Eight o’clock in the morning, the rush hour in which an endless stream of workers headed to their respective workplaces… Monitor #1, the massive size of which allowed one to see it even from a distance, was projecting live footage of Tsutomu’s party of three exploring the Dungeon’s fifty-ninth layer.
Several years prior, the Clan Camille had led was considered outstanding even among all the major Clans; their endeavors had given her a good understanding of the sub-sixtieth layers’ layouts, enabling the current team to quickly find the Black Gates. Her tall and slender body was a figure the town’s maidens strove to achieve, but unfitting of her appearance, she wielded her giant greatsword with ease, knocking out monsters left and right. She had always been a crowd puller — and her popularity, both past and present, garnered a great number of supporters.
Garm the Mad Dog had become quite a hot topic lately, too; he had not collapsed once no matter how many monsters he took on. Whenever he appeared on the Monitors, the town’s women and girls would totally fawn over him.
Tsutomu, unlike the other two, only waved his staff from the back row, shooting recovery and support skills while giving out orders; he was seen by the crowd as the pompous and authoritative one. That, coupled with Solit Company’s article, only served to tarnish the spectators’ opinions on him.
Most of the spectators thought it was all Garm and Camille’s work that had brought the team to the fifty-ninth layer. Although some of them had their eyes on Tsutomu, curious about his skill shots, their opinion on him had been negative from the onset due to Solit Company’s recent article. As such, they refrained from openly giving Tsutomu credit for his performance.
Still, some among the crowd had been spectating via these monitors for years, thus possessing far more knowledge than the common explorer. These so-called Dungeon Maniacs had at least some appreciation towards Tsutomu’s role.
Usually, the Valleys and Canyons of the sub-sixtieth layers were challenged by parties of five, the maximum number allowed. The Valleys were no big deal, but in the Canyons of the fifty-sixth layer onward, explorers would be faced with many multi-wave monster attacks; even the famous five-man parties of mid-tier Clans would often be wiped out here.
It was already quite noteworthy that this party of three had been able to make their way through the Canyons, reaching the fifty-ninth layer. No matter how resilient Camille and Garm were, some deaths would be expected among the party members if Tsutomu were to be weak in performing his part. However, none of the three had been shown dying even once thus far.
And that was because of how Tsutomu directed the shots of his three skills — the earthy-yellow <<Protect>>, the blue <<Haste>>, and the green <<Heal>>. Each of the energy masses appeared from his staff and made their way to Garm and Camille without fail. His accuracy and precision with his skill shots, despite being out of the two others’ sights as they were occupied with fighting monsters, earned him admiration among the Dungeon Maniacs.
Time passed without incident; now it was past nine. Most workers had already gone to their workplaces by now, so most of the people keeping an eye on Monitor #1 were the women, the children, nearby beggars, and a few workers who happened to be on break. All were surprised to see the party of three enter the Black Gate to the sixtieth layer. None of them had expected the team to challenge the Fire Dragon immediately.
“Huh? They went in…”
“This should be the team’s first run, right? They’re probably just taking a look.”
“Nah, they would’ve taken in cheap equipment if they were doing that. Just look at Camille’s greatsword — it’s the real deal.”
“Eh, they probably want to see how their real weapons would hold up.”
“You know what? I bet my lunch they’ll die to the first fire breath.”
“Same, man. Same.”
“I bet second breath, then. They’ve got Fire Coats, so I guess at least one will still be alive.”
“What? Garm can take three, for sure. Ready your wallets to buy me lunch, y’all.”
“The roar will probably kill them all anyway.”
The Dungeon Maniacs chatted among themselves, greatly anticipating what happened next. The women clutched their agape mouths in amazement, while the children excitedly raised their hands whenever they saw the Fire Dragon. The crowd around Monitor #1 started getting louder and louder, their attention glued to the party of three as they dispersed into light particles and entered the Black Gate.
The only Clan that had been tackling the Fire Dragon lately was the Golden Tune, the one led by the Golden Wolfman. Ealdred Crow, the Clan with the most registered members, had only been hunting Wyverns in recent times. Scarlet Devil Squad, the Clan of only ten members despite being one of the major Clans, was still working hard to make up for the enormous deficit they had incurred from their previous Fire Dragon hunt.
As such, the audience had not been seeing the Fire Dragon be pitted against anyone other than the Golden Tune. Everyone kept their eyes on Monitor #1 with great excitement — especially the people on the front row — despite mostly expecting the fight to be over in a defeat soon. Some of them had been disinterested due to Tsutomu’s bad reputation, but now they changed their minds, curiously looking at the monitor.
