༺ Cultist Nymph and Pluto’s Underground Labyrinth (4) ༻
“P-Please, spare me…”
Barnes murmured in a weak, almost fading tone… as though he was about to die at any moment now.
Seeing the veteran adventurer in this pitiful state, far from the overwhelming confidence he had been exuding just moments ago, I was finally able to calm down slightly.
“P-Please, spare me…”
“No can do, motherfucker!”
That, however, didn’t mean that I would forgive him for the things he said to me. So, I punched him in the jaw once again with all my might which resulted in him immediately losing consciousness.
And thus… he now became a quiet person who could no longer cuss at someone’s parents or plead for their life anymore. The moment the noisy guy stopped chattering, I finally felt a sense of peace washing over my heart.
This Barnes bastard had become a good boy during the last moments of our duel.
I suddenly realized something. Everyone became a nice person once they got punched enough times.
Didn’t that basically mean that thick fists and long and hard clubs made for excellent moral teachers for the people of this barbaric world?
Anyway, after confirming that Barnes was down for the count and would not be able to utter any more of his nonsense, I got up and threw a question at the authorities standing outside the ring.
“Does this count as a win for me?”
“Yes, it is without a doubt your flawless victory. And… as per the guild’s customs, Barnes Rodelheim will be expelled from the guild and imprisoned in the city jail! Guards!”
At Hippolyte’s calling, the guild guards, clad in full body armor, appeared one after another with quick strides. They lifted Barnes’s body, sprawled on the sandy ground of the ring, and dragged him away to who knows where.
Losing in a duel not only resulted in being expelled from the guild but also being thrown into prison. When I think about it… this was really an insane rule they had going there and was an absolute fit for this barbaric world. Damn it! Luckily, I was able to win somehow.
I, however, didn’t feel particularly happy or excited about winning the duel.
Instead, I began to calm down like someone who had just narrowly escaped the clutches of danger. This allowed me to start hearing the surrounding noises and the people’s voices and breathing more vividly.
“That Barnes guy… actually got beaten up like some back alley trash…”
“However, that punk… wasn’t he still a promising guy with great potential?”
“You have to be careful not to insult a Samaritan’s parents in front of them.”
“Goddamn! Aren’t punks like him practically swarming all over the Dark Wilderness that’s located across the continent? It’s fucking terrifying. I’m glad that the Samaritans, in general, are afraid of sailing across the seas to travel to new lands and like living in seclusion in their homeland.”
The spectators of the fight whispered to each other in soft about the fight they had just witnessed, as though they found the duel very exciting and exhilarating and couldn’t wait to gossip about it. It seemed like they were trying to whisper their feelings to the others in hushed voices so that their words wouldn’t reach my ears.
After the duel, my concentration oddly heightened to the extreme, and all sorts of noises became clearer than ever in my ears, including the sounds of the people swallowing their saliva, their exhaling breaths, and every other noise imaginable that was contained in the surroundings. It was a suffocating feeling; as if someone had ramped up the volume of the world to the maximum and only allowed me to experience the full brunt of that action.
“Even the Mars Guild has such talented individuals—”
“A formidable foreign indigenous race with unimaginable strength and power—”
As those voices grew louder and louder in my ears, to the point where I could feel a throbbing headache starting to emerge from within…
“Holy shh! Hassan! I won money! I bet 50 coppers on you winning the match! I earned two silvers after betting only 50 coppers! Holy shh!!!”
And suddenly, as soon as I heard Luna’s voice and saw her jumping all over the area outside the arena, I felt that the odd, almost eerie, phenomena of the sudden increase in my hearing vanished into thin air like a lie.
“Luna, did you bet money on me?”
“If I had more money on me, then I would have bet some more. Anyway, I won four times the amount I had gambled with!”
“Hmm, okay then. That’s good enough.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After the duel ended in my unilateral victory, we returned to the small cabin that belonged to Luna.
The living space on the second floor of the cabin was currently filled with the groaning sounds of the pain I felt all over.
