Thirteen years ago, Weiss had lost all his comrades in a certain Dungeon, and since then, he had fought alone. The fear of loss had never left him, but the grief had also rendered him unable to give up fighting. After finally laying all of his undead-turned comrades to rest and conquering that Dungeon all by himself, he still felt as if a hole had been left agape in his heart.
At that point was when he caught wind of a certain rumor — of God’s Dungeon, in which those fallen would come back to life. Although quite skeptical at first, he eventually believed it after seeing the Monitors and Explorers coming out of the Guild’s Black Gate. In God’s Dungeon, he would never lose his comrades. Knowing that, he had rushed to establish his very own Clan, having been so starved of the company of friends.
After years of fighting alone with reckless abandon, however, Weiss’ conversational abilities had diminished. That, and the fact that he had become somewhat of a living legend for conquering a Dungeon alone, caused people to be too scared to talk to him, worsening things even more.
But recently, starting from the discussion with his long-time friend Cecilia, Weiss had started making an effort to change. Suddenly becoming talkative was out of the question, of course, so Cecilia served as his sole conversation partner at first.
During the first week, Weiss was unable to even talk properly. Hung up on what his partner would think of his words, he would always find himself lost in thought instead. Thanks to Cecilia’s persistence in questioning him, however, he gradually managed to get more and more words out.
Then, after about three weeks of practice, he was finally able to hold decent conversations. Weiss’ thoughts, previously frozen in his silence for many years, were unraveled by Cecilia’s help — and this morning, it was finally time…
“…Good morning” Weiss took the initiative to greet everyone, as opposed to his usual routine of simply nodding to them as he passed by.
“Huh? A-ah! Good morning!” The Clan members, while quite surprised, replied to him.
Watching over Weiss, Cecilia grinned with satisfaction. It was a joyful moment for her, despite the others being possibly horrified by the apparently sudden change, since she knew the truth of the situation.
Cecilia had not expected Weiss to be scared of interacting with people — or even for him to admit so. After all, he had also been that way back when he invited her to join the Clan, so she had never thought it out of the ordinary.
And as of now, she was the only one who knew that. Weiss had asked her to keep it under wraps for now, fearing that people would be disappointed in him if they were to find out.
[It’s a secret between us!]
Considering that Cecilia had been prepared to be expelled for bringing the topic up in the first place, she was fine with how things were going now. In fact, she was enjoying this quite a bit.
The Clan’s members had started noticing Weiss’ change of attitude, and had been chatting over the topic during breakfasts. Many of them had originally joined the Clan to follow Weiss due to him being somewhat of a living legend because of his past achievements. As such, it was hard for them to contain the excitement and happiness of being personally greeted by him.
Alma was the only one unhappy, but she was not about to say something that would ruin the mood for everyone else, so she simply ate her breakfast… while constantly holding on to the Black Staff. Afterward, the members split into the usual two groups and headed to the Guild.
“…I’m thinking we should focus on earning Gold for today,” Weiss proposed today’s plans to the others along the way.
“Say what?” Alma immediately responded, her face contorting like a wolf detecting a vulnerable sheep in the wild. “Are we really going to take it easy now, with Ealdred Crow catching up to us? Don’t we have more than enough money already?”
“But what? Go ahead, if you’ve got a problem, then spell it out.”
Alma scowled at Weiss, causing him to fall silent — as he usually would. Such was the way she fueled her superiority complex, through cutting off and talking down Weiss. The others, not saying anything about it, also made her grow more and more arrogant, and eventually, she acted as if she was the Clan Leader herself.
But things did not play out the same today, as Weiss had been working on his speech for some change to occur.
“…Do you really think we can win by fighting the way we do?”
Hearing Weiss object to her now, Alma was surprised to the point of being visibly confused. She had only experienced this once before, three weeks ago.
“Ealdred Crow hasn’t been attempting the Mount Golem lately. So this is our chance to build up more combat experience and stay ahead of them, don’t you think?”
Hearing Alma’s opinion, Weiss spent some time thinking it over. Alma, not hearing an immediate counterargument, did not expect any — and so she groaned triumphantly. But then, when the group was about to arrive at the Guild…
“We’re not even putting up a fight now. All we do is put on an embarrassing show, get killed, and throw our Gold and supplies down the drain. Isn’t that right?” Cecilia said to Alma, putting herself between the latter and Weiss.
