Tsutomu continued to observe the Silver Beast’s combat approach over the next few battles. The Attackers would emerge unharmed from encounters with three monsters or below. When up against six or more, on the other hand, they would take a hit or two.
The Birdkins stopped the monsters’ movements with <<Feather Dance>>, and Misil precisely cut them down at their legs and vital points. This tactical approach ensured that the team defeated some of the monsters right at the start of an encounter, in turn giving them a significant advantage in the ensuing battle. Their coordination after Misil’s opening was also excellent; all three were watchful of one another and kept themselves aware of the monsters’ numbers and movements. As a result, they rarely ever found themselves at a disadvantage.
However, this method wouldn’t work nearly as well in multi-wave battles, so it was expected that they would be having a tougher time on the fifty-sixth layer onward. But seeing how well-coordinated the three combatants were, Tsutomu thought that they would be able to reach the fifty-ninth layer if they were to get themselves used to the Canyons’ terrain, and also incorporate the Feather Dance trick into the subsequent waves of monsters.
On the other hand, Tsutomu also saw that Lorena, the Healer, was still not at all accustomed to this party. She wasn’t used to performing long-range support skills, either — all in all, she just seemed somewhat unconfident. Her direction of <<Protect>> had been quite poor — much worse than what she had shown during her practice near the Black Gate; perhaps she had been fearful of accidentally casting the effect on the monsters instead. Her shots would frequently disappear mid-way, requiring another cast; as a result, the effect of <<Protect>> on the others would often run out before it was renewed.
She did indeed get to try out her <<Heal>> shot once when Misil had been bitten by a Verdant Wolf, but it had almost no effect; the spell’s recovery had greatly dropped regardless of the distance from which it had been shot. Her <<Heal>>, when used via direct contact of her hands on the target, was just as effective as Tsutomu’s… but when the same spell had been shot, its power had dramatically dropped.
Having observed that, Tsutomu asked Lorena some questions while she was healing up everyone using the close-range variation of the spell.
“Say, Lorena, when did you start working as an Explorer?”
“…Five, maybe six years ago.”
“I see. And you’ve always been using <<Heal>> close-ranged?”
While Tsutomu had always assumed that <<Heal>> would normally be long-ranged just like in the Live Dungeon game, this girl proved that not to be the norm, what with her having used them exclusively close-ranged for the past five to six years. Unlike the support skills, which had been known from the start to work long-ranged and thus easy for her to wrap her head around, the healing spells’ initially close-ranged nature had given her the perception that it wouldn’t work otherwise.
As such, Tsutomu figured that, before giving her the knowledge she needed, he would have to change that perception of hers first.
“…I see. Well, first of all, please try and acknowledge that your <<Heal>> shots can heal wounds — yes, just thinking it works is enough for now. Let me take over for a while, see if that will change your impression on it.”
“Y-yes, I understand.”
Although Tsutomu almost slipped off at Lorena’s wonky reply, he pulled out his white staff from his Magic Bag, then switched the luggage carrier role over to her. He proceeded to cast <<Haste>> on the three combatants, giving them time to get used to the increased speed as they proceeded further up the trail, and told them that he would be casting the spell for them during battle as well.
A while later, a pack of seven Verdant Wolves appeared in front of them on the trail. Tsutomu, feeling that more were hiding in the tall grass, shouted out a warning. Hearing that, Misil made a hand sign for the Birdkins to use <<Father Dance>> on the grass. As expected, more Verdant Wolves appeared from their hiding spot, upping the total to twelve.
Tsutomu cast the shorter-duration <<Haste>> on the Birdkins. On the other hand, the one Misil got was the long-duration variant, and he was the only one to get <<Protect>>. Since Misil was the one most likely to get hit during the fight, Tsutomu made it a point for him to have the two buffs on at all times.
<<Feather Dance>> swept down on the whole pack of Verdant Wolves; Misil circled around to their right flank and proceeded to cut the wolves down one by one. Tsutomu, deciding against using <<Fly>> to levitate, ran with his own two feet to a position from which he would have an easier time hitting Misil with his support skills.
Tsutomu carefully positioned himself in the tall grass, watching out for the possibility that more Verdant Wolves were hiding in there. He proceeded to shoot <<Haste>> at the Birdkins flying in the sky first, and then sent another <<Haste>> to Misil just before the approximated duration of his <<Haste>> and <<Protect>> expired.
Having managed the effect times of countless skills — down to the seconds in just his mind — for many years through playing the Live Dungeon game, Tsutomu had attained muscle memory so precise that he would not lose to even an automation software. The time he spent counting the seconds in his mind also doubled as an opportunity to collect his thoughts and strategize.
The combatants, under the <<Haste>> effect at all times, could take out a dozen or so Verdant Wolves without difficulty. Seeing the battle end with the three almost unscathed, Tsutomu rested the tip of his white staff on the ground.
“Oh, Misil, please do keep in mind that I won’t be using <<Haste>> next time.”
“You tellin’ me to go get hurt or what?”
