Spreading out below them was a vast maze.
It was vast maze inside a great labyrinth. That was the scene they were now looking at from the exit of the passage.
The walls overhead formed a vault. The maze could easily be confused with an athletic park if not for its sheer size. Based only on what they could see, the maze was at least 1 kilometer deep. They couldn’t see anything farther because of the snowfall, but since the width of the maze seemed to be at least 10 kilometers, it could be guessed that the depth wouldn’t be any less.
From the exit of the passage where they were currently standing, there were stairs leading down to the maze. At the end of the stairs stood an arch-shaped entrance to the maze. It seemed that after entering the maze, getting to the exit would be the second trial of the great labyrinth.
“What, do we have to pass through such an insanely huge maze? How annoying!”
“Ryuutaro, it can’t be helped. This is part of the trials.”
Ryuutaro hated trivialness. While looking at the maze below, his expression distorted into one of complete irritation. Kouki, while forcing a smile, was trying to calm him down, only to receive a dissatisfied look in return.
Then at that time, Ryuutaro suddenly grinned. It seemed he had thought of something.
“Oi. I just thought of something good. Now that we’re in an open space, let’s just fly over it!”
Without a word, but a with a face which seemed to say “I’ve got it!”, Ryuutaro used “Aerodynamic” and jumped into the air.
“Ba, Baka! Come back!”
Shizuku and Suzu impatiently tried to restrain Ryuutaro whose imprudence knew no bounds.
Kouki also promptly reached out to stop him but it was already too late.
It looked like Ryuutaro got a little excited at the seemingly easy way out of the trial. The muscle-headed Ryuutaro who always rushed in seemed even more careless than usual this time. Being always positive and active could be considered one of Ryuutaro’s strong points, but since he often went too far, it was more of weak point in the end. And this kind of weakness is fatal in a great labyrinth.
Hajime crossed his arms as he stared observingly at Ryuutaro’s recklessness, who finally reached the overhead boundary line of the great labyrinth.
At that moment,
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A sound that seemed to bend the air itself resounded, the air surrounding Ryuutaro virtually shook. Immediately after, Ryuutaro’s shape disappeared.
“Ah mou! This fool!”
“Fuue!? What do we do! Nagumo-kun, Ryuutaro-kun has disappeared!”
Kouki and his party frantically asked. With a face on the verge of tears, Suzu desperately asked for Hajime’s help.
As for Hajime, he was concentrating on the information provided by his demon eye stone and didn’t look like he was paying any attention to Suzu’s plea for help. She had been completely ignored.
The moment the air bent, Hajime’s demon eye stone sensed the action of a magical power. At the same time, Hajime picked up a magical response from the corner of his field of vision and had shifted his gaze toward its direction. At the end of his line of sight, before they knew it, a hexagonal prism of ice was hanging from the ceiling. At that very location, a similar phenomenon of air distortion had occurred during which the ice prism sprouted from the ceiling, revealing the figure of Ryuutaro inside the prism.
“He’s right there.”
They all reacted to Hajime’s answer and followed his gaze. Then they became speechless. That was because they saw their childhood friend, who had disappeared, in the ice prism, looking like a specimen would in an exhibition.
On the other hand, despite being inside the block of ice, Ryuutaro’s expression had turned frantic, as though he had still retained his consciousness.
However, thinking things had suddenly taken a turn for the worse would be an overstatement. Indeed, Ryuutaro was not inside stone, but ice. It looked like he had activated “Vajra” and was trying his best to free himself. However, he seemed unable to move, and he was in pain with every breath he took.
Moreover, as if to make sure the trespasser was properly dealt with, countless icicles with sharp edges had grown from the surrounding ceiling.
“This, This is bad…”
“This pattern, it’s unmistakably…”
“Awawa, I have to deploy a barrier right now.”
Naturally, they were instantly able to guess who the icicles which had appeared were pointing at, and their faces turned pale.
