Once everything was in order, the whole team got together to practice overall tactics, and then Daryl explained his general strategies and battle flow. He had a few stutters along the way, prompting Amira and Hannah to poke fun at him, but he did manage to say everything he wanted to — and seemed quite relieved by the end of it.
Then, after the strategy meeting, as Amira yawned out of boredom, Daryl mustered up his courage to talk to her.
“U-um, Amira. I’d like to talk…”
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“It’s about how you fight grounded enemies — if you can, I’d like you to prioritize killing the ones that have long-ranged weapons.”
“Hmm… I see. Got it.”
“Huh!? A-ah, thank you.”
Amira’s no-nonsense reply made Daryl look as if his world had been turned upside down… which then caused the former to turn grumpy.
“What? The hell’s that look for?”
“S-sorry! I… I still have other things to talk about!” Daryl promptly apologized and proceeded to talk to Amira more about the upcoming Mount Golem battle.
In the background, Hannah was knitting her brows trying to read through an assignment sheet. The sheet listed the types of arrows Diniel used, with each color associated with a different instruction. Diniel herself was sitting in front of her like a teacher supervising an exam.
“This is… you know, that one. Retreat!”
“Correct. But you made a wild guess, didn’t you?”
Being questioned with a soul-piercing glare from Diniel, Hannah could not help but look away… because the former had hit bull’s eye. Diniel heaved a sigh and picked up her fountain pen.
“Guess it’s just your chest that gets the nutrients from all the food you eat, huh?”
“What does that have to do with anything!?”
With Diniel using the pen to poke at her chest, Hannah promptly nudged the former away, but all she got back was a cold, emotionless stare. Diniel could only assume, from Hannah’s severe inability to memorize things, that the latter had a few screws loose in her head.
“You can read the text, so you’re supposed to understand what it says. You weren’t educated all that much, were you?”
“Uh… w-well, I’m from a village in the countryside, so… I guess?”
“How’d you get to learn to read and write, then?”
“…The village chief forced me to. Also taught some basic maths.”
“And their teachings managed to stick despite your tendency to forget things. Now THAT is what I call a good leader. A treasure of the Birdkin.”
Diniel’s relentless bashings brought tears to Hannah’s eyes, but she was not at all affected upon seeing the latter’s face. Despite all the time she had spent, Hannah had managed to get only about half of the questions correct so far — a great deal of wasted time and effort.
Despite liking to slack off, Diniel also hated to spend time wastefully. She had neither mercy nor tolerance for Hannah, knowing that she could have spent her time doing better things such as lazing around instead.
“T-teach!! Why does Diniel look so scary!?”
With Hannah running to hide behind him, Tsutomu could not help but let out a dry chuckle. He had been somewhat aware of Hannah’s bad memorization ability, what with her sometimes being confused when he discussed skill rotations, and often unable to carry out instructions that she had claimed to understand. Write down a list of skill usage orders for her, and she was sure to look through it, but she would then end up forgetting most of it by the time she was in battle.
Still, she never forgot the experiences and knowledge she had gained by herself, being much better at learning through physical means rather than classroom-style education. As such, her evasion-based Tank skill rotations and battle experience were perfectly intact, and she was especially fast at memorizing things that she had fun doing.
“You know… Maybe Hannah’s just better at learning through real fights, rather than writing things down on paper?”
“We already did a lot of those real fights, though.”
“Right… Well, there are some things that some people aren’t suited for. Sometimes you just can’t force it.”
“Sir Tsutomu, you should also consider what I’m suited for–“
“No slacking, boy,” Tsutomu promptly cut Daryl off without even turning to look at the latter.
“You’re never gonna go easy on me, are you!?” Daryl shouted back.
Diniel, seeing Daryl’s dog ears droop down, proceeded to grab them with both her hands, then said with a relaxed voice,
“I’m gonna make sure she remembers everything. Otherwise, all the time I’ve put in would go to waste.”
“Oh, and I’ll try changing my teaching style tomorrow,” Diniel said in her usual no-energy tone as she took her hands off the embarrassed Daryl, then she proceeded to leave the meeting, returning to her room.
After seeing Diniel off, Hannah pulled a dry smile, let out a sigh, and sat down on the sofa.
“Man, I really made her mad…”
“Eh, you shouldn’t worry about it too much.”
“Yeah, he’s right. I don’t get any of that mumbo jumbo, either! You’ll be fine!”
Amira laughed cheerfully as she sat beside Hannah, helping the latter to regain some energy. Hannah looked up, her blue hair bouncing.
“I’ve always been this way… When I left the village, my parents stopped me because I didn’t have any real plans — and when I started Tanking for Ealdred Crow, everyone tried to convince me not to. But I never listened to any of them. I’m such an idiot…”
“What? Why do you care? Tsutomu totally knew that, but he still invited you here. Right?”
Dragged into the conversation unprompted, Tsutomu beamed Amira an annoyed glare. Hannah heaved a sigh and cast her eyes down, seeming even smaller than usual due to her dampened mood.
“For the record, I DON’T think you’re an idiot, Hannah. I just wanted you with us because you were a Boxer trying to Tank.”
