The foreign yet expected words echoed in his ears, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. "Your contract has been terminated." His voice cracked and hollowed as he absorbed the weight of those words. The influx of new scavengers, equipped with specialized abilities for the job, had made this outcome inevitable. He held no resentment or grudge towards his employers, but the world itself felt the brunt of his disappointment.
"As explicitly stated in your contract, there will be no reimbursement upon termination." The second blow landed, driving the nail deeper into the coffin. The notice from the bank dangled around his neck like a noose, slowly suffocating him. The rope took on the face of his mother and the hands of his brother, embodying the burdens of life. Eighteen years of existence had been marred by stress and worry, leaving little room for happiness.
Arthur Silvera had been forced to grow up prematurely, his hands bearing the calluses of labor beyond their years. The passage of time had left its mark on his young heart. Yet, he was just one of many in similar circumstances.
His phone lagged momentarily, delaying his response. Abandoning his email inbox, he turned to job websites in search of a solution to his predicament. There were always opportunities out there for those willing to take risks. After sifting through numerous job notices, Arthur stumbled upon one that seemed too good to be true. Joy ignited within him, only to crumble as he read the location.
"Porter Needed: High-Risk, High-Reward, Responsibility-Clearing Contract. Message me for further details. Location: Avarice Dungeon."
Avarice Dungeon, a recently emerged labyrinth that had yet to be conquered. The job posting didn't mention dungeon conquest, a task reserved for guilds and their members. Instead, it called for a group of warriors and mages in need of a porter—an individual responsible for collecting items, carrying extra luggage, and managing camp and cooking. Arthur had worked as a porter before, but only in cleared dungeons. This time, however, the stakes were higher, as Avarice Dungeon remained unconquered, harboring potential unforeseen dangers.
"Hello, my name is Arthur Silvera, aged 18. I previously worked as a scavenger for four years at the Lime Time agency. Although I lack awakening abilities, my experience compensates for it. I..."
Arthur meticulously crafted his message, revising it several times before sending it. To impress the employer further, he attached the recommendation letter from Lime Time, graciously included in his termination email. Despite the comments he had read, warning of the job's risks, he felt a glimmer of hope. It wasn't bravery or recklessness that drove him; it was sheer desperation.
The night was long, and Arthur spent hours researching Avarice Dungeon. It was one of the fourth-generation dungeons that emerged after the establishment of the federal union of Yalveran. Born out of a merge that occurred half a decade ago, the dungeon had attracted several syndicates in failed conquest attempts. As it turned out, Avarice Dungeon was one of the notorious Sins Dungeons, causing a commotion in the world.
"Okay. Let's meet tomorrow at 11 AM, table 36. The pay will be $50 per hour."
The stark contrast between Arthur's lengthy message and the concise reply seemed pitiful, but the response still thrilled him. However, excitement quickly gave way to fear.
Being a porter ranked among the riskiest jobs for a non-awakener, if not the most perilous. Arthur made the necessary preparations, but when he checked his bank account, he sighed. He had to venture forth empty-handed.
The following day, at 10:45 AM, Arthur stood before the entrance to the dungeon. Every dungeon boasted a foyer, where warriors and mages gathered to strategize before embarking on their perilous journey. He walked toward table 36, where several individuals sat. Five figures occupied the table—a trio clad in full armor, accompanied by two robe-wearing counterparts. Among them, two men and one woman donned armor, while the other two individuals sported robes.
Most of the group seemed to be in their twenties, with one middle-aged warrior displaying a mace at his side. Intimidation gripped Arthur as he summoned his courage to step forward. Though he was the youngest and consequently the weakest, his self-confidence remained concealed, too hesitant to reveal itself.
Conversation abruptly halted, and all eyes turned toward Arthur, scrutinizing him. Under their gaze, he nervously fiddled with his right thumb, feeling like a specimen on display.
"Hi, I'm Alan. We spoke yesterday," the mace-wielding warrior introduced himself as Alan, extending his hand. The warm gesture of respect eased Arthur's anxiety, and they exchanged pleasantries.
However, the rest of the team displayed little interest, resuming their discussion on the monsters that awaited them inside the dungeon, the latest weapons, and renowned warriors and mages. The sole exception was the thin man wearing a robe, who smiled and nodded in Arthur's direction.
Knowing his status paled in comparison to theirs, Arthur paid it no mind and took a seat, ensuring it wasn't too close or too far from the rest of the group.
"As you all know, we won't be venturing beyond the third layer today. I've run our combat power through a dungeon analyst app, and it suggests that we can handle it, except for a few challenging monsters we should avoid. But don't let your guard down. Sins Dungeons are known for their unpredictability and high risk, high reward nature."
Alan proceeded to brief the team, the information seemingly irrelevant to Arthur. Still, he strained his ears, hoping to glean something useful.
By noon, Alan ordered lunch from the dungeon's restaurant, providing the team with sustenance before their expedition. Arthur, being a non-awakener and possessing a slower metabolism, consumed only a small portion. With no available toilets within the dungeon, he had to be mindful of his bodily needs.
The team consisted of four members, led by Alan, whom Arthur identified as a typical leader. Overheard conversations provided Arthur with some insight into each member's character.
The first to capture his attention was Juan Keizer, a flamboyant chatterbox and the other male warrior alongside Alan. Juan's continuous flow of words, emanating from his protruding belly, made him hard to miss. Towering over Arthur, his friendly demeanor failed to spare a glance or acknowledgment for the young porter.
The second character, Beatrice Faure, stood out as a muscular female warrior, her stature surpassing Arthur's. Engaging in comfortable conversation with Juan, she appeared well-acquainted with him, occasionally exchanging words with Alan as well.
Arthur found himself drawn to the thin and pale man who engaged him in idle talk. Yuran Evel possessed an uncommon yet notorious fighting style known as Magic Gunman. By utilizing mana compression techniques, he fought from a distance using magical weapons. Gazing upon Yuran's gun, Arthur marveled at meeting a magic gunman for the first time.
The final member of the group was a petite young woman, slightly older than Arthur. She hadn't uttered a word during their time together, and he hadn't learned her name. Their group dynamics didn't allow for much interaction, leaving her an enigma.
As the clock struck midday, the group made their way toward the dungeon's entrance. Watching the ebb and flow of people, many wounded or even deceased, Arthur couldn't help but wonder if he would share the same fate—returning safely or never returning at all.
He shook his head, attempting to dispel such thoughts. After confirming their identities as explorers, a term for those venturing into other worlds, they gained access through the portal. However, before proceeding, Arthur had to sign a Responsibility Clearance Agreement, absolving others of any responsibility should he meet his demise.
The world twisted, and their vision distorted as they passed through the portal. Soon, they found themselves in a vast underground hall, teeming with explorers from various races and cultures. Avarice Dungeon, as one of the Sins Dungeons, held a formidable reputation. Some even referred to it as 'The Dragon Gate,' a place where one could ascend to the status of a dragon among men, though most would fail. Arthur never saw himself as worthy of such a title, but a part of him couldn't help but yearn for a touch of uniqueness.