After entering the sixtieth layer, Tsutomu proceeded to apply with support skills; right when he was done, the Fire Dragon leaped out of the canyon, its long, slender body flailing like a serpent. It then roared; the magnitude of its intimidation was sure to terrify all of those who heard it for the first time. Even the spectators were affected; some of the women and children screamed. Most others, on the other hand, uttered their amazement as if they were watching fireworks.
In most cases, Clans going up against the Fire Dragon for the first time were frozen in place by the roar, and subsequently burned down by the breath. The crowd kept their eyes on the three explorers on the monitor, expecting that to also be the case for this party.
Camille and Garm trembled, their faces pale; Tsutomu, on the other hand, simply covered one ear and looked with annoyance at the Fire Dragon. He then proceeded to pull Garm’s tail and slap Camille’s cheeks, bringing them back to their senses.
“That little shit! Did he just pull Garm’s tail!?”
The women went crazy with their reactions, prompting the Dungeon Maniacs to give them the stink-eye; it was that moment when the Fire Dragon’s breath engulfed the team of three. And at the same time, the light of a Flash Bottle turned Monitor #1’s live footage white. The audience, dazzled by the intense flash, was prompted to briefly close their eyes.
While the Fire Dragon’s eyes were still disabled, Tsutomu hopped onto its forehead and smashed its crystal. With the team lasting longer than they had expected, spectators started getting more and more excited. The Dungeon Maniacs, witnessing Tsutomu’s usage of the Flash Bottle and subsequent smashing of the crystal, were utterly astonished; his process had been so smooth that it was unbelievable for someone fighting the Dragon for the first time.
Camille had yet to recover; the two others let her sit aside and went to confront the Fire Dragon themselves. The crowd cheered in admiration as Garm Tanked the Fire Dragon’s attacks alone. While Garm was being knocked around, however, it was Tsutomu who kept supporting him with skills; this gradually pulled the spectators’ attention to the latter.
“Mommy, what’s that flying green thing?”
“Hmm… I don’t know, either.”
“It’s so sparkly!”
One child among the crowd asked her mother, and the lady dodged the question, not knowing what to answer.
The battle dragged on; Garm withstood the Fire Dragon’s assault for approximately forty minutes before Camille regained her strength, completing the Attacker-Tank-Healer line-up. Then they fought for two more hours straight.
The Scarlet Devil Squad’s latest Fire Dragon attempt had taken up three hours. This party of three had lasted almost as long thus far, and moreover, none among them had died even once; such excellent performance had pulled the attention of everyone in the vicinity to Monitor #1. Some called their friends over to watch together; eventually, the streets were filled with more and more people coming to check out what was up.
The Security Team, noticing the congestions, began to patrol the crowd in order to keep the spectators’ lines orderly and to avoid any trouble. The stallholders, seeing it as the high time for profit, poured their specialty sweet-and-spicy sauces onto their heated griddles, filling their stalls’ vicinities with appetizing smells. Lured in by the smell, one person in the area after another bought meat and vegetable skewers for themselves.
The time was now almost noon, or in other words, lunchtime; those among the crowd around Monitor #1 were starting to feel their stomachs rumble. The flooded to the nearby food stalls and vendors, then hurried back to keep on watching, mugs of freshly-squeezed orange juice and ale in their hands.
Garm was attracting the Fire Dragon’s attention, while Camille attacked it; those were what one would expect, but the crowd grew more and more intrigued by how Tsutomu shot and directed his skills.
“That Garm, man. He hasn’t been drinking any potions at all, right?”
“Yeah… Probably because the Lucky Boy’s been healing him. You know, those <<Heal>> balls he’s been shooting off?”
“And isn’t that <<Protect>>? The brown-ish one.”
From the audience’s perspective, it was quite an unusual sight that not a single bottle of Green Potion had been consumed thus far in such a long battle. It had been common knowledge, especially from witnessing major Clans’ strategies, that a large quantity of Green Potions was needed in order to stand a chance against the Fire Dragon. The Golden Tune and the Scarlet Devil Squad, both of which had successfully defeated the Fire Dragon before, have had to consume a large supply of Green and Blue Potions in order to achieve their victories.
But that was not the case for this party of three — only Tsutomu had been consuming anything thus far, albeit quite sparingly; he only drank half a Blue Potion once an hour. His consumption rate was clearly lower than those of the other Clans.
