Nick sat down, trying to compose his breathing after getting worked up.
Bellocchio was completely silent, and looked at Nick with a harsh expression.
“…I am not just ‘someone else’. I am her master, and I have a responsibility towards her well being, and her future.”
But Nick was not willing to back down here.
“And I’m her friend and leader. I have my responsibilities too.”
“Are you going to say the same thing about Karan too?”
Suddenly, Suisen was looking at Nick with seething anger in her eyes. Nick had gotten stronger recently, but this penetrating coldness, much different than Karan, sent a chill down his spine.
Still, he was not about to back down.
“Yes, it doesn’t matter if you’re family. She has the strength to fight, and now, she’s even capable of reading and counting. She failed, learnt from it, and became a proper adventurer. She’s not a baby bird that needs her family to protect her.”
Her bloodlust was leaking.
This time, Bellocchio was showing no signs that he would stop her. They were getting close to a breakdown in negotiations.
Perhaps noticing the strange atmosphere around that table, the waitress who intended to approach them backed away, face paled.
Nick started thinking. [Bellocchio would probably not let loose in public, so I would only have to deal with Suisen. If I can just protect himself just a little while, it should be fine.]
However, his opponent was someone who was likely even stronger than Karan, so he could not afford to be careless.
The air was tense.
Suisen’s eyes and fingers shook.
She was becoming impatient and she was about to make a move.
Nick was about to kick the table away when…
They heard familiar voices, and stopped.
These voices came from the subjects of their discussion.
“O-oh…? Tianna and Karan?”
“I’m here too.”
The remaining members of Survivors stood behind the table where Nick and the others were sitting.
Nick was about to ask why they were there, but realized something and looked at Bond, who had been silent that whole time.
“Ooh, you three. What a coincidence. I assume you have had lunch already?”
Bond ignored Nick and did a horrendous job pretending to be innocent as he greeted them.
“Not yet… I never thought the situation had escalated to the point where a fight was about to start. I’ve completely lost my appetite.”
Both Tianna and Karan had the flames of rage burning deep within their eyes.
Bond used Telepath to call them. So, they may have overheard the conversation while he was doing so.
However, Bellocchio and Suisen saw this as a good opportunity, and each faced the one they were after.
“Tianna, come with me. It is for your own good.”
“Karan. Come home with me.”
And their answers soon followed.
“I don’t want to.” “No!”
Suisen’s bloodlust could still be felt, but Karan and Tianna’s glare had the same intensity.
The situation had reached a deadlock once again, and Bellocchio let out a heavy sigh.
“It seems negotiations have broken down.”
Nick responded while playing dumb.
“Then how about this Nick.”
“In order to gather information, we had to use… Unavoidable methods.”
“What do you mean…?”
“Finding out that you are adventurers was easy, but we had quite a lot of trouble acquiring information beyond that.”
Nick could not see his point, and gave a sarcastic, half-hearted response, but what he heard next astonished him.
“So in order to get inside information, we became adventurers. When we talk about adventurers getting hurt and risking their lives, we did so from experience.”
Nick was shocked, and Bellocchio happily smiled.
“It was not easy at my age, but thanks to Suisen and our other allies, we have reached E rank. Unless I’m mistaken, you are also E rank, correct?”
“…What are you getting at?”
“How about we do it the adventurer’s way and have a match? In other words, a duel. Or we can make it so whoever reaches D rank first has to adhere to the other’s demands.”
“Don’t even think about it. All we have to do is to ignore you. Why would we accept a match when we have nothing to gain from it?”
“…That is true.”
Bellocchio started silently thinking. He crossed his arms, and closed his eyes for a while.
He was so quiet, it was as though he was meditating.
“Ah, that’s just something he does. He didn’t fall asleep or anything.”
“That’s fine I guess…”
Said Nick with a concerned tone, before Bellocchio’s eyes suddenly opened again.
“Just like we are demanding something from you, we need to prepare an equivalent reward. So… Tianna.”
“I will grant you my secret techniques.”
“If you had graduated and continued to perfect your magic, I would have taught you anyways because of your talent. Of course, this is not part of the fundamentals included in the school curriculum, this is something only my disciples can learn.”
“B-but… Are you sure about this?”
Nick and Karan did not seem to understand Tianna’s reaction.
“Ah, I guess you two don’t know… What sorcerers learn in academies or in lessons they pay for is essentially just the basics. They don’t really get into the various different original styles of magic.“
“…But it still feels too good to be true.”
Said Nick, and Karan nodded.
Tianna had a complicated expression, after being complimented in this strange situation.
“There is a general style of sorts that can be learned without joining a specific sect, but it takes quite a bit of time to learn everything. Tianna has mastered many different things for her age.”
“No argument here.”
“But I do not teach the secrets of my school of magic, the Thunderbird Style. This is something that cannot be taught to just anyone, no matter how much money they have.
It is also not something taught in a classroom environment, but rather something transmitted by serious training under my personal tutelage.”
“…So you’re saying you’ll teach that?”
“Correct. I was going to do so anyway after she quit being an adventurer and followed me.
If what he said was true, it was an appropriate reward, perhaps even greater than what he would be getting if he won.
Tianna understood this, and nervously gulped.
“That’s enough of a reward for Tianna…. But what about you?”
Nick said as he turned to Suisen, who grimaced hard enough to ruin her beautiful features.