A panicked Suzu was trying to deploy a barrier to protect him, but since the ceiling was 500 meters above their heads, it was hard to deploy it at the right coordinates immediately. This is why deploying a barrier on her current position and launching it towards Ryuutaro might be the best way to go about it. However, would it make it in time?
“U~n, even with a barrier it seems he would die from suffocation sooner or later… Why would there be a need for drilling icicles to begin with?”
“Can’t you lend a hand without analyzing things so calmly!?”
Shizuku retorted with a face on the verge of tears while Hajime simply tilted his neck in response.
Hajime was thinking that the icicles were some kind of guarantee in case Ryuutaro somehow managed to escape, and that they wouldn’t attack immediately if left alone. He planned to share his conjecture with the others, but it seemed Shizuku and the others were feeling really uneasy about their comrade’s predicament.
Hajime shrugged his shoulders in response to Shizuku and turned his gaze toward Yue and Kaori. They both gave a small nod, showing they had understood Hajime’s intentions. Rather, taking into account the speed with which the spell was cast, it looked like Yue had guessed Hajime’s request before he could even shift his gaze to her.
“Mou, it can’t be helped, because Ryuutaro-kun’s bad habit never changes no matter how much time passes…”
The space before Kaori’s eyes opened and a transfer gate appeared. The opposite gate’s light shone from the side of the ice prism which entrapped Ryuutaro.
With a wry smile, Kaori deployed her silver wings and fired a large number of silver feathers through the gate.
After crossing the gate and fluttering around Ryuutaro’s surroundings, the silver feathers clung to the ice prism and started decomposing it effortlessly.
Seeing the prey escaping, as if making a judgment of their own, the countless icicles which had sprouted from the surrounding ceiling finally started shooting towards Ryuutaro.
Nevertheless, the prism which was covered with feathers like a cocoon was in itself a protective wall due to the decomposition effect of the feathers. Consequently, the group of icicles which was fired from the ceiling like the projectiles of a Gatling gun turned into mist as it met the silver feathers, leaving not even the trace of a single ice shard, and was carried away with the wind.
“Kaori, while you’re at it, you carry out his punishment. Decompose this fool’s groin.”
While Kouki and the others were breathing a sigh of relief after seeing Ryuutaro saved by the silver feathers of a Kaori whose body was suited for both offense and defense, Hajime spat out these merciless words. Kouki’s mouth was flapping open and closed with a face saying “what a scary punishment!”
“Gr, Groin… There’s no way I can do such a thing! Ha, Hajime-kun, no ecchi!”
To a Kaori who had been thrown into panic due to her misinterpretation of Hajime’s words, Yue added more fuel to the fire with a cold look.
“… What exactly is ecchi in decomposing a fool’s groin? Kaori, you react too much to the word ‘Groin’, you pervert.”)
“N, No! Yue! To do that I have to touch his groin with my silver feathers right? Isn’t that the same thing as indirectly telling me to touch Ryuutaro-kun’s groin! That’s ecchi!”
“No matter what you say, that doesn’t change the fact that you overreacted to the word ‘Groin’ and your face turned red. You pervert.”
“Yue just wants to make me look like a pervert right!? I, I am not someone who has any interest in things like groins!”
“Ho… Does that statement also apply to Hajime’s groin?”
“!? Th, That’s, how to say it…, I just, I just a little, Umm…”
“… Nn. As I thought, you pervert. You groin master.”
“How mean! No matter how you look at it that title is just too cruel! Hajime-kun, I truly don’t have any excessive interest in groins! I swear!”
“Aa~ Nn. I got it. It’s my fault for starting this conversation to begin with. Now, you two, stop repeatedly talking about groins. Look, Amanogawa doesn’t look like he can take it any longer. Taniguchi looks about to breathe fire. Yaegashi looks like a mother seeing off her grown-up daughter.”
Being told so by an amazed Hajime, Kaori turned towards Kouki and the others. Indeed, they seemed to be exactly in the state Hajime described.
