The endless, reddish-brown horizon in the corner of their eyes, amidst the wind and dust clouds, the party of four was fighting against a group of monsters. So many Magic Stones were already lying and rolling around on the ground at their feet.
Tsutomu, levitating in the sky above, kept a close eye on his party’s movements and backed them up with support skills. Below him, Garm was holding back seven of the ashen-colored Orcs, while Camille and Amy formed a duo to deal with the Wyverns.
Tsutomu relied on his biological clock to keep track of the effective times of Garm’s <<Protect>> and Amy and Camille’s <<Haste>>, while also watching out for the Wyverns’ spike shots and the Orcs’ arrows. Garm, having managed to secure a position where he would never be surrounded by the Orcs, guarded against the monsters’ attacks with his tower shield, and also occasionally used <<Shield Bash>> to return some damage and prevent them from rushing him all at once.
The Orcs here were sufficiently intelligent, however; they tried to surround Garm the best they could and attacked him as concurrently as possible. Garm, stuck constantly blocking the Orcs’ hits, had not even the free time to drink a Potion. Although he avoided his head and other vital points being struck, he was slowly being worn down by the enemies’ clubs and long swords hitting his torso and legs.
Tsutomu’s healing came from above with pinpoint accuracy, keeping Garm in fighting form. However, unlike individual aggro generated from attacking targets, aggro generated from support and healing skills accumulated in all monsters in the vicinity at once. One of the Orcs in the back row, having not been attacked by Garm in a while, turned its attention to Tsutomu instead, readying its bow.
But then Garm released his fighting spirit, wrapping all Orcs in a red aura. <<Combat Cry>> — it was a skill that stimulated the instinct of conflict of those it hit, driving them to fight the one who had unleashed it. The Orc that had been reading its bow, upon being affected by the skill, was driven by its instinct to shoot an arrow at Garm instead.
At the end of the day, despite possessing intelligence, a monster was still a monster. If they were as intelligent and calm as a human, they would have been able to overcome their instincts and attack Tsutomu, but there was no such thing as a monster that could nullify the skill’s effect.
Garm blocked the arrow with his tower shield, then continued to tank the hits from all seven Orcs; despite constantly taking damage, at the rate they were going, he would last for five or six more hours. Although the VIT status indicated one’s toughness, it also served as an indicator of one’s stamina. With Garm’s base VIT having a rating of A-, his stamina was extraordinarily high.
While Garm had the seven Orc’s attention on him, Camille and Amy were able to fully focus on fighting against the Wyverns. Of the two monsters, one had already turned into a Magic Stone.
The remaining Wyvern, after an alerted-sounding roar, swung its snake-like tail in a large arc and sent the arrowhead-like spikes at the end of it flying at its enemies. Camille and Amy dodged — the former up, the latter down — with the latter maintaining her <<Fly>> as she approached the Wyvern.
“<<Dual Wave Slash>>.”
Amy crossed her dual blades and cut the air, sending an invisible slash wave flying forward. Then, she continued to whisper the skill’s name over and over as she unleashed more <<Dual Wave Slashes>> at the Wyvern.
With each swing of her swords, the Wyvern’s wings suffered one more cut. Faced with a storm of invisible attacks, the Wyvern flapped its wings in an attempt to escape down to the solid ground, but then a violent swing of a hunk of iron came at it from the side, slicing off one of its legs.
Losing one leg to Camille, the Wyvern lost its balance in the air, immediately dropping down to the ground. Camille then impaled its torso from above with her greatsword.
The skill wrapped the greatsword in flames, thoroughly burning the Wyvern’s internal organs. In the end, the monsters dispersed into light particles and disappeared. Camille, upon no longer feeling the sensation of flesh on her greatsword, proceeded to pull it out of the ground, and then approached the ashen-colored Orcs from behind, intending to catch them off-guard as they were focused on rushing Garm down.
“<<Haste>>. Camille! Five Wyverns from the west! Kungfu-garoos from the east… more than ten. <<Dragon Form>> at will!”
Tsutomu called out from the sky as he shot a <<Haste>> at Amy; Camille, hearing the warning, raised her hand in response.
Camille transformed as she ran toward the group of Orcs. Crimson light flowed from the red scales stuck all over her body, and red wings sprouted out of her back as if breaking through her red, waist-length hair.
With one solid stomp on the ground, Camille momentary boosted her speed. A silver streak of light passed through the Orcs — in a flash, the monsters’ arms flew off… and by the time they realized that, it was their heads’ turn to go. Amy, following Camille’s lead, unleashed a skill,
Two consecutive blows from two blades in the blink of an eye — both its legs hit, one of the Orcs was immediately down on its knees; its strong, muscular neck was then easily lopped off. Its green blood staining the ground, the Orc turned into light particles and disappeared, blood traces and all.
Camille in her Dragon Form, especially considering how much havoc she had wreaked on her enemies, was truly fit for the description of ‘one-woman army.’ No monster in these Canyons could stop her — especially if she were to be under the <<Haste>> effect. Her current strength was as high as that of the Deputy Clan Leader of the Labyrinth Conquerors — the most powerful one of the Clan.
Tsutomu set a <<Haste>> pick-up at her feet; the green aura looked like it was slowly oozing up from the ground. Upon deliberately stepping on it, Camille felt that her AGI had risen by one level.
Pick-up placement skills had a short delay between the chanting of the skills’ names and the effect actually being ready, meaning that Tsutomu must be able to predict ahead of Camille’s fast movements. Getting that timing down was quite difficult, so much so that Tsutomu currently wasn’t even sure if he could accomplish it.