“Eugh, ahhhh, does this really have an effect?”
“Yes, I have told you already, haven’t I? It’s good for bruises once you apply it to the swollen area. I bought it with the two silvers I had earned from betting today.”
“Hmm, thank you. Ah, ouch…”
Luna attached a leaf, shaped like a human hand, to my bruised chest and gently stroked it with her slender hands. Normally, it would have felt very itchy to have this sticky material latched onto me. However, as my chest was throbbing due to the pain I felt from my wounds, I was only able to feel increasingly more pain even though Luna was being so gentle in applying the medicinal patch to me. I hadn’t realized the magnitude of my injuries back then as my head was filled with adrenaline due to the anger and excitement that was boiling inside me throughout the duration of the fight.
Now that I was in a safe place and could finally breathe a sigh of relief, the pain that had been building up inside me was like a dam that had finally found the chance to burst, wreaking havoc on my body with its overwhelming might. It was probably happening because the adrenaline rush had already subsided and my body was now back in its normal state.
Did he say that his name was Barnes? Fucking damn it! He was a bastard with a mean punch. No wonder he had the balls to challenge me to a duel with such confidence even after knowing who I was. It made me think that if I hadn’t gotten agitated enough to ignore everything except for the rage and hatred I felt for the guy, I probably might have been knocked out by his fierce punches and lost the duel.
Fuck! Now that I think about it, how the hell did I even win? Could I win if we fought again? Of course, since he was locked up in jail already, there was no chance for me to ever see him again.
As I reminisced about the duel that had just taken place, Luna suddenly spoke.
“Okay, I’ve applied everything to your chest! Are there any other painful spots?”
“O-On my flank…”
“Your flank? But the leaf patches have all run out now. Hmm…”
Luna looked a bit troubled after she realized that she had run out of all her miraculous pain-reducing leaves.
“Let’s just put some saliva on it. That should do the trick!”
Then, befitting someone belonging to this barbaric and superstitious world, Luna made a nonsensical remark and proceeded to lower her head toward my flank.
Lick— Lick— Lick—
And soon after, she suddenly ran her tongue along the reddish spot on my left flank, licking it with all she had.
But it felt so ticklish that I couldn’t help but burst into a fit of laughter.
“How do you feel? Any better?”
“I think I do? B-But it hurts in other places too. Can you put your saliva in there too?”
Luna looked up and glanced at my face. The look she gave me was cute in its own way, so I couldn’t help but want to play a prank with her.
“M-My, my lips too…”
“I-It seems like you didn’t get beaten enough back there! I-I’m going to start preparations for tomorrow’s expedition!”
After saying that, Luna slapped my back with her palm and stood up. As Luna had already said, we needed to make adequate preparations for tomorrow’s expedition.
Moreover, I also had an important role to play in said expedition. Maybe it was because of the duel earlier, but I didn’t feel like doing anything and thus decided to lie down on the deerskin carpet.
It was fortunate that I was able to win the duel.
But what was this feeling of loss that I was washing over my mind right now?
A loud noise of something like a wide metal plate falling on the wooden floor was suddenly heard. When I turned my head, I saw the sight of Luna picking up an old breastplate from the ground.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying on these armor pieces that we took from that punk, Barnes, but they aren’t fitting me well.”
“Well, they were made for men, after all.”
Of course, the loot I picked up wasn’t something I could wear either. I would have to sell them secondhand at the armor shop later and get a breastplate or something for myself.
Even if it was secondhand, including the gauntlets made of steel, I could get around 30 silver for them, right? When I thought about it, it seemed like the duel hadn’t been all that fruitless as I thought of it to be.
No, wait a minute.
If I could make 30 silvers with just one fight, wouldn’t it be quite profitable to request a duel against weaker-looking guys and plunder their belongings indiscriminately? While I was thinking along those lines…
I realized that Luna was eerily quiet right now which was so uncharacteristic of her. Thinking that something was wrong, I pushed myself up from the carpet that I had laid on and turned my head… only to see the sight of her curled up in the corner of the room, squinting intently at something.
