“To the right side.
Akira onee-sama.
Toki nee-chan.”

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“Got it.”

“Okay.”

Under the guidance of Sora-san, we advance through the “Maze”.

The sounds of the combat have eventually died down, and the creatures are no longer present.

The battle appears to be ended, even if it is unclear to us which side has triumphed.

Then, turning at a corner, we remain vigilant.

“So… here is the hall huh.”

Beyond the corner is a cylindrical space with multiple passageways and exits, and it is noticeably a place that seems easier to fight in than the other passageways and small rooms.

A simple barricade made of a huge shield similar to Toki-san has been constructed in one of the passageways of this hall, which is littered with the clay remains of the fallen monsters.

“Hm? You guys are… the Tajika sisters group! Hey! Over here!”

From behind the barricade, a familiar voice calls out to us while waving in our direction.

It seems that it is one of the candidates belonging to the group that was engaged in the battle here.

“Rather than saying the Tajika sisters group, it is Akira onee-sama’s group, though.”

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“Forget about such minor details, let’s just head over there.”

“It is fortunate that all is well.”

“You too.
For now, please go into the back.
Who can predict when the monsters will come again?”

“All right.”

We climb over the barricade and enter the passageway, following the candidate who has been guarding the barricade.

There, I have noticed that this passageway appears to be at a dead end; there is only one little room a short distance farther, and both the passageway and the small room are filled with candidates as if several groups have congregated there.

“You did well reaching here.
I’ll explain the situation over here for now.”

“…”

“Um, Akira-san…”

When arriving at the small room, we are greeted by a man with a sword at his waist, which looks like it was made for practical use.
From his words, it would seem that he is going to inform us of what has happened.

However, there are some candidates in the small room who are tending to battle wounds, while others are repairing broken equipment.
Among them, there may be candidates who are searching for the enemy.

Amidst all of this, it would be inefficient for all three of us to be together listening to what’s going on.

Even Toki-san seems to be ready to move, so it would be better this way.

“I will ask about the situation, so the two of you should cooperate with the other candidates in the search and treatment.”

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“Understood.”

“I will leave it to you then.”

Therefore, I let the two of them respectively conduct what they can do, and only I, who can do nothing but fight, will listen to what’s happening.

“Is Akira-san the one who will be listening to me?”

“Ah, yeah.
As I recall, you are Fuyure-kun, right?”

“It’s flattering to be remembered by a beauty like you.”

“Let’s skip the compliments.
And who is he over there?”

I shake hands with a male candidate… I believe his name is Fuyure Saku who is also from the first unit, and then direct my attention to a petite male candidate who is shrinking and trembling in the corner.

Although his face is recognizable… this is no good.
His name escapes me right now.

“Well, simply put, he was the one who stepped on the noisemaker floor that prompted us to congregate…”

“Uh-uh…”

Having said that much, Fuyure-kun is at a loss to say anything about what comes next.

This might not be ideal if I don’t listen carefully to what’s taking place.

“For now, I’ll tell you what he… Rizou Makoto, told me.
It sounds preposterous.”

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“Oh, please let me know.”

With my eyes fixed on Rizou-kun’s trembling body, I listen to what Fuyure-kun has to say.

According to the story:

He… Rizou Makoto was in a group with Kakitori Kio and Akakara Jiro.

They had been following the teachings, defeating monsters and exploring the “Maze,” but after about an hour of exploring the “Maze,” they suddenly found themselves in a situation that they had never been in before.

“Well, from here on out, please listen to the story half-heartedly.”

Fuyure-kun prefaces the rest of the story by saying so.

Kakitori Kio’s body abruptly swelled up multiple times with a blue crystal emerged on his forehead, and he started attacking his foes and allies in the area—including Akakara Jiro.

That power was so enormous that a single swing of the arm blew away a large brush-like monster, and even when one arm was blown off, it instantly regenerated in the form of a thicker, more muscular arm.

And once that happened, Rizou Makoto left the scene and fled without a moment’s hesitation, apparently without having time to detect any traps or enemies.

“I see.
So, Fuyuki-kun, what did you say to Rizou-kun?”

“I told him that story is absurd.
If what he said is true, Kakutori-kun is no longer a human being at all but has become something close to a monster.
The notion that people may turn into a monster is difficult to grasp and even unbelievable.
Let me tell you, the reason he is trembling right now is that he is reliving the horrors of that time.”

“Uuuuuuhhhh….”

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“….”

Listening and mulling, I can say that it is fortunate that a large number of groups gathered as a result and were able to figure out what had happened to Rizou-kun’s group.

But a human being turning into a monster-like creature and suddenly gaining as much power…?

Indeed, it’s certainly hard to believe… but I have been drastically transformed by my contract with Ys, too, and it’s not absolutely impossible.

“Do you have a grasp of the exit?”

“One of the groups that gathered here has already figured it out.”

“Then I suggest we head there as soon as everything is ready.
We don’t know what actually transpired, but we should immediately alert the higher-ups of this information.”

“Even if you didn’t tell me to do so, it is what I initially intended to do.
The most essential part of our mission is to return safely and deliver the information back, as mentioned by Instructor Suzunari.
It is out of the question to continue the exploration with so many injured people and damaged equipment.”

“I understand.
If that is the case, my group will cooperate with you.
Fortunately, we still have plenty of time to spare.”

“Ah, thank you for your cooperation.”

After finishing my conversation with Fuyure-kun, I share what happened and ask for Toki-san and Sora-san’s cooperation, and both of them agree to support me in helping them escape.

“(Even so, blue crystal huh… Ys, does that ring any bells?)”

[No, I don’t.
If it is the core of a monster, it must be a red crystal.
Be careful, Akira.
Whether the blue crystal was planted in the person in question after or before entering the maze is not certain, but if he has more regenerative abilities than Akira, who is under contract with me, he may be a more formidable foe than the master of this maze.]

“(Okay.
I’ll be careful.)”

While Ys is sharing her thoughts on the earlier story, I, who don’t particularly need to prepare, am listening and have decided to intensify my sense of alertness.

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