Alma’s surprise was twofold: one for the fact that Cecilia had intervened in the first place, and two for the fact that she somewhat agreed to the statement. Fighting with four Attackers was inefficient and would most likely get them wiped out without dealing much damage. After all, that was how most of their battles had gone.
“We’ve only opened one treasure chest so far, and maybe we’ll fare better if we get some more Dungeon-looted gear, right? We could make some Gold by finding new materials, too.” Cecilia elaborated further, laying down a combo of truth bombs and a healing smile.
“…Okay, fine,” Alma reluctantly nodded and quickly walked away.
Cecilia put her hands on her chest and sighed, relieved of worries for the time being. Weiss approached her.
“I-it’s fine! I mean, sorry if I was out of line!” Cecilia said, but despite her words, she was too flustered to hide her real expression. She had always noticed that Weiss would make a certain look whenever he wanted to thank someone, but since the day she joined Scarlet Devil Squad, this was the first time he ever thanked her directly.
As Cecilia stood there, stunned, the party’s two other Attackers walked over to her and asked,
“Hey, what’s going on between you two? Weiss was… totally being nice to you, yeah?”
“No way. How about you try talking to him, too?”
“I wouldn’t be asking you if I could do that! …So, he’s totally mad at Alma… right?”
“Oh, but you actually can. C’mon, let’s go.”
Cecilia grabbed one of the Attackers by his arm and threw him in front of Weiss, then nudged him forward on his back. He proceeded to freeze over, as if he was a toad being stared down by a giant snake.
A few moments passed with him unable to do anything, then he eventually thought of blaming Cecilia if something were to happen and proceeded to throw out a question about Alma’s situation. Weiss, being asked so, fell silent for a moment. The other man, feeling an awkward atmosphere take hold, broke into a cold sweat, then, eventually unable to bear with the silence, he shouted,
“N-nevermind, Weiss! Sorry for bringing that up!”
He turned around and was about to leave, but was promptly stopped by Cecilia.
“C’mon, don’t run.”
“Lemme go, Cecilia! What if he kicks me out!?”
The man desperately tried to shake himself free, but then…
“…Alma is… too obsessed with power.”
Hearing Weiss’ words, the Attacker was stunned. His Leader used to stay absolutely silent no matter who spoke to him. He had not expected Weiss to actually respond to his question.
In truth, Weiss had always tried to answer his Clan members whenever they asked him things. However, the fear of how people would interpret his words had always stopped him, causing him to spend too much time thinking, during which, his conversation partners would simply cut the conversation short and move on. This resulted in him being unable to answer anything up until now.
“…She’s my responsibility. I’d like to help her out of this mess.”
“Sorry for all the problems up to now…”
“N-no, you don’t have to be!”
The man bowed repeatedly, emotionally moved by Weiss’ words despite the admittedly awkward attempt. Seeing that, another one of the Clan members also timidly asked Weiss something he was curious about. Weiss took as long to come up with a reply as he had before, but the answer did eventually come. The two Attackers proceeded to chat with Weiss for a while, until…
“Guys!? What the hell!?”
Alma, noticing that no one had followed her, rushed back to the group to call them.
“…For Rock Beetles, use a sword to stab straight into its mouth. Be precise.”
“No need to worry about its tough shell; all you need is to hurt it from inside.”
While exploring layer sixty-nine of the Dungeon, Weiss also did his best to talk to his Clan members, mostly on the topic of the Volcano’s monster behaviors and weak points. He was not as slow to reply here, perhaps because combat-related topics were easier for him to talk about.
Alma, annoyed by how Weiss was acting today, cast her spell to crush the Rock Beetles’ rock-shaped shells by practically dropping a bigger rock on them.
Since it was true that Alma had been killing the most monsters during the team’s time in this biome, she was openly proud about being the member with the biggest contribution. Despite that, the party members were grouping around Weiss today, to her annoyance.
And then Weiss called out to her. She glared at him, but the latter simply looked back with his expression unchanged.
“Using the <<Meteor>> is nice and all, but I’d like you to try other skills, too.”
“What? Now you’re telling me how to do things? You know that I’ve killed more monsters than you, right?”
