Chapter 59 – To the Next Floor
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===1 week later===

“Good. Continue like that. 50 more repetitions.”

Sweat dripped down James’ forehead as he continued to shuffle back and forth, repeating the same motion over and over. His entire set of leg muscles felt like they were on fire, burning with intense pain. Yet he continued to follow the same patterns. Retreat, squat, jump forwards, pull back, duck, repeat. 

This drill, according to the talking beanie, was designed to familiarize the body with its balance in the back and forth direction. In order to switch between attacking, defending, and dodging quickly, the most important thing was balance. Without balance, it would be impossible to use the body to generate strong attacks. WIthout balance, it would be impossible to keep a steady stance when blocking a blow. Without balance, the speed of one’s back and forth motion would be delayed.

James hated how much the beanie kept on repeating the phrase “without balance,” but it was right. 

“Hah, shit.”

As soon as his counting reached 50, James immediately collapsed on the floor of the training room, gasping for breath. His shirt was completely soaked with his sweat. Before he dove into the dungeon, he’d barely even exercised before. Even while he was climbing the 1st floor, he’d never gone through training as rigorous as this. But now, this was his everyday routine.

How was James able to persevere through the intense pain and fatigue he was currently feeling? 

The beanie on top of his head had the ability to contract and squeeze his skull, giving him a terrible headache. It was basically like the headband that the monkey king, Sun Wukong, wore as a punishment for killing a band of thieves. Anytime James stopped, or his posture was off, the beanie tightened, and his head would feel like it was about to burst.

James could have just not used the beanie and saved himself a lot of pain, but that was too much of a waste. Although James hadn’t even and was learning basic footwork, he already felt the effects of his training. He was able to move much more easily. His mind thought, and his body followed without delay. So, every few days, James would end up collecting more magic stones and let the beanie absorb them, causing it to activate. And every few days, he would regret his decision as his muscles turned to rubber and his forehead throbbed with pain.

James needed 50 magic stones to activate the beanie for around half an hour. To get that amount, James only needed to fully clear the 2nd floor twice or thrice. So, James was able to activate the beanie once every day, and get tortured for his own benefit.

“Beanie,” said James, for a lack of a better name. “How do you fight against skeletons?”

“Skeletons? On the 3rd floor?” The beanie used its usual telepathy.

“Yeah. I think it’s about time I took a stab at it. I do want to be careful, though.”

During the past week, James had collected all 50 agility orbs on the 2nd floor, the maximum number. Thus, he was unable to grow on the 2nd floor anymore. So, it was time to go up a step, to the third floor. Here, the enemies were skeletons.

James didn’t tell the beanie about the orbs, though. He kind of wanted to see what it could figure out by itself. James knew the beanie was hiding information about the dungeon, and he’d been trying to wheedle it out. So far, he’d had the best luck on the first day he summoned the beanie; he hadn’t figured out anything else that was really important since. 

But, it was a slow process. Rushing wouldn’t help. The beanie tended to give out information when it was distracted in its own thoughts. If James tried direct questioning, he would be met with flat-out refusal.

The beanie seemed to be slightly surprised at James’ statement. “Eh? Did you decide you collected enough orbs already?”

“...yeah. Aren’t orbs supposed to be rare, though?”

“Well, for most people. You’re a special case, though,” said the beanie. It didn’t give any further explanation.

James wasn’t expecting the beanie to just drop that information out there. Like usual, James got the answer to 1 of his questions, but got 2 more. The beanie did know about the orbs, and the fact that they were rare. But, it also appeared to know that James collected them more quickly than others. How did it know? And what was the cause? This was probably the most important thing he’d heard from the beanie yet.

The beanie continued without minding James’ confusion. “Skeletons, huh? Blunt weapons have more effects on bones than, say, stabbing or cutting weapons. But that’s obvious. Honestly, I can’t help you all that much here. Go buy a hammer.”

