Still not the strongest.
Wanted to convey how it felt for someone that did not get their strength so easily given to them.
* * *
This was a large labyrinth that consisted of 100 levels. As one of the 8 Great Dungeons, the lower you go, the stronger the monsters become. Still, this dungeon was a very popular place for mercenaries and adventurers. This place was also a great training ground for recruits. This is because it was easy to measure the strength of the monsters by the dungeon level. The monsters also have better quality magic stone than the monsters in the wilderness.
The magic stone is the core of a monster and it is this that provides them with powers. The bigger and better quality the stone, the stronger the monster is. These stones are what is used as raw materials to make magic formulas. The magic formation can be drawn to cast the spell, but they can also be drawn with the powder made from the magic stone. Using non-magic stone materials to make the magic circle diminishes the power by 1/3.
In brief, it was better to use the magic stone to power spells because it was more effective. In addition, a magic stone is used to make magic tools that is used in everyday life. There is a very high demand for these magic stones. Both the military and civilians needed it.
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By the way, strong monsters with high quality magic stone can use special magic. Special Magic does not use magical chants or circles to perform that magic. The monsters cannot use a large variety of magic, but they do not require the incantation or circle. This special magic is the reason why monsters are dangerous.
The students and knights led by Meld arrived at the town, Horlad, that adventurers stayed at before they headed into the Dungeon. They used at an inn that was managed by the Kingdom, where recruits in training stayed at. Hajime, who had not seen a normal room in a long time, dived into the bed. All the rooms were designed for two people but only Hajime got a room to himself. He could be carefree here. He wasn’t lonely by himself.
Tomorrow was the day they would challenge the dungeon. This time, they would only challenge the first 10 levels. If it is only that, even someone as weak as Hajime should be fine in behind cover. Still Hajime wanted to apologize for being a burden. Rather, he was glad to be out of the city… Hajime could not read the atmosphere.
For a while, Hajime read the monster reference book he got from the library. It was still early but he decided to sleep earlier. Hajime had already perfected his sleeping skill in his school life. When he was about to doze off, he heard someone knock on his door. Even if it was still early for Hajime who was used to all nighters in Japan, it was about midnight for Tortus. Wha, was it Hiyama? Hajime was a little worried. However, when he heard the voice, he relaxed.
“Nagumo-kun, are you still awake? It’s me, Shirasaki. Can I bother you for a moment?”
What? For a moment he froze, but after he hurried to the door. He removed the lock and opened the door. Kaori was standing there with a snow-white negligee on.
When presented with such a scene, Hajime unexpectedly switched to a Kansai dialect and performed a Tsukkomi. Kaori was speechless because she didn’t hear it well. Quickly he gathered himself, he tried not to stare too much at Kaori. Although he didn’t have too much interest, he was still an adolescent boy. The current appearance of Kaori was slightly too stimulating.
“Iya, it’s nothing. Eh, what’s the matter? Did you have something to tell me?”
“No, I just wanted to talk to you. I wonder if I’m bothering you?”
Most likely, he thought it was about the trip tomorrow, but Kaori quickly shot down his thoughts. The upturned eyes was so explosive. It’s super effective! She noticed the open door and invitation.
Without any caution, she entered the room happily. She sat at the table near the window. Hajime unconsciously prepares the tea while still being slightly confused. Even though it was really just something like a tea bag that imitated black tea. He prepared enough for both, and handed her own. Hajime took the set across from her.
Kaori took the offered fake tea and tasted it with joy. The moonlight that shone through the window illuminates her. It seemed like there was a halo around her glossy black hair, she looked like an angel. Without any lust, Hajime was fascinated with Kaori’s purity. He recovered himself when he heard Kaori place down her cup. Hajime drank his tea to calm his mind. He choked a little as he drank too fast. How embarrassing.
Kaori giggled at his state. Hajime quickly struck a conversation to quickly hide his embarrassment.
“So, what did you want to talk about? Is it about tomorrow?”
To Hajime’s question, Kaori nodded her head. Unlike her smiling face from just a moment ago, she started to brood.
“It’s about the trip into the dungeon tomorrow. I want Nagumo-kun to stay here. I will persuade and explain to the instructors and everyone. So, please!”
She leaned over as she pleaded with Hajime. Hajime was perplexed. Even if Hajime was a burden, wasn’t this a little too much?
“Eto, I know I’m a burden…but since I’m already here I don’t think I’ll be able to just stay put.”
“You’re wrong. I don’t mean you’re a burden.”
Kaori tried to clear up the misunderstanding. Maybe I was too hasty, she thought. She put her hand on her chest and took a deep breath. It calmed her down a little. She quickly and quietly apologized.
“I just had a very bad feeling. When I was sleeping earlier, I was dreaming and you were there. When I called out to you, you did not even notice. When I chased you, I never caught up. At the end…”
She seemed afraid to speak the rest. Wanting to hear the rest, Hajime urged her to continue.
“At the end?”
With a jerk, Kaori lifted her head. Hajime saw her teary expression, and her biting her lips.
They sat in silence for a while. Hajime looks at Kaori, who was still hanging her head. It really was an ominous dream, but it was just a dream. With just that, they wouldn’t permit him to stay. If such a thing was allowed, there would be trouble from the classmates. If such a thing happened, he really would not be welcomed anymore. He had no choice but to go. To reassure Kaori, Hajime started to speak as gently as possible.