Weiss could not say anything to deny that claim. It was true that Alma’s contributions were greater than anyone in the Volcano layers. But as he stayed silent, one of the team’s Attackers next to him stepped forward and said,
“Hey, what’s with that attitude, Alma? Weiss is our Leader, you know?”
“…I’m just telling the truth,” Alma replied, albeit quite surprised yet again that, after Cecilia earlier, this man would also talk back to her.
The man nodded in agreement.
“True, Alma, you’ve killed the most monsters while we were in the Volcano layers.”
“So why’d you–“
“But what about before? The Canyons, the Wastelands, the Swamps — was your kill count higher than Weiss’? Pretty sure it’s not.”
“Your performance will be better or worse depending on the layer’s properties — that’s normal. I know you’re strong, Alma, but you do remember that an Attacker’s value isn’t measured by just their kill count, right?”
“…What the hell, you guys never said anything about this before, and NOW you have a problem with me!? I’m so strong right now that I won’t lose to Weiss, no matter what layer it is!”
“Because you have that staff, you mean? That’s not exactly your own power.”
The man pointed at the Black Staff in Alma’s hands, prompting the latter to twitch an eyebrow.
“This staff is mine!”
“What? No. It’s the Clan’s property. I mean, everyone chipped in — you’re only using it.”
“But I’m the only one who can use it!”
“Got anything to say about that, Weiss?”
The two turned to Weiss, causing him to freeze up. Seeing that, Alma raised both her hands, feeling that it was a waste of time.
“Like he’ll actually answer. You’re going to be ignored, like always.”
Told so by the man, Alma nodded casually and turned to Weiss as the latter stood there. Weiss had the usual sour look on his face, and he was completely immobile.
“See, he’s always like this–“
“…The staff is the Clan’s property.”
“You heard the man.”
Alma’s eyes opened wide as she heard Weiss and the man’s answers. She had always thought that Weiss would never respond no matter who talked to him, and that one could never expect an answer out of him. Whenever he opened his mouth, it was only for either administrative or battle-related matters — and even then, he would sometimes opt to forgo those as well.
“…Technically, you’re only borrowing it, Alma. Others have the right to use it, too.”
“W-what did you just say!? No, they can’t! I’m the only one who can use it!”
“…Listen, I noticed something during the Stampede…”
Weiss’ statement caught everyone’s attention. He continued to slowly explain, sorting through the words that came up and disappeared from his stream of thoughts.
“…Tsutomu picked up the staff after you lost it. And when it was in his hands, all of the jewels on it were shining.”
“W-what!? What are you getting at here!?”
“…Maybe it’s because he’s special… or because he’s a White Mage.”
The Black Staff had ten Treasure Tools embedded in it. When it was in Alma’s hands, only three of them glowed, as opposed to all ten when it was held by Tsutomu. From this, one could guess easily that the Black Staff was meant for White Mages.
“…We can test that out by having Cecilia hold it.”
Alma tightened her hold on the Black Staff. The look she had was of a mother desperately keeping her child from being kidnapped.
“You’ve got to be kidding! Like hell I’m gonna hand it over! It’s mine!”
“…You’re too obsessed with it, Alma. You should separate from it for a while.”
“No!! It’s mine! This staff is mine! Get away from me!”
Screaming like a madwoman, she stepped back with her arms wrapped tightly around the Black Staff. Then she quickly realized that the situation was not at all in her favor, so she proceeded to get down on her knees… while still holding the Black Staff.
“I’m sorry, all right!? So please! Don’t take it from me! It’s mine! Please! You can’t do this to me! Please!” Alma repeatedly pleaded, her teary face down on the Volcano’s burning earth.
All the other party members around her were taken aback by how emotionally unstable she was.
“…Let go of the staff now. You’ll have it back later, I promise.”
“No! Stop! Help, anyone! I’m gonna die! If I don’t have it, I’m gonna die! Don’t take it away from me!!”
Despite Alma’s cries and pleas, Weiss pulled the Black Staff away from her hands. Then he pinned her down as she started thrashing around, getting scratched on his face by her nails in the process. The wounds were subsequently healed by the effects of his <<Phoenix Soul>>.
With the Black Staff confiscated, the members of Scarlet Devil Squad restrained Alma to prevent her from going on a rampage as they left the Dungeon.
