“Tsk, it’s rainin’, eh?” I mutter, while watching the rain incessantly hitting the glass windshield, as I sit in the driver’s seat of my car, which I had parked at the shoulder of a road.
『So, did it go well?』
A displeased voice is audible at the other end of the hands-free phone call. Its owner is Enoki Yoshitake. For better or worse, he is my boss.
He had sent me, his underling, to go apologize to a client, who he had pissed off with his own management error, once again…There is no question that they are doubting his sincerity by this point.
In the first place, although I am conveniently put to work by various departments, my job is pretty much that of a researcher. This here was a sales job, wasn’t it?
“No. …It looks like they canceled the deal.”
『What was that!? Just how did you apologize to them!?』
It’s plain as day that things would turn out this way if you send out your underling to resolve a serious incident. Are you an idiot?
I wanna tell him that. I really wanna.
『You’re sorry? In other words, it was your mistake. You’re a really useless guy, aren’t you? Whatever. Since we lost an important deal, your pay cut is set in stone, and you can expect your bonus to be zero, too.』
Haah? In the first place, I’m completely unrelated to this mistake, aren’t I? Isn’t it your damn responsibility!?
Just when I am about to object, the connection is cut from the other side.
Somehow it’s all fucked up. Pay cut? No bonus? That makes no sense.
It’s my ability if I succeed, and your mistake if I fail, why does a guy like that work above me?
“…Ah, I suppose he’s successful in life exactly because he’s like that.”
If you just look at his profile, it’s natural, because it’s a listing of amazing career steps.
“Haa, I feel like I’m ready to die. I don’t wanna return to the company…”
The sound of the rain hitting the roof has become stronger. I start the engine and press the windshield wiper switch. At the same time, the music, which had started to play from the car radio, suddenly pauses.
『News flash. It appears that a dungeon of medium depth was finally cleared in the US.』
The station makes a ruckus due to that news announcement. Apparently it was passed on as breaking news.
“A dungeon of medium depth, eh? I’m sure they found some amazin’ items in there.”
Three years have already passed since dungeons appeared in the world. The initial chaos has settled down, and dungeon exploration has fallen to the level of fishing at slightly dangerous spots.
Defeating monsters still feels somewhat dangerous, but there isn’t much of a difference to hunting or fishing. All of them are probably life-threatening to some degree.
I wonder whether I should also try diving into a dungeon to vent some of my stress with an adventure. I drive my car out of its parking place while thinking about things like that.
Around this area――the outer garden area of the Meiji Shrine――there are many buildings related to the Olympics. Even now, they are about to start on erecting several big buildings.
The rain has increased in strength somewhat, and the sound of the raindrops hitting the car’s roof is clearly audible within the car.
『It really feels like, “finally, it’s been three years already since the dungeons appeared”, doesn’t it? Today we’re welcoming the dungeon researcher, Yoshida Akio. Mr. Yoshida, thank you for coming on.』
Yoshida Akio, eh?
It’s a name I hear often these days, but the part about him being a researcher stinks. He hasn’t clearly stated his D-Rank either. Is he even an active dungeon challenger?
『I’m looking forward to working with you.』
『I believe it was located in area 36. A dungeon commonly called Evans Dungeon, which had been discovered in the summit lake, located on Mount Evans in Denver Colorado. It apparently had 31 floors. What’s your take on this, Mr. Yoshida?』
『Since the number of shallow dungeons with 20 floors or less that have been traversed is limited, you might call this a brilliant achievement.』
『I see. By the way, what’s a dungeon with a medium depth actually like?』
『Well, the number of dungeons that have been discovered so far amount to approximately 80 across the whole world, but for convenience purposes, they have been categorized into three degrees of depth: shallow, medium and deep.1』
『I heard that there’s also a great depth, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.』
『In fact, the term “great depth” as used by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism wasn’t suited as categorization for a dungeon since it’s a concept that has been related to underground construction until now. For that reason, a new concept was invented so as to not cause any misunderstandings.』
『Oh, I understand.』
『The categorizations are defined by the number of floors. A shallow dungeon has less than 20 floors, a medium dungeon has less than 80 floors, and a dungeon with more than 80 floors is called deep.』
Yet, there are also rumors that small arms have been proven to be useless, after many nation’s sent armies diving into their respective dungeons.