Additionally, their vulnerability windows during their healing phases were nothing compared to the other clans, too. Normally, one would be open to attacks while drinking a Potion, often resulting in deaths if they happened to be targeted during that time. However, Garm was getting healed as he fought on; his concentration was fully on the Fire Dragon, producing no such openings.
Healers of major Clans’ parties would only apply support skills at the beginning of a battle, then stay hidden to keep themselves alive until their teams needed them for a <<Raise>>. But unlike them, this party’s Healer never hid himself. Without fear of the adversary, he constantly unleashed his healing and support skills for his friends.
That usually would draw the Fire Dragon’s hostility toward the Healer, but Garm had been using his aggro-generating skills to keep the Dragon’s attention on him. Camille, exploiting all the openings she could, had been inflicting wound after wound onto the Fire Dragon. Although she had occasionally accumulated too much aggro and found herself under fire as a result, the team’s aggro management had been so good that Tsutomu had never been targeted once.
Then came the moment Camille gained her shiny new <<Dragon Form>> and proceeded to unleash a <<Power Slash>>, severing the Fire Dragon’s tail. The audience erupted in excitement.
“Dude! They might actually take it down!”
“Nah, no way.”
“None of them have even died once, though! That’s freaking awesome!”
“The two others, sure, but the Lucky Boy’s only been shooting stuff in the back, you know.”
“What? They haven’t even used a Green Potion, you know. That’s gotta be because he’s been shooting his Heals, right?”
Some among the spectators, other than the Dungeon Maniacs, were starting to realize the value of Tsutomu’s role. Workers on lunch break come out looking to just grab a bite, but upon seeing all the wild enthusiasm around Monitor #1, they talked to those on the edges of the spectators’ crowd.
“What’s going on? The crowd looks really hype today… wait, is that the Fire Dragon!? The Golden is at it again?”
“Nope, it’s the Lucky Boy’s party. They’ve been going at it since nine o’clock!”
“What!? You gotta be shitting me!”
“I mean, just look at them! See?”
“What the hell, it really is those three! Why’d they have to go in now!? Do it at night so I can keep watching, damn it!”
“Heh, gotta go to work, huh? Too bad, man — you’re missing out big time.”
“Damn it! …I’ll just grab a bite at the stall here. Hey, kid! How much for one of those!?”
The workers gathered around the nearby boy selling spit-roast skewers, then stood watching Monitor #1 from afar, each of them with a skewer in one hand. Camille in her new <<Dragon Form>>, Garm Tanking the Fire Dragon’s attacks all by himself… and Tsutomu directing his three-colored skills — it was their first time seeing that.
The party of three fought for another forty minutes without any among them collapsing. Eventually, the workers went back to work with looks of regret on their faces. Some among them had to be dragged away by their colleagues — those were secretly Dungeon Maniacs.
Although the technology to take black-and-white photographs had been recovered from some of the Dungeon’s treasure chests, the magical tool to record the Monitors’ broadcasts had yet to be developed. One could only watch the footage live — once it was over, it was gone for good.
Therefore, if one wanted to be noticed by a crowd, they would prefer to walk into a major battle on Sunday when most workers got a day off, or at six o’clock in the afternoon, after which day workers ended their shifts. Tsutomu did not care when it came to whether he was being watched, however; the workers had no choice but to head back to work in gloomy spirits.
From then on, the party of three kept fighting for another four hours and a half. It was unprecedented how long this Fire Dragon battle had dragged on, yet the crowd never lost interest as they kept flocking to Monitor #1. The Security Teams had the eyes of a dead fish as they regulated the ever-growing crowd, keeping the traffic in order.
“How many hours have they been fighting now…?”
“Huh, what’s that? What’s going on?”
For the spectators who were used to seeing short battles and strategies involving the use of Potions for bursts of firepower, the long-term strategy of stabilizing the battle situation and dragging on the fight was completely out of this world. At this point the Fire Dragon went berserk, gravely wounding Garm with its indiscriminate attacks — then it also landed a hit on Camille, putting the latter on the verge of collapsing. Still, Tsutomu’s skill shots and directions to his members kept the party intact.
The Fire Dragon had gotten a lot of holes in its wings, one side of its face had been cut, and it had lost one eye. The crowd’s anticipation was high; they started to think that the team might actually defeat the Fire Dragon at this rate. A mere party of three — one that had never fought the Fire Dragon before — had cornered the dreadful creature to this extent.
…But then, Garm reached his limit and fell. The Dragon proceeded to crush him underfoot, first prompting waves of shrieks from the women, then disappointed sighs from the rest of the spectators. He had been stomped by the Dragon three times — there was no way he could have survived.