“For real!? Boy, you’re messed up…”
Misil, after spinning his kukri around and hanging it on his belt, raised his hands in astonishment to the manner in which Tsutomu had delivered his reply. The Birdkins chuckled between each other as they watched over the exchange.
During the next battle, Misil sustained some injuries, including getting stabbed in his legs by an Earth Boar’s tusks and being blown away by a Red Grizzly. Tsutomu shot him <<Heals>> precisely at the wounded areas, and Lorena observed intently as all those scratches and bruises healed right up.
After that, Lorena and Tsutomu switched roles again, with Tsutomu keeping watch on Lorena’s actions while managing the team’s luggage. Just like before, her movements were stiff, and she seemed to still be nervous when using her skill shots, making her direction weak and wonky. After having seen Tsutomu perform almost perfectly, she had felt the need to do better, and ended up rushing things as a result.
Tsutomu, not being aware of the latter point, he assumed that she was simply afraid of misfiring. If she were to hit a monster with <<Protect>>, its VIT would be temporarily strengthened, resulting in a negative effect for the party. It was only reasonable that she didn’t want to make that mistake.
But everyone had to start from somewhere — even Tsutomu, despite not having made any notable mistakes in this world due to his experience and strategic mindset attained from the game, still had misfired his skills numerous times. One would never improve if they never gave things a good try — failure was an essential flip side of success.
Moreover, Tsutomu knew that Misil and Birdkins wouldn’t be angry at a misfire or two. None of the three had that short of a temper, and since Lorena had been with their party for five to six years, they must have had a trusting relationship formed among them.
Even so, as the three fought two Red Grizzlies, Lorena still struggled to direct her skills. Tsutomu, watching her from behind, decided to open his palm and point it at the Red Grizzly.
Following a whisper, the earthy-yellow <<Protect>> shot flew straight at a Red Grizzly. It landed a direct hit, covering the Red Grizzly in an earthy-yellow aura. Lorena, startled by the <<Protect>> that had suddenly streaked past her, turned around to look at Tsutomu as if he was a maniac.
“Wh-what are you doing!?”
“Oh~~ you just misfired, didn’t you~~? Better apologize quickly!”
“But you’re the one who did that!? WHY!? I DON’T GET IT!”
Lorena rushed over to Tsutomu, her rabbit ears standing straight up; Tsutomu proceeded to keep a straight face as he scolded her for what she hadn’t done. Misil, seeing that happen in the corner of his eye, slashed the strengthened Red Grizzly’s front leg. The attack normally would have lop the bear’s leg right off, but now that it had its VIT enhanced, it only sustained a shallow cut. The three combatants didn’t seem too upset, however; keeping their cool, they made quick work of the other Grizzly first, then came back to the second one after its <<Protect>> had expired.
Then, seeing how Lorena was holding Tsutomu up by his collar and shaking him, Misil rushed to stop them. Lorena’s breathing roughened the angrier she got. Tsutomu coughed from the suffocation; he hadn’t expected this strong of a reaction from her.
Misil, apparently seeing the meaning behind the ‘misfired’ straight <<Protect>> shot from the look in Tsutomu eyes, painted himself a nasty face and spoke to Lorena,
“C’mon, Lorena… Still gotta work on your aim, yeah?”
“N-no! He was the one who shot that! It wasn’t me!”
With Tsutomu still insistent, Lorena, her face red with rage, started toward him again, and was promptly held back by the two Birdkins. Tsutomu hadn’t expected Lorena to be so strong, and was quite somewhat intimated by her strength as a result; he quickly got himself away from her. Misil, having enough of Tsutomu’s schtick by this point, lightly tapped Lorena’s shoulder from the side as she began to calm down.
“Now, don’t worry about misfiring so much. Just keep up the good work.”
“And you’re not Tsutomu, you know — no one’s gonna expect you to be perfect from the start. Yeah?”
As if seeking some agreement, Misil turned to the two Birdkin girls; they both nodded in response.
“Those skill shots are kind of like our <<Feather Dance>>, right? We’ve made a lot of mistakes when we started off, too. Don’t worry — you’ll get there one of these days.”
“It’s okay — a failure or two won’t be the end of you. I mean, it’d be a shame to waste our equipment when we all die, but we can always come back and again.”
“Everyone… I’m always the one being helped, but…”
“Hey, I told you to not worry about it, so don’t. I’m the leader here, you know.”
Lorena’s rabbit ears twitched from side to side as she was given a pat on her head. She didn’t put up any resistance, nor did she move an inch as she kept her eyes cast down. Very much thankful for the help and support her party members had given to a White Mage like her, and fully aware that she was a hindrance to them at her current level, Lorena had always been determined to at the very least not cause any of them trouble.
Lorena still refused to look up after Misil took his hand off her head; Tsutomu approached and spoke to her, while also keeping his voice in a fearful enough manner.
“Look, Lorena, you’ve been blessed good party members — don’t you want to repay them the kindness they’d given you?”
“Of course I do! …But I’m not a genius like you. There’s no way I can control my shots like you can.”