“What are you doing?”
“Aren’t we going to enter a maze tomorrow? I’m painting a protective spell with some dye.”
Feeling curious about the ‘protective spell’ she was making, I took a closer look at her. I immediately found out that Luna was painting her toes with a dye that was inside a little glass bottle or something.
So, she was doing a pedicure, huh? The light pink dye actually matched quite well with Luna’s pinkish hair.
But her current actions felt more like doing makeup rather than the voodoo arts that she had claimed to be doing.
Of course, I didn’t say that out loud.
Just watching Luna’s cute toes being painted with pink nail polish made me feel a little less pain and a bit more relief in my body.
“W-Why are you staring at someone else’s feet like that? Do you want me to paint your toenails too?”
I silently watched Luna paint her nails and toes with dye for some time.
Maybe because she was feeling embarrassed by my blatant stare or maybe because she couldn’t stand the silence anymore, Luna opened her mouth to speak.
“Hey, Hassan, I never thought you’d have a second name.”
“My second name?”
“I mean Zagreus… Why didn’t you tell me? I didn’t know you had a last name like that…”
Luna frowned deeply, looking like she was really upset for some reason. Was she sulking because I had kept a secret from her? But this time, I also felt that it was unfair for me to get treated as such by her.
“I couldn’t tell you because I didn’t know I had that name either. It’s a name that came out of the blue.”
It was the first time I had heard of that long-ass title— Jupiter’s descendant or something. To be honest, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being teased and harassed with that title.
“If you also don’t know about it, then it must have been a new second name given by the guild which acts as a last name or a surname.”
“The guild could also give us a last name or surname?”
“Yeah, since in the guilds like Mars and Minerva, which also serves as a temple for their respective gods, we have some temple duties to perform alongside the usual adventuring. For example, Hippolyte works both as an adventurer and a priestess simultaneously. The priests or priestesses in the temple sometimes also bestow a second name to exceptional adventurers like an oracle from the gods that they can use as their surnames.”
My mind then once again wandered on to the thoughts of Hippolyte, who was wearing a red robe during the duel. I didn’t notice it when she was wearing armor or comfortable clothing, but she looked fit to be a priestess after putting on the sacred red robe.
“Hmm, I see.”
“Anyway, it’s good news to have a second name as a surname since it’s one of the ways for imperfect beings like humans to get closer to the gods who reside on the high mountains of Olympus. It raises one’s dignity!”
Raising one’s dignity? Does it mean improving one’s physical attributes? I had a hard time understanding Luna’s words. They were not written in the encyclopedias of this world after all.
I wasn’t able to understand what the connection was between having a last name and being close to the gods.
Honestly, I wasn’t interested in the whole thing about getting a last name or how it would raise one’s dignity, but Luna kept chattering on as if she had been waiting for a topic like this which she was an expert in to come up in our conversations.
“Most of the gods have two names. One is a name that creatures like us can easily call them with, and the other is the grand name holding their divinity, known as the True Name.”
Her babbling reminded me of a drenched sparrow that couldn’t stop chattering even if its life depended on it. It looked somewhat ridiculous to me but I still pretended to be interested in her speech. Maybe this was what being in a relationship actually felt like.
“What is this True Name exactly?”
“Well, the true names of the gods aren’t something that creatures like us can call out lightly. So they bestowed upon us humans with their first name so that we can freely use that name to call them.”
I couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of “bestowed with their name” that she spoke of so I asked Luna a question from what I understood on my own to clarify this whole matter.
“If we use Mars, as an example, does that mean Mars is the god of war’s fake name, and there is a separate True Name which is his real name?”
“That’s right! Anyway, a name and a last name or a second name… Having two names like this is a sign that we, as creatures, are getting closer to the gods— the creators of this world and everything contained within it. So nobles or famous adventurers alike all have a second name.”