But survive he did; shortly after Tsutomu jumped down the footprint hole, Garm emerged from it, dripping all over with his own blood. The spectators were agape with surprise. Garm proceeded to throw his tower shield at the Fire Dragon’s face, stabbing its eye… Then, he grinned and bared his fangs at his adversary; the crowd — particularly the women — cheered him on, their voices resounding through the vicinity of Monitor #1.
In the end, Camille lopped the Fire Dragon’s head off, causing its body to start dispersing into particles. The plaza was filled with the crowd’s cheering — it was as if an explosion had just occurred.
“Yoooo! They actually did it!”
“Hey, for real!? They’re incredible! And the Lucky Boy, man!”
“Ahahaha! Dude! That’s so awesome!”
The crowd raised their hands; people swayed in waves. Although they weren’t as excited as the Scart Devil Squad’s run, as that team had taken timing into consideration so that the day workers could watch them all the way through, this degree of excitement was still extraordinary.
“…It’s just those two doing all the hard work anyway!”
But in the midst of such loud cheers, one bugger of an explorer dared to speak abominably; that prompted a surge of cold stares from the surrounding Dungeon Maniacs onto him.
“…Dude, you’re embarrassing yourself.”
“You seriously saying that after seeing THAT? Man, you sure you’re not blind?”
“W-what the hell, guys!? Damn it! It’s all thanks to the powers of his teammates! I could have taken it down too if I went with someone that strong!”
“Damn, there he goes again…”
The Dungeon Maniacs looked down with pity on the obnoxious bugger as he screamed on. The stares of the spectators around him were also cold. The Fire Dragon had previously gone undefeated until the Scarlet Devil Squad had claimed the first victory half a year after its discovery. The man, claiming he could have done that, had instantly branded himself as the laughingstock.
“Damn it! Don’t look at me like that! DAMN IT!!!”
The explorer, unable to stand the stares from the opposing crowd, started throwing a tantrum and was promptly taken away by the Security Team on patrol. While other similar argument-starters could be seen being escorted away by the Security Team, the spectators kept their eyes on the party of three, who were now joking among themselves in the aftermath of their victory.
“Lucky Boy sure does awesome work. If only he hadn’t done that to Amy…”
“He’s got power, I’ll give you that. Sill not forgivin’ him for what he did to Amy, though.”
“I’ve heard that he’s threatening Garm and Camille with their weaknesses as well, but… is that true? It really doesn’t look that way to me.”
Seeing how the three were having so much fun among themselves, some among the audience started questioning the integrity of Solit Company’s report.
“Nah, the case with Amy is definitely real. I heard that from an explorer friend of hers, you know.”
“Right. In fact, it’s the Lucky Boy who ordered Amy to walk into Solit Company like that, too.”
“Well, as long as they’re strong, right? It’s pretty interesting, this party. Won with just three members, and on the first try? Now that’s awesome.”
“But he’s forcing Amy to do whatever he says, you know? I’m so jea– I mean, that’s unforgivable!”
“But killing the Fire Dragon with just three members, man… You see those flying magic shots? That’s gotta be their secret to winning this.”
“Funny… I’m sure people would be fine is he was a straight-up womanizer like the Golden Wolfman, too… But threatening people with their weaknesses and forcing them to do his bidding — that’s a big nope from me.”
The crowd spectators kept on talking among themselves, maintaining their discussions of what the party of three had just accomplished for quite a while.
Rewinding back to three hours since Tsutomu’s party started fighting the Fire Dragon… Excitement was at an all-time high around the Guild’s Monitor #1. The crowd’s noise was so loud that it reached the Guild Dormitory, piquing Amy’s curiosity, and in turn resulting in her coming to take a look herself.
Shown on the Monitor was live footage of Garm, Camille, and Tsutomu challenging the Fire Dragon. Amy asked a Guild Staff Member — one who was neglecting his post to come watch the show — for details, and learned that the three had been fighting the Fire Dragon for more than three hours now.
Garm attracted the Dragon’s attention. Camille attacked. Tsutomu healed, supported, and gave directions to the former two. Amy watched the scene unfold with an irritated look on her face.
[The Guild Master is attacking too much. Didn’t she hear Tsutomu’s orders? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about — now the Fire Dragon is on her. That’s what she gets for not listening.]
Amy had begun to understand the role of an Attacker from learning and performing Tsutomu’s strategies while they were going through from the twentieth to the fiftieth layer. She was frustrated by how Camille’s attacking patterns were so unorganized and reckless.