Kouki, with a face saying “Where did that pure and innocent Kaori I know go?”, had turned his head away to escape from reality and his gaze was wandering in circles. Suzu, while making a red face, was muttering “Adult, Adult …”.
And then Shizuku, while looking a little lonely somewhere inside, was looking at Kaori with an affectionate face, like the face of a mother rejoicing at the growth of her daughter.
Kaori shivered. At this rate, she was going to be thought of as a pervert excessively interested in groins by her childhood friends.
She panicked and took a step forward to explain herself. At that moment,
“Kyaaaaaaaaaaa!! It hurrrrrts!!”
A shriek came from above. It was Ryuutaro’s voice. Startled, they all looked above. There was no longer the sweeping fire of icicles. Instead, all they caught sight of was the shining silver cocoon. Then they could guess why Ryuutaro was screaming. Ryuutaro vigorously gave Kaori a look implying “Idiot”.
“Ehh? Ah! Ryu, Ryutaro-kun, I’m sorry!!”
Kaori hurriedly undid the cocoon of silver feathers.
Inside, Ryuurato’s worn-out face appeared, his eyes rolling back in his head.
The prism had been decomposed a while ago. Kaori who was busy trying to come up with a justification had completely forgotten to cancel the spell. As a result, Ryuutaro who was inside had started decomposing as well.
Ryuutaro, devoid of any power, started free falling to the ground. Suzu created a light web to receive him and then brought him to their current location.
No one wanted to look at Ryuutaro whose clothes had been tattered. When Ryuutaro’s nude muscular half was exposed, everyone averted their eyes in a different direction.
Hajime sent a gaze to Kouki and the others who had averted their eyes implying “Amenogawa, you guys are supposed to be close friends right……” but Kouki kept his gaze away from Ryuutaro and started surveying the surroundings unnaturally as if looking out for any sign of danger.
Ryuutaro’s nether region seemed safe, but its surrounding clothes were gone. Close friends or not, it couldn’t be helped that they had all averted their eyes.
His eyes were rolled back in his head and he was in a tattered state. This day would be known as the day the 17-year-old’s groin was exposed publicly. This day would undoubtedly remain a part of Ryuutaro’s dark past forever.
With all her strength, Kaori closed her eyes while keeping her gaze away, using reproduction magic to lend the forsaken Ryuutaro a hand.
“…… Kaori, you’re a cruel person. Ripping his clothes at that place.”
“That was the result of your being mean and distracting me earlier!”
“…… Nn. Shifting the responsibility to someone else is bad. Now take responsibility and heal him without looking away.”
“No, No way! There’s nothing to see! I don’t want to see anything besides Hajime’s!”
“As a master healer, you can’t do things that way. Now, look properly. And burn it into your memory, the groin of another person than Hajime, that is.”
“Nooo! Stop it! Stop pushing me! Don’t force me into a sexual relationship I don’t want!”
While Kaori was forcefully helping Ryuutaro, Yue used just the right amount of wind magic to try to open Kaori’s eyes. Pinpointing the exact location of her eyes, in addition to possessing a good amount of power, and on top of that, being harmless to Kaori. This was truly a feat only possible for Yue who deserved nothing less than the title of genius.
“Yue-san and Kaori-san, somehow, they seem to get along well.”
“Well, I get the feeling Yue likes teasing Kaori but… yeah they seem rather playful don’t they?”
“Isn’t this more or less a form of friendship? Always quarrelling and so on……”
(Note: For better or worse, this is where Tingle’s translation ends, and my/Southbounds begins)
Hajime smiled at the sight of the childish fight between Yue and Kaori. It was different from the relationship Yue and Shia shared. Hajime was extremely pleased that Yue exhibited such a happy mood.
When they play, rather than acting the part of an older sister as she would with Shia, she talked to Kaori more like a friend. The gap in childish behavior from Yue caused Hajime to hold back more than usual, and if asked, he would say things were fine because of Yue.