『Then the Evans Dungeon isn’t all that deep, even if it might be categorized as medium dungeon, right?』
『No, in the end, it’s just a categorization of convenience. Hence, it’s nothing you can say for certain. To begin with, a deep dungeon, as it has been defined, still hasn’t been confirmed.』
『What do you mean?』
『Let’s use Tokyo as an example. The JSDF’s countermeasure unit has reached the 21st floor of the Yoyogi Dungeon. Hence it has been proven that Yoyogi has a depth beyond shallow, however――』
『You’re saying we won’t know the actual number of floors unless we try going down there?』
『Correct. If there’s a 21st floor and beyond, when we actually reach that floor, we will know that it’s a medium dungeon, but there aren’t that many dungeons that have been captured up to that point in the first place, let alone 80 floors. Because no one has ever reached such a depth, it’s not certain whether those floors actually exist in the first place.』
『I see. Going by your words, it could also mean that dungeons only go down to floor 31 in reality?』
『It’s a possibility until someone reaches the 32nd floor.』
『However, it has been announced that we have five shallow dungeons, and four going beyond that depth, in Japan. How do we know this?』
『In the end, it’s no more than an assumption. By observing the special tremors referred to as dungeon quakes, which are generated when a dungeon is created, it currently allows us to estimate the underground depth ― the JDA calls it dungeon depth, and quantifies it in meters ― which becomes occupied by the dungeon.』
『That sounds amazing.』
『When the dungeons came into existence, Hi-net and GEONET had already been put in place in Japan, which was already a major earthquake region. By comparing the recordings of those systems, a rough estimation of the depth has been calculated for the already known dungeons.』
『But, as it seems that the dungeon’s interior turns into a mysterious space, we don’t actually know whether there’s a close relationship between the number of floors and the depth it occupies. There’s the perception that the number of floors might grow in proportion to the depth of the area it occupies, isn’t there?』
『That’s how it seems.』
『Accordingly, it means that by comparing the depths of the dungeons we could measure, and the number of floors of the two shallow dungeons that had been traversed within Japan, the assumed number of floors in other dungeons could be estimated just as we talked about moment’s ago.』
『You understood it correctly. By the way, I’m told that several skill orbs dropped on the lowest floor of Evans Dungeon. The details unfortunately haven’t been publicized, though.』
『Well, it’s the dream item that’s the easiest to understand among the items obtainable in dungeons.』
“Skill orbs, huh…?
When the dungeons appeared, the world was thrown into a huge uproar. After all, fantasy-world-like monsters had been wandering around within.
However, if it had been just that, it would have been no more than a slight increase in the number of dangerous places for human society, like tropical and boreal forests where carnivores lurk.
What truly shook the world were the three items that could be obtained from there ― cards, potions, and skill orbs.
The dungeon card ― commonly called D-Card, which had been discovered first, enlivened the science world due to its super technology.
Having said that, it’s not like all of that had a big impact on our personal lives.
When someone defeated a monster for the first time, a card, which recorded the name of the human who killed it and various information about him, was dropped. But as a phenomenon, it didn’t exceed the level of being simply just that.
These days, the card isn’t used for anything except checking one’s explorer skill, but back then, it merely seemed like yet another strange item.
The weird characters used for a small 14-character-long string carved on the card’s backside became just a small topic among philologists, but they were simply categorized as characters that were impossible to decipher.
When the scientists learned that the characters on the card matched with the characters written on the surfaces of flat slabs discovered in The Ring, that would change what they displayed, it once more became a hot topic across the world.
However, the potions, which were discovered next, were different.
The very first potion dropped on top of a soldier, who was on the verge of dying after having his lower body half cut off, and was merely used by chance, but it created a sensation.
It caused the lower half of his body to reconnect itself, as if sneering at modern medical science, and saved him from “death” itself, which had seemed inevitable.
With that as the only trigger, not only the government and the military, but also famous, international enterprises took the initiative and started to send people into the dungeons.
Due to the various items that were discovered in the process, dungeons were recognized as something similar to mines of unique resources.
During that time, the first skill orb was discovered. To put it simply, it was an item that seemed to have the potential to guide humanity to the next level.
The person who used it, actually became able to use magic. A fantasy world turned reality. That was a skill orb.
There was a serious controversy about whether the skills were hereditary.
People such as soldiers, who were at the forefront, had apparently registered their genetic map before going on explorations. It was for the sake of comparing their DNA before and after they use an orb.
If the first orb user had immediately made a child after using the orb, that child would be due to be born any day now, but such news hasn’t been reported.
There were also rumors that such children were being mass produced through artificial insemination in undemocratic countries.
