The day after Ealdred Crow defeated the Mount Golem, Tsutomu proposed to his clan members that they started their activities in full.
“I’m thinking we should get into the meat of our activities starting today. First of all, let’s kill the Fire Dragon.”
“Finally. I was getting tired of waiting.”
Sitting on her usual sofa, Amira put her hands together and cracked their joints. It had been a whole month since she was first able to maintain her consciousness after the disengagement of her <<Dragon Form>>. Absolute Helix as a whole had been doing well, too, making good progress while keeping up their training.
Since the Dungeon’s Black Gate would disappear while Boss monsters were present on the layer, challengers could not return from their attempt partway through. As such, Tsutomu did not want his team to take on Layer Bosses unless he could at least fully trust the Tanks’ abilities. With that said, Daryl’s synergy with the team had been greatly improving over the past two months, so much so that he seemed more capable than Garm during the latter’s time with Tsutomu. And since Hannah was also getting better at evasion-based tactics, Tsutomu decided that it was time to challenge the Fire Dragon.
Moreover, due to the greater variety of monsters that would appear in the Volcano layers, another goal for the team was to get everyone used to working with one another while things were less chaotic. Hannah was a veteran Explorer, and Hannah had been in this line of work for long enough, but Daryl and Amira had yet to understand the Dungeon on a deep level. Daryl had been a luggage carrier until Garm taught him the ways of a Tank, and Amira had been fighting her way through with her unmastered <<Dragon Form>> rendering moot to all the experience she would have gained otherwise.
Naturally, there were monsters that these two had never fought before, particularly the Demi-Lich, a secret boss monster of the Wasteland layers. There would be more opportunities to fight some of such monsters in the coming layers, so Tsutomu wanted them to get their feet wet now.
Tsutomu had also taken some time to think about sponsorships, discussing it with Amy whenever he had the chance to. Seemingly happy to be asked about her area of expertise, she had looked quite proud as she taught Tsutomu the ins and outs of the business.
And when it came to money, Ollie, as the Clan House’s accountant, had advised that Tsutomu should not rely on his personal Gold reserve to get everything done. As such, Tsutomu had decided to try signing into a sponsorship program and put Ollie in charge of managing the Clan’s funds.
“…And with all that said, Mister Tsutomu has entrusted me with the management of the Clan’s equipment funds. Please do cooperate nicely — now, first of all, Miss Diniel. You are spending far too much on restocking your arrows.”
“It’s a necessary sacrifice.”
“I have already investigated your spendings on arrows during your time with Golden Tune. Compared to that, you are obviously splurging on them much more now.”
Diniel did not like Ollie much because the latter had been forcing her to take daily baths. That, coupled with Ollie’s abnormal strength, had led Diniel to give her a nickname that sounded like ‘Orc,’ which did not particularly faze Ollie herself but definitely got reactions out of Daryl and Hannah.
“What did you just say, Diniel!? Apologize to her now!”
“That’s right, that’s right! Insulting our Miss Ollie is an unforgivable sin!”
“Shut up, Orcie simps.”
“Y-you wanna try saying that again, huh!?”
Daryl had been getting belly rubs from Ollie, and Hannah was practically addicted to her massages and feather grooming. Amira had also gotten belly rubs, but ultimately found her nagging to be quite annoying, and thus pretended to not see whatever was happening now.
Diniel started at Daryl and Hannah, eyes freezing cold.
“Yeah, I’ll say it — SIMPS. She’s bribed you two so hard, you’re like a dog begging for food and a bird in heat for an Orc. Feel some shame.”
“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
“Now, now. Calm down, Miss Hannah.”
Ollie held Hannah back as the latter was about to start a fight, and proceeded to continue her discussion with Diniel. In the end, it was decided that Diniel’s budget would be more constrained, limiting the number of arrows she would get to purchase from now on.
While all that chaos went on in the Clan House, Tsutomu signed a sponsorship deal with Dorren Workshop, the very store where Daryl and Garm had been getting their gear from. The contract entailed the Clan advertising the store by putting the store’s emblem on their gear and Magic Bags. This enabled them to not worry about micromanaging this side gig much, and also did not limit their usable equipment in any way.
In exchange for having all Clan members advertise the store’s emblem, Dorren Workshop would transfer the Clan a percentage of their boosted sales revenue, offer them discounts on armor maintenance, and potentially supply them with new gear where applicable. With this contract in place, the cost of Dary’s heavy armor was greatly reduced. Besides, it was big in itself to form a business connection with Dorren Workshop.
This deal also meant that Amira could get her greatsword honed for free, so she was quite happy about that. She had been fixing up her gear every single day, but it would always be best to have them serviced by professionals instead.
All in all, over the past month, the Clan had been focused on three things: fighting a greater variety of monsters, normalizing the Clan’s management system, and finalizing the sponsorship contract with Dorren Workshop. Although their layer progressed had not gotten any further, one could say that they had achieved quite good enough results.
“The Fire Dragon, huh…” Diniel muttered to herself as she worked on her bow in the living room.
In addition to Ealdred Crow getting past layer seventy, Golden Tune had successfully defeated the Fire Dragon just the other day. Assuming that the latter part was what she was thinking about, Tsutomu was about to talk to her, but then she continued to say,
“After the Stampede, that thing sounds so… weak.”
On top of the absurdly powerful Devourer Dragon, she had also faced the Lightning, Ice, and Black Dragons during that time. Compared to them, the Fire Dragon seemed quite insignificant to her now. Hearing that, Tsutomu crossed his arms.