Ryuutaro’s darkest moment was turned into a punishment game for his childhood friend by none other than the woman he fell in love with at first sight…
“… It’s become enough punishment.”
“It is terrible…”
“Ryuutaro… I’m sorry, I am powerless.”
To the nearly unconscious Ryuutaro, Kouki gave a sympathetic expression… even thought he was still averting his gaze.
Five minutes later, after he had regained his consciousness and clothing, Ryuutaro gave an apology for acting rashly, which received lukewarm glances.
While Ryuutaro was trying to figure out what happened, Kouki tried to subtly deceive him with some polite fiction. However, because Hajime smirked and laughed at him, he had dark clouds hanging from his back, unlike his usual cheerful self.
Kouki desperately tried to calm Ryuutaro down while glancing back at Hajime and the rest as they started descending the staircase.
“Yue, just to be sure, is there any way we can fly over and skip this maze?”
“… Difficult, because I am not skilled enough yet, the mana consumption would be too high to continue with.”
“Oh well, figure as much. Looks like we need to take the maze head on.”
Hajime pulled out Shlagen (Tn: again, his rifle), and aimed it at the edge of ice wall. After hearing the shot, everyone looked at the wall in surprise.
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The ice wall wasn’t too thick to be broken with Schlagen or Orkan.
However, as Hajime had expected, after the red spark pierced the wall, the surrounding ice around the hole restored it in no time. The restoration speed was even faster than the monsters from before.
“… Looks like it’s impossible to just break down the wall to quickly reach the goal after all.” Hajime muttered.
While watching for any counter attacks from the maze, he took out his compass with one hand. While the others looked at him in amazement, especially after what just happened to Ryuutaro, he ignored them.
“Next, let’s see if this guy works properly in the maze…”
Although everyone tensed when Hajime walked through the archway entrance to the maze… Hajime just watched the compass in his hand without any particular worry.
Right at the entrance was a reversed T-Junction that led to the right and left. The compass needle shown slightly, pointing them to the right passage.
“Fumu, looks like it doesn’t have any problem in the maze?”
“Ah. The maze won’t be a maze, thanks to this.”
Hajime smiled wryly at Tio’s affirmation as she followed him and passed through the arch. He was thinking he wished he had it during the Raisen Great Labyrinth.
“Uu, Meredi would have been no problem with this.”
“… Nn. Maybe that’s why they entrusted it to Haltina.”
While Shia responded with a sulk and ducked through the entrance, Yue and she reached the same conclusion as Hajime, that the compass was likely left in the Sea of Trees for that very reason.
Hajime patted each of them on the shoulder lightly, offering comfort. The three of them looked at each other with bitter smiles.
With an expression of disappointment at not being able to share those memories, Kaori and Tio shared a glance. After a background glance, the group moved onward.
With a width and length of ten kilometers, how long would such a maze take to clear normally? You would have to search in the cold that made you want to cry. It’d take incredible willpower.
“There’s… quite a sense of oppression.”
“Yeah. Because everyone’s appearance reflects from the walls, like a mirror house.”
Suzu was looking uneasily at the ten meter high Shizuku who was reflected on the icy walls.
“Because they came out of the walls earlier… is that the idea?”
“Likely. It’s a huge maze where you wonder around aimlessly. If or when a monster appears might be quite deadly.”
“… Nn, but there’s no problem.”
“That’s right, because we have Hajime’s Magic Eye and its perception abilities. Also, my rabbit ears won’t miss the sound of a surprise attack either.”
Shia was especially bright and confident. It was emphasized loudly when she struck the melons on her chest with a “ton” noise. Shizuku and Suzu’s morale took a hit, however Kouki and Ryuutaro were boosted after a quick glance as proof.
Of course, Hajime was giving them a glare. After becoming aware and admitting his feelings for Shia, he reacted to such gestures towards Shia.
“*Cough* Ummm… The next turn is left, right?”
Giving a gentle look, Kaori tried to change the subject with a cough. Hajime looked at the compass awkwardly.
