice.

[So you guys've been targeted... how troublesome.]

The Fifth spoke hypothetically.

[Lyle, if the situation becomes too dangerous, abandon the task. I'll permit Skill use as well. Or do you want to be able to use Skills from now?]

To indicate refusal, I tapped the blue Jewel with the tip of my finger.

The Seventh spoke.

[This is why I hate adventurers. Lyle, I think you get it already, but getting pincered is dangerous.]

If we were to be surrounded in these narrow passages, and the front lines were in the middle of battle, it would be calamitous.

(I can deploy Porter as a shield out back, so should I start doing that? If they're targeting us, then...)

I looked around. Aria and Miranda were asleep, while Novem and Clara were keeping watch.

Finally, I turned to Poyopoyo and Shannon.

"What is it, damn chicken? I'd appreciate it if you didn't get it up in a place like this, dammit..."

A rustling sound reverberated as Poyopoyo tried to start taking off her clothes, so I hit her head, and started pondering whether to use Shannon's power.

(It's not my Skill, so it should be alright.)

The requirements to clearing the challenge were that I wouldn't be using Skills.

"Shannon, can you tell their numbers?"

But she shook her head.

"Nope, no idea. They're keeping themselves quite a ways away, and I'm not even all too interested. And wait, moving around in the labyrinth sure is tiring. I was lying atop Porter's load cart, so I'd like it if you made it move more quietly... ow? Ow!? Ow!!"

I grabbed the top of her head in an iron claw, and spoke once more.

"How about you take a better look this time?"

"I'll do it! I'll do it, so please let go."

I released her. She seemed to be out of breath, but she spoke to me.

"It's hard to see in the labyrinth, you know. This sort of... thickness, and all sorts of information is all around making it all muddled up. Also..."

Shannon looked at one of the corners of the room.

There, a bug was fluttering around.

Perhaps it followed us to flock to the light of Porter's lantern.

The Second screamed out.

[Lyle, crush that bug!]

I instantly threw the knife I had on hand, and the slightly large moth fell to the ground.

(What?)

As the knife collided with the wall, it drew the attention of everyone in the room.

And while she hadn't been paying it any mind before, Poyopoyo approached the moth, and spoke.

"What an ominous lifeform you've found there."

Shannon's opinion differed. Even when looking at the strange moth-like bug, she remained unsurprised.

"Really? I don't think that's even a lifeform, that one."

With the bug hater saying that, there was likely no doubt about it. When I approached it, its eerie silhouette faded away.

Shannon spoke.

"It was a peculiar mass of Mana. I mean, there was a sort of slender thread coming from it, and there's likely someone controlling it from somewhere."

When I began wondering why the hell she hadn't said anything about it before, she looked at me, and puffed up her cheeks.

"Hey, you were just thinking that I was useless, weren't you?"

"Wrong. I was wondering why you didn't bring it up earlier. So let me ask anyways, why didn't you say anything about it?"

Shannon offered an excuse.

"I just noticed it now! I didn't see it on the first or second days or anything."

Poyopoyo spoke.

"I'll bet. Today is the first day it appeared."

As I became lost in thought, Clara came over to inform us of the time for shift rotation.

"What's wrong? You seem to be getting lively?"

Aria's eyes were also open. She was glaring in this direction, and her hair was a mess, and she looked sleepy. I think she seemed irritated.

"How loud... let me sleep already."

Novem remained watchful over the room's entrance, and she wasn't looking in our direction.

Miranda raised the top half of her body, and was stretching out her arms.

"It was about time for me to get up, so that's perfect, but... did something happen? If an enemy was attacking, we promised to announce a raid, and wake up whoever was asleep, right?"

I offered an apology to everyone, and started explaining the situation.

-

-

-

Rushing through the fourth day, we stopped to take a rest on the twenty first floor.

Back then, we had a discussion on whether to turn back, or proceed. However, we chose moving forward as the option to take.