Even if it’s at some future date, it’s very likely that it will lead to the destruction of the world’s order, if such items were to appear on the market and were to be used for crimes.
National governments, who feared that, quickly founded the World Dungeon Association (WDA) to control the dungeon-native items.
However, in the end, they weren’t able to control the skill orbs. The skill orbs, which were gathered from countries all over the world, vanished from the vault, despite having been stored there under a firm security protocol, resulting in a huge scandal.
It was suspected that the personnel had sold them through illegal channels, or misappropriated them, but blaming all of that, which intermittently occurred across the globe despite the few numbers of orbs, on the actions of humans was difficult.
And, through careful observation, it could be confirmed that a skill orb would vanish in exactly 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds after appearing in this world.
That meant it would be exceedingly complicated to distribute them anywhere but on-site. It also complicated the legal side of skill orb management.
On top of their economic value not being fixed, due to their exceeding rarity, that value suddenly dropped to zero after 24 hours. As a result, opinions differed on whether such skill orbs could be regarded as assets.
Various interpretations were attempted, but in the end, skill orbs were not counted as personal possessions, because of how hard they were to control, and using them on someone else, or giving them away, was not seen as a donation or transfer of ownership, because no one owned them in the first place.
Even if skill orbs were regarded as tangible objects for argument’s sake, all skill orbs were natural products, or in other words, ownerless property.
Assuming A obtained one, and didn’t claim its ownership, it still remained an ownerless object. Even if A handed it to B, A would only pass on ownerless property. A would be no more than a means to transfer property physically.
It meant, as long as all the middlemen didn’t claim ownership – no matter what route was used – the orb would simply be regarded as the possession of the person who used it in the end.
Of course, if there was a trade through those middlemen, a dungeon tax was levied.
As such, the world failed at managing the skill orbs, but in the end the world’s order didn’t collapse.
The number of skill orbs was far too low, and the number of unregistered orb users was even lower.
Of course it was possible that crimes using the powers of orbs simply weren’t made public, as they weren’t recognized as crimes, but such crimes existed even before the appearance of orbs, and thus it seemed as if nothing had changed because of their appearance.
Those orbs furthermore couldn’t be used by humans that didn’t possess a card. If you planned to receive the blessing of an orb, you had to first defeat a monster. As a result of that, it reached the point where tours to defeat weak monsters were frequently carried out.
No matter how low the probability to obtain a skill orb, you might as well prepare in advance, especially if you’re only going to get one chance anyway.
There were many people thinking like that. Especially in advanced countries.
At first, when the dungeons were created, all governments were thrown into chaos, and they lagged behind in terms of regulating dungeons, but within one year, laws and a management system were established, and it became somewhat possible for the governments and the WDA to manage all dungeons.
“Although it ain’t a pipe dream to get rich quickly if you discover an orb, it’s not like they fall into the lap of an ordinary person anyway, right?”
Various rumors such as item boxes being discovered, or the existence of teleportation magic, flitted about on the Internet, but information about orb users had a strong inclination towards being concealed, and the credibility of the few available pieces of information was low.
But then again, it’s not as if the information concealment is set in stone by law. If the person themself feels like making the information public, it’s their free choice. As a result, it might certainly be a way to garner attention, even if it turns out to be slightly inconvenient.
And then, even a group called Dg48 was born in the world of show business. If you offered them a skill orb as a fan, it was apparently possible to have a sham-date with one of their members for the time before the skill orb was set to vanish.
If you say that this lacks any integrity, I fully agree. They were ridiculed for the handshake coupon business having at last reached such a low, but you might as well call this a shameless way to make a living.
“I’d like them to follow the examples of others, good god. Uh-oh.”
When I get the car going, by pressing the accelerator after the traffic light changes to green, a sensation as if the tires have lifted off the street is transmitted to my waist, and the car moves as if it’s bouncing.
“W-What the hell is goin’ on!?”
My car, that had been driving across an intersection, bounces back after colliding all over the place.
The car is thrust off the road into some kind of construction site after I forcibly turn the steering wheel. Then, in the next moment, the front wheel gets caught in something and the whole car begins to spin.
A deep crack in the ground had opened up, and the tire apparently got caught in there. Now that it has come to this, I have no choice but to cut the engine and wait for it to stop.
I feel like some small shadow has appeared next to the car as it made one beautiful turn, but the car’s actions are already out of my hands. The instant I hear a loud bam from the car’s frame, I get drenched in cold sweat straight away. And then, the car finally comes to a stop, just before crashing into a huge truck packed with a ton of iron reinforcing bars.