[Tsutomu is trying to shoot <<Haste>> for her, so why is she going as fast as she can? He’d have such an easier time if only she’d slow down a bit. Gah! So annoying!]
Amy, thinking with frustration how she would have fared much better by doing this-and-that, went into the Dining Hall and took a seat. A fellow Guild Staff Member, seeing her like that, pulled a dry smile and offered her some apple juice.
Briefly surprised by that at first, Amy painted herself an innocent smile and accepted it, then proceeded to chug it down while keeping an eye on the three fighting the Fire Dragon… And then she groaned again, frustrated by how the party’s composition looked from the outside.
[I wanna be in the Guild Master’s place right about now… Seriously! I’d be able to fit in better with Tsutomu, and the pupper would have been working way more efficiently, too! Ugh…]
Seeing one sloppy display of coordination from the Guild Master after another, Amy looked at the Monitor in annoyance. The cat ears on the top of her head stood straight up, and her thin tail wagged around in displeasure.
[…Garm’s toughness is really going to waste right now. Well, he’s pretty much got all of the Fire Dragon’s on him, so that’s at least good.]
Amy thought to herself upon seeing how Garm still showed no signs of collapsing despite being blown away by the Fire Dragon’s tail. The footage then shifted its focus to Tsutomu, waving his staff and giving out orders while flying in the air.
“Camille! Stop for a bit after landing three more hits! Garm, do you need healing!?”
“No, I’m fine!”
“Gotcha! I’ve got ten minutes until the next Barrier! Keep it up!”
While he said that, he shot a <<Protect>> at Garm. Tsutomu then pulled Camille aside and talked to her about some things. Amy watched on, thinking how his voice sounded so stern when heard through the monitor while munching on some piping-hot fried potatoes that another Staff Member had treated her to.
[Huh, so that’s what his healing shots look like from afar… Wait, since when did he get so… buddy-buddy with Garm?]
Tsutomu waved his staff once more, shooting <<Protect>> and <<Heal>> to Garm in quick succession, then muttered to himself the remaining effect time of <<Haste>> before generating a <<Haste>> pick-up for Camille when that time was almost up. Casting a support skill while its previous effect still lingered would override it completely, wasting the remaining effect time and resulting in more casts overall, which in turn resulted in generating excessive aggro from the Fire Dragon. Therefore, Tsutomu made it a point to cast skills for them just before their effects were about to expire.
[He’s gotten so good at controlling his <<Fly>>, too. He used to fall into the sea all the time.]
When Tsutomu had started out, he would often lose control and almost drown from the seawater weighing down his white robes — and would be helped up by Amy time and time again. Now the latter was impressed by how he could now even cast his support skills while flying around.
Then, after Camille started using her <<Dragon Form>> again, the Fire Dragon started sustaining visible injuries on its body. Its long tail was cut off, its wings were punctured, and one of its golden eyes was crushed.
[She’s still taking action without thinking things through, but… the Guild Master is strong, that’s for sure. And she’s getting better at matching up with Tsutomu, too.]
Amy stared at Monitor #1 as if she was eating into it… while munching on the various appetizer plates that had been served to her by the other Guild Staff Members — it was almost as if they had been paying her tribute. She was confident that her ability to match up with Tsutomu’s actions exceeded Camille’s. But then again, she knew that she could not perform superhuman-level moves like Camille could while using her <<Dragon Form>>.
[They might actually win this… Hah…]
Amy was now convinced that they could take down the Fire Dragon eventually, considering how the team had been holding up, and assuming that no major change in advantage happened from this point on. With that, she heaved a deep sigh.
[I don’t see myself ever pulling off the Guild Master’s crazy moves, really… Maybe it was better in the end that they had gone in with her instead. Maybe I’m just not strong enough.]
Amy trembled out of disappointment toward herself; she hadn’t gotten to see Camille’s disaster of a start during the first half-hour or so. And now, the fight had dragged on for seven hours; the team still couldn’t defeat the Fire Dragon even with Camille’s power. Amy, made to realize her lack of ability upon seeing all that, clenched her fists in frustration.
When Garm fell and was crushed underfoot repeatedly by the Fire Dragon, Amy couldn’t help but stand right up from her seat… But then he came out of the hole, completely healed and mentally unfazed by what he had just been through. Seeing that, Amy promptly sat down again, dumbfounded.
Eventually, the three succeeded in defeating the Fire Dragon, and were now joking among themselves; Amy, looking on as they did, noticed a drop of water falling from her eyes. She promptly wiped it off and trudged her way back to the Guild Dormitory.