I said it was fine even if we didn't reach our goal on this voyage, but Novem and Miranda asserted their desires to continue on.

Surprisingly, Aria sided with turning around, of all things.

That one surprised even me.

As a temporary member, Clara didn't give an opinion. However, she did give a warning that we should be careful if we chose to turn back.

On the twenty first floor, I issued my orders.

"Aria, Miranda, fall back! I'll take up the front. Novem, prepare your magic!"

Letting loose an arrow, I made an orc drop its shield from the resultant explosion, before drawing my sabre, and rushing out towards it.

Goblins ran at us along the passage through the orc's sides.

They ignored me, and tried to launch attacks on the members in the rear.

"You guys are underestimating us way too much."

By the time I reached to orc to cut at it, the goblins had already been cleaned up by Aria and Miranda-san.

Miranda-san took down three, and Aria finished off the other two.

I slashed at the orc, and severed its arm, before landing lightly. Without cutting at it again, I retreated behind it.

When I turned back to look at it, the orc burst into flames.

It was Novem's magic.

"No matter how many times I see it, I can't help but be impressed by her output."

As I muttered that, the Second spoke.

[Don't drop your guard. Concentrate on your surroundings. You've been delayed here by monsters... perhaps the distance between you and your pursuers has shrunken a bit.]

I looked past the blazing Orc.

There were no signs that another adventurer party was close by.

I sheathed my blade, and as there was a distance to my comrades, I answered in whisper.

"Is it possible that they won't give chase if we split up?"

The Third spoke.

[You sure are na?ve, Lyle. Think about the sorts of Skills you have in your possession. Within this world, there are loads of people with Skills even more troublesome than ours, you know.]

Meaning they think it's likely the other party has a Skill proficient in pursuit.

Fights between adventurers aren't something simply decided by a difference in strength.

When Skills come into play, it's as different as night and day. I tread over the orc, and looked at Porter, as it climbed over the obstacles in its way.

Even within the labyrinth, because of its legs, it could proceed forward without a problem.

"How reliable."

And Novem approached.

"Are you alright, Lyle-sama?"

I nodded.

"Yeah, no problem. Even so, you firepower sure has gone up. I guess I'll never beat you when it comes to magic."

As I said that, she lightly brought her clenched fist to her mouth, and smiled.

"Then I guess there was some worth in exerting myself."

Using magic to birth forth water, Clara began collecting materials and magic stones from the orc's carcass.

I'm beginning to worry for myself, having become completely used to the sight of a small girl dismantling an orc's body.

Novem asked me.

"Are you still curous about the people on our trail?"

"They're a troublesome lot. This is the twenty first floor, you hear? If they can even make it out here, then they've got more than enough merit as adventurers to put food on the table."

Adventurers that earned by targeting other adventurers definitely existed.

Especially in the labyrinths, where they didn't have to trouble themselves over disposing of the bodies.

As time passed, the walls would just absorb them.

The reason that trash and death aren't littered around the place is because a mechanism like that's in place.

Among the researchers, the major opinion is that by eating corpses and the like, the labyrinth grows, and becomes deeper.

"... Should we turn back?"

I shook my head.

"We'll get back on track immediately. We've already decided that, so we've got to go through with it. If it gets dangerous, we will turn around, though."

As Shannon took Miranda's side, it was decided we were pressing forward.

I wonder what she's thinking...

I won't say Poyopoyo's opinion was the same as Clara's.

She said she would just obey whatever was decided.

Is that because she's an automaton? I'd like it if she behaved so modest on a regular basis.

-

-

-

After exceeding floor twenty one, we could only move on bit by bit.

While taking a break, I worked with Clara to draw the map to return.

By the light of Porter, we looked over the memos she had made as e expanded them on paper.

Today, Miranda-san was on watch.

Aria was asleep, and Novem was also lying down.

Shannon was dozing off close to Miranda.

"... The twenty sixth floor is something like this, I guess."