“Ah, I see. So that’s how it is, huh?”
Those with a second name seemed to be people from wealthy families or famous adventurers who were bestowed with a last name.
Luna had a second name— Knoxdotty and Hippolyte also had a second name— Heavensinger, which was not often mentioned.
Although Elfriede did not mention it much, she also had a second name— Desmund.
As for me, I was just Hassan.
But now, I had a strange second name attached to me as well which acted as a surname of sorts.
Getting another surname, other than the one I had received from my parents, made me feel strange… as if I suddenly got another father. How should I describe this feeling? It was almost like, “Huh? I have two fathers now?” or something along those lines.
“But why did it have to be Zagreus? Just what the hell is that? It sounds so weird and I honestly don’t like it.”
“Anyway, since the second name is only used during prayers or religious ceremonies, we wouldn’t have to hear it often, so it’s kind of okay, isn’t it?”
If it was a name that would only be used during religious ceremonies, could we think of it as a baptismal name that you would receive from the church in Christian and Jewish religions?
If that were to be the case, I didn’t think I would have to say my surname in front of others.
After all, fucking hell, even Hassan was not my real name.
Actually, my real name is Ha San.
It’s a name with the family name Ha and a single character which meant Mountain attached to it in the end.
As I wondered how I came to be called Hassan, the face of someone, who may very well be called the first true friend I made in this world, popped into my mind.
He was a dumb-looking guy for being a barbarian who was notorious for his brutality.
Originally, the name Hassan was a nickname that he gave me. What would he say if he knew that I now wielded a cool last name or second name that came after the name he gave me?
Wouldn’t he probably say, “Damn! You barbarian bastard, you’ve made it big, haven’t you!?” and feel pleased about it?
“Hassan, what are you thinking about?”
Luna stared at my face intently while I was lost in my idle thoughts.
“I have finished painting all my fingers! It looks good, doesn’t it!?”
Luna showed off her nails which were painted in a light pink color, almost akin to cherry blossoms, by wiggling them in front of me. And thus, just by looking at her lively appearance, all the worries and negative thoughts that were churning inside of my mind disappeared like smoke in the wind.
“Arrghh, I can’t stand it anymore!”
I pulled Luna’s waist and lay her on the deerskin, burying my face in her soft, fluffy, and supple chest.
“W-What are you doing!?”
There was a thing about Luna’s soft and warm skin that melted people’s emotions into a warm and pleasant form. It was the warmest and softest thing I have ever encountered in this world.
I felt like I could now understand why men sometimes behave like fools when they are dating or are married.
When I buried my face in such a warm and soft place of hers, all my thoughts, including my worries and concerns, were washed away like they were being cleansed by holy water.
I would love to give Luna a peck on her face right now, but I decided to listen to Luna’s heartbeat quietly by putting my ear on the left side of her chest.
It was a steady and rhythmic heartbeat. It was clear that a very healthy heart lay beneath her soft and supple flesh.
“Puft, it tickles! What are you doing, Hassan?”
“I’m listening to the voice of your heart.”
“I can also recognize you by your voice, Luna, no matter where you are.”
Luna seemed to understand my words and fell silent, lying still and staring at the ceiling like she was thinking of something at that moment.
As I was concentrating on the sound of her lively heart beating in a loud and steady rhythm—
Suddenly, I thought that instead of just remembering her voice, I should also familiarize myself with her softness.
It would be great if I could tell whether someone was Luna or not just by touching her chest with even my eyes closed. I’m indeed a very smart fellow, aren’t I? Should I try touching her right now?
“Hassan, can we do well in Pluto’s labyrinth tomorrow? I’m a little worried about it.”
“Huh, what are you worried about?”
“Um, like… Hassan, Paranoy the Presolyte, Didier the One-legged Dwarf, Velmina the Witch of Frost, and me… The five of us are going into the labyrinth, so I’m a little worried that—”
“Hold on, what?”
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