After seeing Hajime’s reaction, Shia covered her chest with her arms while her cheeks blushed her body wiggled.
“Really Hajime, what are you saying? You want to play with my chest again? Please pardon me that teasing smile… Well, that’s not to say it wasn’t amazing, and I’d love to do it again. But right now is no good! If you do it now, I will faint again and we won’t be able to finish the walk through-”
To Shia’s confession, everyone turned their face to Hajime with an expression that said “what on earth did you do.” mixed with shivering, shame, and envy. Hajime pretended not to notice and used his right to remain silent.
“… Hajime… What was done to Shia during her first time?… Hajime wild beast?”
“If I’m a wild beast, Yue is a beast trainer. Although I endure and counterattack.”
While listening to Yue and Hajime’s conversation and thinking “it’s THAT, isn’t it?”, it could be said their experience was piling up, and the stairs to adulthood was climbed considerably.
Everyone was behaving suspiciously, at a loss on whether they should be listening to this conversation or not, when Hajime suddenly halted.
And, slipping out Donner high speed without looking back, he shot.
The released bullet pass overhead of the blushing and panicking Suzu and crushed the arm with claws that was growing soundlessly from the wall.
Thanks to her small height, only a few hairs were lost. She lost her voice as the red flash passed by, experiencing the full power that was released from it.
“Coming, right and left wall.”
Hajim reported a warning while ignoring the strangled noises coming from Suzu. His appearance was someone already switched completely to battle mode.
From the surrounding walls, fingers with claws, bones, and sinew, an ice statue like an armored Bullet beetle appeared.
From the right and left, Frost ogres attacked. Kouki intercepted the right side while Hajime took the left.
Shizuku and Kouki’s killer attacks cut a Frost Ogre in two. Ryuutaro’s fist attack crushed one at the chest, and the two remaining are forced at bay by Suzu’s magical barrier.
This time, the demon stone that produced them infinitely did not appear in another place. A dark red crystal appeared inside the cut and the crushed chests. Kouki shot a blow at it.
The remainder were held in place by Suzu and Shizuku damaging them.
Meanwhile, Kouki and Ryuutaro delivered the finishing blows on the Frost ogres that they were dealing with. It was a one sided fight.
Forgetting caution, Kouki and Ryuutaro smiled at each other, and then they heard the shout of a lovely voice…
Kouki, who turned around with a sudden look, saw the beautiful legs of Shia in an upward kick as she knocked five Frost ogres above them.
Though they struggled desperately, the Frost ogres didn’t have the ability to fly, and crashed to the ground naturally thanks to gravity.
Shia, as she came back down, rotated elegantly and swung Doryuken with centrifugal force, hitting the frost ogre who had fallen down with perfect timing to be blown into a wall and shattered into pieces like a bomb exploding.
Shia didn’t stop rotating, repeating the action with the other ogres. It appeared more like playing than actual combat.
Each Frost ogre crashed into the wall at the same exact place, causing the wall to take considerable damage.
“Suzu will be nice to rabbits when we get home. It is not wise to anger them, we should be nice…”
“Suzu… I completely understand your feelings.”
While trembling at the sight, Suzu muttered these statements. When they return home, she didn’t want to hold the rabbits of Earth in fear.
“They’re not that strong. The surprise attack from anyone… well, it’s okay if we take note.”
Yue nodded slightly at what Hajime said, and Shizuku and her party were half smiling, because they were an enemy they wouldn’t have a problem with if they were cooperating.
Afterwards, they encountered various traps. Ice spikes came from the walls; ice walls collapsed. Demons appeared from the walls for the next twelve hours as they explored the labyrinth maze.
While it wasn’t extremely challenging, the continuous and monotonus scenery caused Kouki and the rest’s attention to wander.
“Really, though we’ve walked and walked, Nagumo, how much further?”
Shizuku asked with a voice laced in exhaustion to Hajime’s party, who seemed to be alright.