Looking at the completed map, I nodded. The Labyrinth is constantly changing. The frequency of change differs by the labyrinth, but in Arumsaas' one, these sorts of notes weren't a waste.

Even if there may be minor changes, it was generally the same when it came time to return.

"So tommorow's the twenty seventh."

"I feel we'll be able to make it to the thirtieth by the seventh day. Even so, Porter sure is amazing. It's specified to Arumsaas' labyrinth, but if you remodel, it'll be usable elsewhere as well."

I looked at Porter as I spoke.

"The Speed's a problem. If I wanted to use it outside, it would be more efficient to take a carriage. However, when it's inside the labyrinth, it's definitely convenient."

Clara nodded, as she carefully folded the drawn out map, and packed it away in the luggage.

We'll be abiding it when we plan on going back.

Depending on the situation, it may even become a lifeline.

I spoke to Clara.

"Hey, why not join our party like this? Not as a temporary member, but as an official comrade?"

I had been thinking of inviting her for a while.

The one who advised it most strongly was the Third.

[So you're finally inviting her over, chicken dickhead Lyle!]

(He's learning Poyopoyo's words...)

The Third had told me to do it earlier, but the timing never meshed, and I didn't get an opportunity to talk with her like this.

I'd already brought it up with Novem and the others, so it wasn't my own arbitrary verdict.

But Clara covered her eyes.

"I'm thankful for the offer. But I doubt it will work out."

"Why not?"

As I sat unable to understand her reason for refusal, Clara began talking about herself.

"In the past, I used to attend the academy."

"Come to think of it... I get the feeling I've heard something like..."

I heard a voice from the Jewel.

It was the Third.

[Lyle... won't you pipe down for a while?]

His voice was a little low, so he was likely serious. I closed my mouth.

"I think I'm the type that's good at studying. I mean, I like books and all, and I think I have a greater abundance of knowledge than the average person."

I nodded. Because of that, we've been helped numerous times.

But...

"My Skill... its third stage, [Walking Library] was exactly what I was. And so, I thought it was time to stop."

I tilted my head.

Perhaps understanding I didn't get it, Clara politely started to explain.

"A walking library. Even if I'm ever to forget the knowledge of the books I've read, the Skill alone will record it for me. And if I pose a question to it, it will give an answer based on the knowledge I've gathered up to now."

"No, isn't that incredible!?"

But Clara shook her head.

"I can't take out any information from it on my own. If someone else asks me, it will give an answer... what's more, if the books I've read were to be biased..."

The Third spoke.

[I see. There's no saying the answer will ever be correct. As an adventurer... it's a bit questionable, but she's still capable, I'm sure.]

I shared his sentiment.

"But that's still an amazing Skill, isn't it?"

She took off her glasses, and started wiping them on a cloth.

"... There are people with much better Skills at the library. To never forget a book you've once read. To put together all the information on hand, and use it to arrive at a conclusion. If you look at those people, I'm but a degraded version."

"No, that's a little much..."

Clara shook her head again.

"It's fine. I was always good at absorbing knowledge, but I was terrible at putting it to use. I sure am awkward, aren't I? And so, I'm just doing whatever I'm capable of to earn money. There are people who can carry out their work just because they're diligent at it, you know?"

As she directed a smile at me, I saw a little sadness in her.

The Third spoke to me.

[Why are you so quiet!? Start inviting her over with passion! If it were the [mr. lyle] of your Growths, he would have definitely used this scene to get her to fall for you!]

The Sixth spoke.

[This is where you should firmly stand your ground.]

It would be troublesome if I gave up.

As I thought that, Novem swayed as she rose, and started approaching Clara. I was unable to see her expression with the dim light of the lantern, and it was just a little scary.

She clenched Clara's hand.

Novem was smiling.

"Wonderful, Clara-san."

"Eh? Um..."

Clara was also perplexed.

She looked to me with eyes pleading for help, so I smiled, and shook my head.