“Karan, you don’t know everything about how to use the Dragon Bone Sword, do you?”
Karan was taken by surprise, and Suisen gasped in a purposefully exaggerated manner.
“You can only spout out fire right? That’s like a means to bring out the power of our race, but if you think that’s all, you’re sorely mistaken.”
“I-is there more…?”
“I’m saying I’ll teach you if you win.”
Said Suisen with a provocative tone.
Karan glared back at her with a harsh expression, but could not hide her interest.
“Can we do it?”
Both Tianna and Karan looked at Nick with uncertainty in their eyes.
“I want to say we shouldn’t try to cross this dangerous bridge, but…”
[Could we really call ourselves adventurers if we ran away here?] was the thought going through Nick’s mind.
Though, it was not just about them being adventurers. It was also about standing against something they were not willing to do. Thus, Nick had no intention of stopping them. If he complained, it would simply be because he lacked faith in his team members, and in the end, he wanted to leave it up to Karan and Tianna.
“Let’s work out the details and make things clear.”
“Here I was thinking it’s been a while and yet, you want another duel? You rascals are getting stranger and stranger…”
Wilma, the manager who stopped by once in a while, said as she sighed.
Although she was old, she had a discerning eye and still moved fluidly. The only thing about her that matched her age was her appearance. That day, she was as sharp as ever.
When she heard Survivors’ request, she took them to the conference room in the back.
“Not only that, but you want to face the Wanderers?”
Asked Nick, and Bellocchio explained.
“That is the name of our party, composed of myself, Suisen, and two veteran adventurers we hired. I just happened to see them here in this guild, so let me get them.”
[It is rare for people to hire party members. This sort of makeshift party would usually not function very well…] Nick thought, before he heard familiar voices.
“Hey. I haven’t seen you here in a while.”
“I heard you’ve been doing great over at Manhunt.”
Said a man that looked like a swordsman and a man that looked like a sorcerer.
“Wait… Marcus and Willey?”
The swordsman was Marcus. He had light brown skin, and long black hair tied in the back.
His armor and equipment were stylish, making him look refined.
Willey was the sorcerer. His body was long and thin, and he had blonde frizzy hair. This coupled with his worn-out robe made him look boorish. He was a fan of idols, just like Nick.
These two men were veterans in Fishermen.
“Now that I think about it, you two work by helping other parties…”
“We’re always here to help… Is what I’d say if we weren’t enemies this time.”
Said Willey with a shrug.
“You know each other? Let’s begin this already, I have things to do.”
Said Wilma, and everyone nodded.
“First, we need to confirm the primary conditions. This is a duel between Survivors and Wanderers. If Wanderers win, those two will leave Survivors and go along with the two from Wanderers. Is this correct?”
“Yes, I’ll take Karan with me, and Bellocchio will take that lady.”
Said Suisen, sounding as if it had been decided already.
“And if Survivors win, you two will teach them your techniques. What a weird match. Oh well, at least it’s simpler than the one with the Steel Tiger Crew.
“Simple for you. But for us, it’s very serious.”
Mumbled Nick, and Wilma snorted in response.
“Still… This is good. Both parties have the potential to go beyond rank D. I have no complaints.”
“Hn…? I don’t see your point.”
“It’s almost time for the estivation period, but something happens just before that. Do you get it?”
“The pre-hibernation meal…”
This was the name given to a certain behavior of monsters that happened before the estivation period. Despite its name, it was not like bears stuffing themselves with food before sleeping through the winter, it simply meant that their activity suddenly exploded, and they became more ferocious.
Because of this, some bosses would evolve into a higher ranked being, much like the ogre Nick and the others faced in the Goblin Forest.
Intermediary adventurers could deal with monsters in low difficulty labyrinths like the Goblin Forest, but it could be a problem when bosses of more difficult labyrinths evolved.
During this period before summer, labyrinth exploration required an extra degree of caution.
“A named monster appeared. The E rank party that faced it didn’t make a dent in it, and they all had to retreat.”
“Thousand Sword Peak.”
“That’s good timing. It is but… It’s also a problem.
Mumbled Tianna when she heard the name Thousand Sword Peak.
“Isn’t that one of the labyrinths we have to conquer to advance to rank D?”
Said Nick, and Wilma explained further.
“It’s one of the mountains in the Five Rings mountain range, next to Blazing Bird Peak. I’m assuming you haven’t been there yet by the way you’re talking.”
“Yes, we just conquered Blazing Bird Peak the other day… I’m a bit worried about the labyrinth itself, but what do you mean a named monster?”
“You defeated the ogre that appeared in the Goblin Forest didn’t you? It’s the same thing, a boss that appears regularly evolved into something stronger. We give them names as a way to alert people. There’s a special reward given to whoever defeats it.”
Nick heard Wilma’s explanation, and had a question.
“The boss of Thousand Sword peak is the great ogre… That thing evolved?”
“Yes. It was already on the verge of evolving, from what they said. Its body isn’t too big, but it’s incredibly agile. I have a proposal for how this match is going to go.”
“Whoever defeats that named monster, wins. That’s it, right?”
Wilma smiled as she took out a piece of paper.
In it, were the monster’s name, a drawing of its appearance, and the reward for its head.
“The target is Ushiwaka and the reward is three million dinnar. Whoever takes it down first wins. How does that sound?”