“Hmm? Because we’re in a maze, the straight line distance won’t be accurate. We seem to be about two kilometers from the entrance.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh dear… let’s take a rest a little if there is a suitable place.”
“Fufu… thank you.”
While looking at the state of Shizuku’s companions, Hajime said while shrugging his shoulders. This caused her to smile broadly and got psyched up without noticing. However, Hajime’s harem and Ryu noticed.
A while later they encountered a large double door, of which the compass indicated they needed to pass through.
“This is a spectacular door, too.”
“… Nn, Pretty.”
Looking up at the huge doors, they could see it wasn’t just made of ice. It was carved with flowers, thorns and roses, with a large round hole that took up about the fourth of the door within the design.
Hajime, for the time being, tried using the full power of his body against the door; however, as he had suspected, the large double doors did not budge at all.
“As I thought, the door won’t open until we find whatever goes into that cavity. Really, how troublesome.”
Hajime frowned, and the other members showed unpleasant expressions. It had already been more than fifteen hours since they had entered, and Kouki’s group were showing faces that were quickly growing tired.
“… Hajime. For now…”
“That’s right. For now, let’s set up to rest.”
Kouki’s group gave out a relieved expression and let out sighs at Hajime’s word. Obviously, their mental exhaustion had gathered considerably.
“You, stop going near the walls. It’s likely they’ll make a surprise attack, so come to the center if you’re going to take a rest.”
With that, Hajime stopped fifty meters away, took out a large tent from his Treasure Warehouse. While it wouldn’t stop a surprise attack, it would provide shelter.
With surprise, Kouki and party entered into the tent that had appeared suddenly before their eyes, seeing a space of about ten tatami mats inside.
“… This is a kotatsu (Tn: heated table)”
“Waa… a soft and warm carpet…”
“Neither snow nor wind enter here. Is this a magical barrier…? It’s a good temperature in this room.”
“No, it’s seriously comfortable! As expected of Nagumo.”
Shizuku said with an amazed expression leveled at Hajime. The girls were already warming themselves in the kotatsu while Suzu crawled onto the fluffy carpet on all fours.
For the moment, it was impossible to remove their shoes within the large labyrinth. However, there’s no problem keeping it clean. A fragment of crystal attached to the carpet was imbued with regeneration magic. It automatically cleaned any dirt or detritus that touched the carpet. (Tn: Only the Japanese would be concerned about their shoes dirtying a tent floor on a camping trip :P)
Exactly, a space of healing.
The group warmed themselves enthusiastically in the kotatsu with drowsy faces, except Suzu, who was already asleep lying face down. Thanks to the artifact for protection against the cold, they didn’t feel it so much, but after being surrounded by ice, everyone was happy to be in a warm space.
As such, while being surrounded by each side by Yue and Shia, Hajime took out some Cross bits.
While the group looked with popped eyes, they disappeared outside to create a ring around the tent in the passage.
“We shouldn’t be bothered with those four patrolling outside. The cross bits will give us a chance to relax.”
“… What’s that?”
“As long as you have the credentials, they should have no problems.”
“But do they know what they’re guarding?”
“The cross bits have been set to guard around the gate.”
To Shizuku’s questioning face, and Kouki’s scornful eyes, Hajime answered while inclining his head a little. Yue was at his side, placing a hand on his face.
“… Not tired?”
“This tent has a recovery function.”
Hajime smiled while Yue’s hand softly stroked his face gently while fluttering heart marks drifted between the two of them.
And, at that time, two rabbit ears touched Hajime’s neck, drawing his attention to Shia. Shia drew her cheek near Hajime’s shoulder with moistened upturned eyes that said “care for me too?”.
Hajime drew an arm around Shia’s waist and drew her close firmly. Doubling the heart marks going out. A pink space poured out, and you could almost swear the room temperature was increasing somehow.
While watching Tio and Kaori, who were slowly approaching them, Suzu muttered while on her own.
“… It seems that this space doesn’t heal a lonely heart.”
Kouki and the others agreed whole heartily.
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