“We should be able to win without any issues. Just take it easy.”
Daryl and Hannah seemed less energetic than usual, apparently worried about challenging the Fire Dragon. So far, only Silver Beast and the major Clans had managed to win against it. The Guild officers and Labyrinth Conquerors had claimed their victories around the same time as Golden Tune, and the Security Team seemed quite close to scoring a win, though they still seemed to be having certain difficulties.
“It’ll be fine. You two have gotten much better over the past two months — especially you, Hannah. You’re almost like a whole new person now.”
“Y-you think? But it’s still THE Fire Dragon we’re talking about…”
Hannah scratched her cheek, apparently still doubting herself. Even her blue hair, which usually would be bouncing with energy, looked to somehow be in low spirits. She had already fought the Fire Dragon a few dozen times during her time with Ealdred Crow, but all attempts had ended with her team being wiped. Now she could not recognize the monster as anything but an unstoppable, unwinnable powerhouse.
“If you die, Daryl and Diniel can cover for you. Don’t worry about it too much.”
“…And what if I die?”
“Then everything’s over right then and there. So, try to keep yourself standing, yes?”
“…I think my stomach’s starting to ache.”
Feeling the casual pressure from Tsutomu, Daryl let out a dry chuckle and held his own belly. He had never faced the Fire Dragon before, so logically speaking, he was supposed to be the one being covered instead of Hannah. Regardless, Tsutomu believed that Daryl would be fine, considering what he had seen during the past two months.
“And Amira… do you think you’ll be all right?”
“Well, Camille seemed perfectly okay going in, but when the fight started, her Dragon instincts kicked in and… that made her… well…”
“Hah! Don’t just assume that I’m the same as the ancient Dragon, man. That oversized lizard ain’t gonna spook me.”
“Right, now that I think about it… you did face the Devourer Dragon. The Fire Dragon might actually be just a lizard compared to that.”
Amira had participated in the Stampede defense as an Attacker near the rear lines. Her Dragon instincts meant she had also been directly affected by the Devourer Dragon’s mere presence, so unlike Camille, she had already felt something more powerful than the Fire Dragon. Still, she averted her gaze, as if she did not want to recall that memory.
“All right then, let’s go.”
Since all the necessary training had been done, Tsutomu was not worried about anything in particular when it came to fighting the Fire Dragon. With confidence, he and everyone headed to the Guild and, after completing the registration, teleported down to layer fifty-nine.
After exploring layer fifty-nine and finding the Black Gate down to layer sixty, the Absolute Helix party put on their Red-thread Fire Coats as a countermeasure against the Fire Dragon’s breath attack. Hannah only wrapped hers around her waist, so as not to obstruct the wings on her back.
Daryl and Hannah seemed nervous, Amira looked raring to go, and Diniel was utterly unchanged from her usual mood. Tsutomu opened the Black Gate and led his team through it.
A canyon of high cliffs lined the landscape of the sixtieth layer. A Fire Dragon appeared in front of the team and roared at them.
The monster’s roar was weaker than that of the Devourer Dragon, but it still was intimidating and would stun ordinary people. Diniel and Hannah were not particularly affected, but Daryl and Amira were visibly agitated.
Amira was about to activate her <<Dragon Form>> as soon as she heard the Fire Dragon’s roar, but Tsutomu immediately blocked her mouth. Skill would not take effect unless their names were spoken out, so blocking her mouth before she was done saying it would prevent her from transforming.
A moment later, Tsutomu took his hands off Amira, and then, seeing the gliding Fire Dragon telegraph its Fire Breath, he issued his order to the team,
“Breath attack incoming. Everyone, defend with your Fire Coat!”
Hannah unwrapped the Fire Coat around her waist and covered herself with it, looking like an elementary schooler putting on protective headgear for an earthquake drill. Daryl also promptly put the coat’s hood over his head, seemingly calmed down upon hearing Tsutomu’s instruction.
Daryl was the type to easily collapse under pressure, but regardless of the situation, he could effectively follow instructions and move quickly. As such, he was unlikely to completely stop moving as long as someone was commanding him.
“Apparently, it happens to all Dragonewts. So, don’t worry about it.”
Amira felt embarrassed that her instincts had driven her to try and transform immediately. She nodded to Tsutomu and immediately put on her Fire Coat.
After looking at the three others and confirming that there were no issues, he turned to Diniel… and was promptly met with a surprising sight. Diniel usually would be totally unmotivated, but now her gaze was sharp, concentrating on the Fire Dragon.
“…You do know what you’re doing, right?”
“Well, I’m counting on you.”
Diniel pointed her bow slightly upward and nocked an arrow, preparing for the Fire Dragon. The four others crouched down, bracing for the breath while she stood her ground.
Unfazed by the flames leaking from the Fire Dragon’s mouth, Diniel shot the arrow, accurately piercing the green gem in the middle of the Dragon’s forehead. After confirming the hit, she quickly put on the hood of her coat and crouched down to defend against the fire breath.
The Fire Dragon, getting its forehead gem shattered by Diniel without even using a Flash Bottle, lost its flight ability and was forced to glide down onto the ground. Confirming that the stream of fire breath had stopped, Diniel promptly stood up.
As soon as Tsutomu called him, Daryl unleashed his aggro-pulling skill at the Fire Dragon, properly starting Absolute Helix’s battle against the monster.