“No way, that just now, wasn’t a child, was it…?”
The car had hit it quite dramatically. Assuming that a person was dragged into this, there’s no way they would walk away with just a scratch. Adding the shit going on at work, you can really say, it never rains but it pours.
I quickly open the door, jump out into the rain, and search for the object my car hit.
The pouring rain has become even stronger, hindering me from seeing well within the shroud of water, but something black has collapsed next to the truck which is slightly ahead of me.
“Hey, you alright?”
In a hurry, I run up to the figure, and just when I am about to extend my hand, I notice its abnormality.
I have seen it many times in movies, but it’s the first time for me to see one for real. No matter how you look at it, it’s not human.
“G-Goblin?” In front of me as I mutter that, the goblin-like being is reduced to black particles. And a single card with a dull silver color is left behind there.
Area 12 / Yoshimura Keigo
A dungeon card ― the card that always drops when a human defeats a monster for the first time. It’s a card full of incomprehensible stuff, like how it obtains the information it’s recording, and the owner’s name. At some point it was rumored to be made out of a rare metal, but in the end it was discovered that it uses common materials.
The area represents the place where the card appeared. After using induction, and cross referencing numerous cards, it was believed that west longitude 110° – 120° defines area 1, and that the number of the areas continues to increment every ten degrees of longitude in the direction of Earth’s rotation, making a full turn with area 36 as the last.
However, as an Inuit man in Canada’s Pond Inlet recently acquired a card with area 0, it was called into question whether the pole sphere was set as area 0.
In any case, it means that Tokyo is at the edge of area 12 with an eastern longitude of 139°.
“Rank 99,726,438, huh?”
The rank is said to position all of humanity with something ― it was referred to as “experience points,” conveniently imitating games ― that could be obtained from the defeated monsters.
Since I have defeated a goblin for the first time just now, it means that there are more than 99,000,000 people throughout the world that have defeated more than one goblin.
I totally don’t get whether that’s a lot or little, with 1/70 of humanity having already come in contact with monsters.
While pondering such things in a carefree manner, I breathe out deeply and mutter, “At any rate, it’s good that it wasn’t a child.”
I lean against the truck behind me, as my strength escapes from my body out of relief, while picking up the card.
Chaotic voices and smoke are rising from the crossing’s direction. Apparently it was quite a big earthquake just now.
“I wonder whether my apartment is okay.”
After all it’s a run-down, two-storied apartment building, said to be around 50 years old. It would be absolutely no surprise if it collapsed because of a large earthquake.
My whole body is already soaking wet. Even if I return to my company, I don’t have a change of clothes there, so I decide to return home for the moment an――
The moment I think all that, my body suddenly slips backwards, and my backside falls on the ground.
“Ouch! What’s goin’ on?”
As I turn around, the fully loaded truck sinking towards the back is reflected in my eyes.
The place it is falling towards is a big, deep, crevice, which had opened up due to the previous earthquake.
It looks like I gave the truck, which barely maintained its balance, the final push.
Fortunately the truck stops sinking after being swallowed around halfway into the crack, but the great quantity of iron bars it had loaded ― extremely long and thick ones at that ― slide inside the hole just like that.
“No, those had been naturally swallowed by the crack, right? It’s got nothing to do with me, okay? Reimbursement or such is a complete no-go――” I watch the spectacle while getting cold sweat.
I’m drenched with rain from head to toe anyway. “Even if I say so myself, getting cold sweat at this point is damn pointless”. That’s the incomprehensible stuff I am thinking about right now, but no matter how much time passes, I can’t hear the sound of the iron bars crashing.
When I turn around and get close to the edge of the crack, wondering whether I made some kind of mistake about the bars falling in, something like an eerie voice resounds from the bottom of the crack, and a violent aftershock hits the area.
And then, the feeling of being pushed up by something from within my body occurs multiple times in succession, and once that feeling settles down, a pretty, rainbow-colored sphere appears in front of me.
Seeing that, I reflexively escape reality by calculating the falling height in my head. Assuming that iron bars with a length of around 10 meters and a diameter of 4 centimeters had fallen freely, and with around 15 seconds having passed just now…the depth was exceeding 1000 meters.
“Even if the iron bars fell vertically, it’s still rather unlikely that they reached their terminal velocity, right?”
The sphere is still floating in front of my eyes as I meaninglessly mutter that trivial knowledge.