“So, you wouldn’t have talked to her if not for that?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“That means she wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t an idiot! That’s right — being an idiot is fine! Hell, I’m an idiot, too — just a different kind! C’mon, Hannah, cheer up–“
“Stop calling me an idiot already, you idiot!”
Hannah slapped Amira’s head with the wings on her back.
“Ouch–! Hey, stop it!”
In the end, Amira got quite a few blue feathers stuck in her red hair.
“…Well! Moping around wouldn’t make things any better! I’ll do my best, Teach!”
“Ah, yeah. Good luck.”
Hannah, with her motivation restored, slapped her own cheeks, grabbed her assignment sheets, and went back upstairs to her room.
“The hell’s wrong with her!? I cheered her up, and all I get are slaps!?”
Amira grew grumpy due to her disheveled hair, not understanding what she had done to deserve this.
“Well, you DID succeed though, so that’s nice. Thanks,” Tsutomu said to Amira as he helped remove the feathers from her hair, helping her to simmer down.
Then, when Tsutomu handed her a comb, Amira snatched it from his hand and hastily groomed her hair.
“Hmph, I just don’t wanna see anyone stronger than me be depressed, that’s all. Makes me look worse than I already am.”
“…Can I punch you?” Amira asked, annoyed by Tsutomu’s somewhat condescending tone.
“No,” Tsutomu promptly said and scooted away, twirling one of the blue feathers between his fingers.
The next day, the Absolute Helix party made their final preparations for the Mount Golem battle. Their attack strategy this time revolved around Diniel’s <<Stream Arrow>> due to its high elemental damage output, so their intensive training had been mainly to prevent friendly fire as a result of lacking coordination.
Hannah would be the one to pull most of the Mount Golem’s aggro, so the signal arrows were shot close to her. But today, the place where they were shot to was slightly changed.
An arrow with a whistle-like head passed by just above Hannah’s head, so close and so powerful that she could feel the wind pressure from it.
This had happened only occasionally before, but this time, all of the signal arrows flew extremely close to her. After the battle, Hannah awkwardly tried to talk to Diniel, who had her usual sleepy look in her eyes.
“What was that instruction?”
“Did you hear the signal?”
“N-no, I didn’t… sorry.”
“Okay. Next time, listen carefully and tell me what its instruction is.”
Hannah had expected Diniel to say something — considering how upset the latter had been yesterday — and turned away relieved that there was no scolding yet. Seeing Hannah like that, Diniel spoke up as if she had just remembered to,
“If you get it wrong, my hands might start slipping.”
Diniel quickly nocked a signal arrow and let it loose at a nearby boulder. Despite the arrow being wooden, her STR and DEX boosted its power enough for it to gouge a hole in the stone surface. Hearing the arrow emit a scream-like sound as it shattered into pieces, Hannah felt a corner of her mouth twitching.
“Y-you’re kidding, right?”
[Nope. She’s totally gonna kill me…]
Seeing that Diniel was opening her eyes wider than usual, Hannah knew by instinct that things were getting dangerous. Afterward, Hannah managed to recognize all of the instructions and correctly answer every question — unknown whether it be due to fear or yesterday’s studies.
“Amira. Let’s try to keep a little more distance between us,” Daryl said. He was much more vocal during combat today, after knowing yesterday that he could talk to Amira just fine. For starters, he gave her instructions on managing aggro and maintaining awareness of the combat situation.
And Amira, having recognized Daryl as her superior, followed his instructions without a fuss. They had been working together just fine before without verbal communication, but now that Daryl started talking, their synergy was starting to improve even more.
“That was nice, Amira.”
Until now, from Tsutomu’s point of view, Daryl looked like Amira’s junior, but they seemed different now that there was more talking involved. Amira still rarely spoke to Daryl, but at least she listened attentively to what the latter had to say.
Moreover, the lack of verbal communication meant that there was something akin to a wall between the pair. Amira may have not felt it, but Daryl certainly did — what with him finding it difficult to talk to her, or even saying the things he wanted to. Such state of affairs had pained Daryl’s heart a long time.
Now that he managed to talk to her, however, Amira turned out to be a surprisingly good listener. She was still snarky, and her tone still intimidating, but she was not one to walk away from a serious discussion. As soon as Daryl realized this, the wall between him and Amira was cleared away, helping him feel much more emotionally at peace.
Tsutomu smiled as he observed the pair talking to each other, while also keeping up with his usual healing and support. He was already used to his new strategies, the tempo of which he had adjusted to work with his new Scorchstone Robe, so new he was thinking of casting <<Medic>> and <<Barrier>> more to help with Hannah’s stamina problem.
Other things he was thinking about included how to quickly prepare equipment for party members who were revived after death, and how to deal with the sudden gain of aggro after casting <<Raise>>. Having the Scorchstone Robe for himself meant he could wing things better than before, but as the team’s only Healer, the party would lose their sole means of revival if he was to die. To prevent that from happening, Tsutomu tried casting <<Haste>> for himself as well, and was using <<Barrier>> more frequently to get a better estimate of how much mental energy it consumed.
And then, with the final adjustments completed without incident, the team agreed to challenge the Mount Golem on the following day.