Shouting at Tsutomu as if chewing him out, Lorena then looked down in frustration. One month he was known as the Lucky Boy, the next he was reported as a criminal who had walked all over Amy, and the next thing she knew, he had emerged victorious against the Fire Dragon with just a team of three and made Solit Company apologize for the fiasco. As a White Mage herself, Lorena was jealous of him and his remarkable performance after starting out a mere two months ago.
Tsutomu, seeing the look on Lorena’s face, sympathized with her quite a bit; he turned to look at Misil, who had already stepped aside, then continued to speak,
“Think about it — Misil taught you how to direct your skills, and had you practice them, didn’t he? That means he’s expecting some results from you. Don’t you want to live up to that expectation of his?”
Lorena, reminded of what she ought to do by Tsutomu, turned to look at Misil… who was scratching his face to stave off the awkwardness.
“At least your support skills are already able to do what they’re supposed to — Let’s focus on making them actually usable first. I’m sure everyone won’t be bothered if you mess up here and there.”
“Yeah! We’ll let you practice as much as you’d like! Right!?”
“And we’d prefer that you don’t underestimate us, you know — A monster’s VIT going us isn’t going to bother us.”
Lorena wiped her tear-stained eyes as she was consoled by the two Birdkin’s wings. Seeing that, Misil and Tsutomu looked at each other and let out a sigh of relief.
In subsequent battles, Lorena began to actively use her support skills. She was able to perform the same directional maneuvers as she had been when practicing, albeit with her <<Protect>> still occasionally missing and hitting monsters. Her rate of success increased as she went along; she eventually became accurate enough with skill shots to incorporate them into her regular strategies.
And at one point when Misil was injured, Lorena tried using her long-rage <<Heal>>, which yielded slightly better results. As Tsutomu had hypothesized, what had reduced the effectiveness of her <<Heal>> was the preconceived notion that recovery magic only worked via direct contact with the body. Still, what Lorena was able to achieve now had only half the healing power of Tsutomu’s long-range <<Heal>>. It was far too weak, especially considering the difference in their status ratings.
“This time, set up an <<Area Heal>> first, then try shooting a <<Heal>>.”
“Huh? <<Area Heal>>?”
Lorena, cooperative now that she understood that Tsutomu’s deliberate misfiring earlier had been his attempt to help her, tilted her head in response to Tsutomu’s proposal. The <<Area Heal>> was a skill that, as its name suggested, created a stationary area on the ground that automatically mended the injuries of all who stood in it.
In the game, the <<Area Heal>> was commonly used to place a recovery area at the feet of heavy, low-mobility Tanks. In this world, on the other hand, it didn’t see much use because it would heal monsters as well. That, and its mental stamina consumption was fairly high for the relatively low recovery rate it yielded.
Because of how things worked in the game, it was also quite often incorporated into Skill Combos.
As for what Skill Combo was… it referred to the phenomenon in which skills were used in succession to create a synergistic effect. An example here would be Garm’s <<Warrior Howl>>, with which he struck his weapon and armor to provoke his enemies, combined with <<Shield Throw>>. Using the two skills in succession would result in one throwing a shield with the <<Warrior Howl>> effect on it, generating even more aggro from the target monster.
Other examples included Amy’s <<Boost>>, which raised her AGI, followed by either <<Dual Wave Slash>> or <<Rock Splitter Blade>>, and Camille activating <<Dragon Form>> then using special attacks like <<Power Slash>>. In the case of <<Area Heal>>, it also had the effect of increasing the power of the healing skills of those who stood inside the set area.
Setting up an <<Area Heal>> consumed as much mental power as casting <<High Heal>> twice, however. Although it couldn’t be used very often, using it to be able to heal better from a distance was sure to result in a hefty advantage.
Lorena immediately did as Tsutomu had asked, deploying an <<Area Heal>> at her feet then shooting a <<Heal>> at Misil, who was a little further away. Misil’s light injuries healed right up; as expected, the spell’s healing power had increased.
She proceeded to test it again and again, paying attention to the distance and elapsed time and their associated skill effect decay. Eventually, perhaps thanks to Lorena’s increased confidence after being able to use the long-range <<Heal>> effectively, she was able to achieve the same recovery power level as Tsutomu’s.
“Although this includes the additional power from <<Area Heal>>, you’ve managed to get its effect to a practical level now. All that’s left now is for you to improve the accuracy of your direction… I suppose. Please hang in there.”
“Yes! I’ll do my best! Thank you!”
Lorena took Tsutomu’s hand in both hands and shook it… then, after the handshake, Tsutomu had to massage his aching arm.
“Oh, one more thing… Misil, we have something else we can teach you — and since Garm is already at the Clan House today, do you have some time to spare this evening? “
“…You’re not gonna charge me for that later, right?”
“No, I wouldn’t do that. Oh, but since this will be free of charge, you better get the thing right, all right? And then we’ll spread the word about the greatness of Jobs other than Attackers~~!”
“Hahah! As you wish, your highness!”
“Mm-hm, don’t worry, be happy~~!”
Tsutomu put his hands on his hips and puffed up his chest in an exaggerated manner; Misil bowed his head… also in an exaggerated manner. The two Birdkins looked on as if the two were children, while Lorena looked at Tsutomu with respect.