Three days had passed since the Black Staff was confiscated from Alma. She had since locked herself in her room, refusing to come out no matter who tried to talk to her. All of the Clan members were starting to feel worried and uneasy.
The scene of Alma begging on her knees had been shown on the Monitor, of course, which caused somewhat of a buzz among the spectators. Thankfully, none of the newspapers focused on the topic, and when Ealdred Crow claimed their first victory over the Mount Golem, that was what went all over the news instead.
“…Sorry for all the trouble.”
And so Weiss came clean to his Clan members about his fear of people, apologizing for his inadequate communication up to now. Everyone was surprised by the reveal, but they took it well, showing no disappointment whatsoever.
It was true that Weiss had rarely spoken before, but the Clan members had taken no issue with that — until Alma started acting up. Weiss had not meant any harm, and he had communicated through nodding and gesturing as needed. Everyone was happy to just be fighting alongside a living legend.
And like Cecilia, the other Clan members did not seem particularly concerned about Weiss’ fear of people. Relieved to know that, Weiss closed his eyes.
“You know, I’ve always wanted you to praise me a bit.”
“And that thing about you trying to get Garm to join us — now that I think about it, he was pretty much the only guy you talked to. Made me think you weren’t happy with the rest of us or something.”
They did have some dissatisfaction built up after Alma started acting up, however, so they spelled it out — in a non-serious manner.
“…I’m really sorry.”
Still, hearing those comments right in his face, Weiss did feel some urge to run away.
“Uh, Weiss, we’re sorry, all right?”
“…Don’t be. It’s my fault.”
“No, it can’t be ALL your fault, Weiss! …We’re partly to blame, too. Because we never said anything.”
And so the issue of poor communication resulting from Weiss’ silence was resolved, and he was on perfectly fine terms with his Clan members once more… except for the young woman who had locked herself in her room.
“…Listen, Alma is… my responsibility.”
Weiss knew very well how dangerous to one’s mindset a unique skill could be, precisely because of how powerful they were. But he had worked his way up from the very bottom during his time conquering other Dungeons, and the same could not be said for Alma. Despite knowing that, he had given a similar spike of power — the Black Staff — to Alma.
“…When it comes to exploring the Dungeon, it would be best for Cecilia to use the Black Staff, but…”
When the Black Staff had been taken from Alma and passed over to Cecilia, all of its Treasure Tools shone brightly, fully confirming that it was meant for White Mages — and that its usefulness was not entirely the result of Alma’s strength, but its already immense power. As such, it would be quite fine to have someone else use the staff — either Cecilia, or the other Black Mage among their ranks. Do so, and the team was sure to have no problem resuming their Dungeon exploration.
“But I…” Weiss cut himself off, as it took some time to calm down.
Even to this day, he still saw his old comrades in his dreams. The comrades he had failed to save — the comrades who had been turned undead. He cast his eyes down and clenched his fists.
“…I don’t want to lose a friend ever again. I want Alma back with us — and for her to be back the way she was. It might not be right for me to say this… but…”
If it weren’t for the Black Staff, perhaps Alma would not have become as crazy as she was now. If Weiss had reined her in early on, or if the others had noticed her change, things would not have played out the way they did. He wanted the old Alma back — the Alma who used a wide variety of skills and cheered everyone up with her enthusiasm.
Weiss looked straight ahead at his Clan members, and they all looked back at him.
“No one will be using the Black Staff. I don’t think things will end well otherwise, and Alma will leave for real… But that does mean our Dungeon progress will be slower from here on out. This might be a problem for some of us, but please…”
Weiss bowed down deeply, sounding as if he was on the verge of tears.
“I’d like you all to give me some time to make things right, both for me and her.”
The Clan members gulped upon hearing Weiss’ plea for help. Then, one of the men spoke up,
“That’s fine! I want her to come back, too!”
And the other members promptly followed suit,
“Y-yeah! I’m sure that staff is just possessed by some ghost or something!”
“Yeah, it started happening when she got that staff… I’ve been too scared to say anything about it, too.”
Everyone agreed to Weiss’ proposal, with every one of them knowing how Alma once was before she started using the Black Staff — and had witnessed in full her change of attitude. They all felt responsible for letting only Alma use the Black Staff for so long.
“…You all have my thanks.”
Weiss bowed again to his Clan members, thankful for their agreement.