The information wasn’t new. James had figured that stabbing bones wouldn’t be helpful. His throwing knives would be even more useless.

“When would a skeleton stop functioning? If you just cut off its legs, it wouldn’t even do anything. I’d have to completely crush it, right?” James had never seen an undead before, and wondered how they would function. Imps and goblins were just like some other humanoid creatures, such as apes and monkeys. But the idea of undead was new to James. 

The beanie actually responded with useful intel this time. “Crush the skull. Skeletons contain their mana not near their heart and chest area, but in their skull. That mana is necessary for the skeleton to move and regenerate itself. If you break that, then it will die. Well, in a certain sense, it’s already dead, but you know what I mean. Of course, it’s not like breaking the other parts of the body is useless, since they need time and mana to regenerate.”

That made sense. Skeletons aren't actually alive. Rather, they are bones reanimated by magic. If they run out of magic, or a way to store it, they will stop moving.

“Interesting. I think it’s about time, right?”

“Yes, I’m going to sleep soon.”

====================

James went to the dungeon shop, and the shopkeeper, John, showed him a few different blunt weapons. James was tempted to buy a mace, but the spikes and knobs on the mace were more suited for penetrating through armor. For smashing bones, hammers, which. The weight on the head of the hammer would help him.

The hammer looked surprisingly similar to a regular hammer used to pound nails. One end was flat and heavy, while the other end produced a sharp pick. It was a bit larger and heavier than a regular hammer, though. That also meant it was much more sturdy. James doubted it would break. Additionally, the grip was made out of a better material and had some grooves shaped to fit his hands.

His status card showed the following:

{James Lu: Dungeon Explorer – Status Monitored

 Cleared 2nd Floor

 Points: 944

 STR: 58

 DEF: 3

 END: 3

 AGI: 53

 INT: 43

 LUK: Error

 Skills: Advanced Knife Throwing, Monster Taming, Basic Spearmanship, Basic Knife Combat.

 Tamed Beasts: Leonardo the Bear (Leo)                                                                                             }

James’ agility had increased by a total of 50 by the orbs, and then another 2 for clearing the 1st and second floor, leading to a final value of 53.

The number of points James had decreased, because he bought the hammer. James collected magic stones everyday, but he used them all up feeding Leo and the beanie.

James stored his new battle hammer inside his bag and was about to leave when John stopped him.

“Hey, I got a reply from the admin.”

James paused for a moment. Then, he looked at John and leaned forward. James knew what John was referring to; a while back, James had asked about his weird luck stat and his lack of a relic. He was hoping to at least get any idea why such anomalies occurred around him.

“What they told me is that you’re a very special case. When you clear the fifth floor, the last floor of the 1st tier, everything will be much more clear.”

James’ brow furrowed. “Is that it?”

“That’s all they told me,” said John.

James nodded. As far as he could tell, John didn’t exactly have a high position, so he wouldn’t know everything. Besides, John was supposedly stronger than even the strongest dungeon explorers. There was no point in pushing him.

“Alright. thanks.”

“It’s my job, no need to be thankful.”

====================

James exited the dungeon and woke up on his bed.

“The fifth floor, I guess.” James softly murmured to himself. Why did the administrators want him to go to the fifth floor?

According to his senior explorers, that was the point where the relic stopped working, and an explorer had to start using their own power. The reward for clearing the 5th floor was a few magical tomes and techniques. The exact reward differed for each explorer, but they would all help the explorers use magic and climb the dungeon. It was possible to buy other tomes from the dungeon shop, but they cost a lot. Besides, intense study was also required to learn magic.

If James was able to climb to the 5th floor and obtain a magic tome, then there would be no difference between him and the other explorers. He could continue climbing as usual.

But, James wanted the answers. He wanted to know why he didn’t get a relic, and why he had a broken luck stat.

“Whatever. I guess I’ll have to go to the 5th floor to find out. That was my plan anyways, so I don’t have a problem with that.”

He planned to hit the 3rd floor tomorrow.

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