Stopping Novem when her eyes were sparkling like that was something I wasn't capable of.

"Up to now, I've misread you. The fact that you can use your Skill to its final level at your age, on top of your achievements... while they may be plain, it's wonderful all the same. It's perfectly fine if you took a little more pride in it."

"W-well thanks for that... could you let go of my hand now..."

"And so!"

"Y-yes!?"

Novem called out to her in a loud voice.

"I'd definitely like to add you to Lyle-sama's harem member list. From the look of things, he has taken a liking to you. I'm sure there won't be a problem."

The Third voiced agreement.

[There's a large problem in the individual herself's opinion being ignored, but if she's being included in, then all's well with the world. At this point, there won't be a problem if you get another girl or two, right, Lyle?]

Clara sent me a troubled glance, but I was just as troubled.

(What? She's not even trying to mask that she's adding people to my harem for her own desires anymore, this girl? Ain't happening...)

I spoke to Novem.

"Novem, that sort of coercion is no good, and to me, you are..."

"Lyle-sama!"

Novem looked at me. Her eyes were full of power, and chills ran down my spine.

"Y-yes!?"

"When she's putting out so many signs for you, there's a limit to being dense. There's no way that Clara-san hates, you, Lyle-sama. No, more so..."

"No... please don't say any more..."

Seeing Clara cling onto Novem with teary eyes, some complex feelings began to surface within me.

(Eeeeeh? The girl who refuses to understand my own feelings is going to say that? But she's cute, so I'll forgive it... No, wrong!)

"No, you see, Novem. I don't think this sort of thing is acceptable. I can't manage something like a harem. See, I'm still just a skilled novice at adventuring."

While I said that, Novem begain shaking her head.

"No. Lyle-sama, you will eventually attain greatness. To prepare for that time, this girl's power will definitely be essential. Also, after going this far together..."

After saying that much, Clara put on her glasses, and frantically tried to shut Novem up.

"Wait... wrong... you're not wrong, but wait anyways."

And with a smile, Novem spoke.

"Now then, about becoming our comrade..."

"I get it. So please, anymore is..."

To the clinging Clara, Novem directed a smile full of delight.

"You've done it, Lyle-sama. With this, Clara-san has become our comrade."

As I was spacing out, Poyopoyo began clapping.

"Congratulations, you damn chicken. I never thought you would do something as underhanded as using other women to make the one in your heart your own... I, Poyopoyo am always prepared to turn to evil for your sake."

I yelled out.

"Ain't happening! You were watching that exchange, right!? Scrap metal, you're doing this on purpose, right!?"

Next to a sleepy Shannon, there was a clapping Miranda-san.

"You've succeeded in building up quite a nice atmosphere within the labyrinth... as expected of Lyle."

"Hey... I'm sleepy... please don't wake me up for such trivial matters."

I looked towards Aria.

She was clapping with an expressionless face.

"Yes, as expected of Lyle. Making your targeted women your own one after another... you're the worst."

After saying that, she pulled the covers over herself, and went to sleep.

"Oy! You're wrong! This is that! You know, that!"

Ignoring me as I tried to give an excuse, everyone returned to their past positions.

Clara sat down on the spot, and hid her reddened face with both hands.

The Fourth spoke.

[Lyle-kun, you're the worst.]

The Second...

[It's that. I think you should just give up already.]

The Sixth spoke.

[Ye~ah, that conversation was one thing but... how about nabbing Miranda with this momentum. Tack Shannon onto that while you're at it.]

The Seventh...

[Good for you. And wait, that's all I can say at this point.]

The Fifth spoke.

[It may have been nice for Lyle and the third, but make sure to follow up with Aria afterwards.]

The Third was in high spirits.

[A walking library is amazing. If I had met her before I met my wife, I'd definitely have called out! Lyle, make sure you treasure her.]

I thought.

(No, I did call out to her... but I definitely did not ask for this!)

Along with a flushed Clara, I spent an awkward time in silence.