“A dream is just a dream, Shirasaki-san. This time we have Meld and his veteran knights to accompany us. A lot of strong people like Kouki are coming with us. Rather, our whole class is amazing. I actually feel sorry for our enemies. I am weak and because I have shown such weakness is probably the reason for your dreams.”
Kaori just stared at Hajime with an anxious expression, while he spoke.
“Still…Still…I’m still worried.”
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Hajime was somewhat shy, but he stared straight into Kaori’s eyes.
“Will you protect me?”
He was aware of what he was saying, and as a man saying this to her it ashamed him. His face was already red with shame. In the room that was illuminated by the moonlight. Kaori understood the situation well.
“You are a healer, right Shirasaki-san? Healer was a class that had an innate talent for healing magic. No matter what, even if I get injured, you can cure me. Will you protect me with this power? If so, I believe I’ll be fine.”
Kaori just stared at him for a bit. Hajime just endured desperately the shame that he felt, and he kept his eyes from breaking contact with Kaori’s. Even though his body was writhing.
The biggest cause of a person’s insecurity is the unknown. Kaori right now, was worrying about what could possibly attack Hajime. So, it would be soothing, if they had the confidence to face the unknown that would attack him.
For a while, they stared at each other. The silence was broken when Kaori started to smile.
“You never change, Nagumo-kun.”
Hajime made a doubtful expression as Kaori said that. Kaori laughed at his expression.
“Nagumo-kun, you probably think we first met in high school. I knew you since the second year of middle school.”
This revelation caused Hajime to widen his eyes in shock. He quickly searched through his memories, but he couldn’t recall the meeting. Hajime groaned as he thought, and this caused Kaori to giggle at him.
“It was a one-sided meeting. The first time I saw you, you were in Dogeza (Prostration). Since you were in such a position, you did not see me.”
Why did she see him in such an uncool time? His body writhed again, but for a different reason this time. Where and when did she see him in such a position? He frantically searched his memories. Kaori giggled as she saw Hajime make so many comedic faces.
“Yeah, you were surrounded by shady people. Even when they spit at you, poured their drinks on you, or stepped on you, you did not stop. Before long, the left appalled.”
“I showed such an unsightly sight…”
Hajime felt like dying a little. It would have been the same as if she saw him when he was still suffering from his Chunibyo. And it would have to be the worst scene in his dark past. Only a humorless smile came out. The same humorless smile that came out when he found out that his mom had found his hidden Ero doujinshi stash and placed them neatly on his bookshelf.
However, Kaori just gave him a gentle look. One that was free from contempt and ridicule.
“No, it wasn’t unsightly. Rather, when I saw you like that, I thought you were a very strong and kind person.”
Hajime couldn’t believe what he heard. That’s not the kind of impression someone would have, if they saw that. Perhaps, Shirasaki-san had a special fetish for that? Hajime thought it was very rude to imagine such a thing.
“I mean, Nagumo-kun. You did it for the sake of a grandmother and her grandson.”
When she said that, Hajime finally remembered something. There was such an incident during his middle school years.
It started when the little boy accidently hit delinquents, and smashed his Takoyaki onto them. The little boy started to cry, the delinquents started to niggle the grandmother. The grandmother cowered in fear, they were in a very difficult situation.
By chance Hajime was just passing through. When the grandmother started to take out her wallet, his body moved on its own. He had never fought in his life before. He had only practice his Chunibyo Special Moves at home. It couldn’t be helped against such opponents, so he performed Dogeza. In public he did it. It was unexpectedly embarrassing for everyone there. He felt like running away. It went as planned and soon the delinquents left.
“Strong people would have solved it easily with violence. Kouki would defeat the person that was causing the trouble. But I don’t think there are many people who would help others even when they were not strong. Especially someone that would prostate themselves for the sake of others. In fact, at that time, I was afraid. I just used the excuse that if I was strong like Shizuku, but I just stood there and did nothing. Just asking someone to save them.”
“So, I believe you are the strongest person I know. When I saw you in high school, I was so happy to see you. I wanted to become like you, and get to know you. But you just fell asleep…”
Hajime was shy and embarrassed when he knew the reason Kaori interacted with him so much. He just laughed wryly at the unexpected high opinion she held for him.
“Therefore, even if I am a little uneasy. I’ll make sure you don’t do anything crazy in the dungeon. Like when you faced the delinquents.”
Kaori looked at Hajime with determination.
“I’ll protect you, Nagumo-kun.”
Hajime accepted her determination. He looked straight at her, and nodded.
Immediately after, Hajime wryly laughed. The role of the man and woman was totally reversed. Without doubt, Kaori was playing the hero. While Hajime was playing the damsel in distress. He couldn’t help but laugh at the weird situation.
They chatted for a few moments, then Kaori returned to her room. While Hajime was laying on the bed, he thought over things. He wanted to find something he could be useful for. Hajime wanted to rid himself of his incompetence. It did not sit so well with him, that he was so dependent on others. Hajime fell asleep with renewed determination in mind.
* * *
Nobody noticed the person that was staring as Kaori left Hajime’s room. The person just had an ugly distorted expression on their face.
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