However, despite him not placing <<Haste>> right below Camille’s feet, the skills’ success rate had been almost a hundred percent thanks to her being aware of when <<Haste>> was used and picking it up herself.
Tsutomu’s time management and ability to keep an eye on Garm and Amy while predicting Camille’s actions. Camille’s awareness of Tsutomu’s <<Haste>> use while in battle. It was thanks to the abilities of these two that the team linked together so well.
Once the Orcs were wiped out, the two retreated for a while, opening a room for Garm, whose <<Protect>> effect was still active, to unleash a <<Combat Cry>> at the approaching Wyverns and Kungfu-garoos. The monsters, the attention of which had been on Tsutomu because of his previous support skills, started heading towards Garm instead.
“Attackers, prioritize the Wyverns. Garm, bait the Kungfu-garoo.”
Following Tsutomu’s instructions, Camille and Amy proceeded to take care of the five Wyverns, while Garm faced the ten or so Kungfu-garoos.
The Wyverns’ spikes contained powerful paralyzing toxins; Garm would be unable to move his body if he was exposed to it. Although Tsutomu could use <<Medic>>, Garm stopping even for a brief moment would result in him taking a fatal blow from the monsters.
The higher one’s VIT, the tougher one got. From a technical standpoint, what VIT actually entailed was a veil of Divine Blessing over one’s body; higher VIT meant a stronger Divine Blessing, enabling one to withstand blows and cuts that would, under normal circumstances, instantly kill an ordinary human.
However, the Divine Protection did have its weakness — the human body’s vital points, such as one’s neck and left side of one’s chest. Such places were where the Divine Blessing took less effect.
Therefore, on the occasion that Garm stopped moving and was struck in one of his vital spots, the attack could turn out to be critical or even fatal, causing him to collapse right then and there. For that reason, he mustn’t stop moving, and the team must prioritize hunting down the Wyverns. To fulfill those conditions, Tsutomu had assigned the two Attackers to go after the Wyverns first.
In the sky, the one Wyvern after another lost its wings and legs like bugs being pecked at by birds. Against Camille in her <<Dragon Form>>, the monsters were already as good as slaughtered — both their speed and power were inferior to Camille’s, not to mention the fact that she also had a long-range offensive option in her breath attacks.
Once a Wyvern fell to the ground after having lost its wings and legs to Camille, Amy proceeded to chop it up, turning it into a Magic Stone. She then cut down the Wyverns that kept falling from the sky, while also taking care not to trip on the Magic Stones on the ground.
Garm tanked the kicks and punches of the ten-or-so Kungfu-garoos with his tower shield and arms, stepped back, used <<Shield Bash>> to blow them away — then rinse and repeat. Since their blows wouldn’t be fatal unless they hit him in the face or other vital spots, for the most part, Garm only had to be careful not to take critical hits head-on.
Taking more and more hits, Garm’s arms would eventually start to hurt, but then Tsutomu would promptly shoot him a <<Heal>> from above, mending his wounds right up. Then, when the Kungfu-garoos that had been knocked back by <<Shield Bash>> started turning toward Tsutomu instead, Garm would unleash his <<Combat Cry>>. This loop of actions stabilized the flow of battle, and also allowed the Attackers to show off the full extent of their powers.
Tsutomu paid close attention to Garm’s <<Protect>> remaining time and exhaustion, shooting him <<Protects>> and <<Heals>> as needed, while also predicting ahead of Camille’s swift movements to place <<Haste>> pick-ups, allowing her to step on them before her effect ran out. Thanks to Amy paying attention to the effect times of the support skills on her, Tsutomu could time his renewals to be when they were just about to run out, in turn minimizing the number of castings and preventing the unnecessary accumulation of aggro. Moreover, Amy’s individual attacks were relatively light, making it easy for her to manage aggro — and she still had plenty of firepower because of her critical hits.
All in all, the battle went on without a hitch. Each member moved with the awareness of their teammates’ actions, and they took pride in the fact that they were able to bring out the best of their abilities through their coordination. Satisfied, Tsutomu raised the corners of his mouth as he continued shooting his support skills.
Then, once the Wyverns were all defeated, the two Attackers merged into a formation with Garm. The Attackers then proceeded to cut down one Kungfu-garoo after another, turning them into Magic Stones; upon finishing off the last of them, Amy stopped to catch her breath, then waved at Tsutomu up in the sky.
Tsutomu looked around to confirm his surroundings, then smoothly descended down to Amy… and proceeded to scratch his head as he looked on at the hundreds of Magic Stones lying on the ground.
“It’s quite an inconvenience, having to collect all these…”
“You see how I did, Tsutomu!? We even got through a multi-wave battle just fine!”
“We sure did. Do you think you can manage thirteen more of that?”
“U-uh, I feel like I actually have to do that… Scary…”
Grinning playfully, Tsutomu put down his Magic Bag, and Amy smiled dryly as she held two handfuls of Magic Stones. All four members of the team started picking up the rest of the Magic Stones, eventually gathering a total of one hundred and sixteen.
Tsutomu, realizing how labor-intensive just the Magic Stone looting could be, thought to himself again how much he wanted a luggage carrier for his team. Even if they were to not participate in the fight, having someone around to collect the Magic Stones during battles would surely make everything go along much more efficiently.
However, no one was willing to work as a luggage carrier past the fiftieth layer. Tsutomu, while spinning his right arm around to let it relax, grumbled to himself in the displeasure of that fact and while also wondering if they would eventually find someone willing to go past the ‘floor limit.’
“Man, that was exhausting. Great work, everyone.”
“You know that I can keep going just fine, right?”
“Yeah, me too, me too!”
Tsutomu, after calming down the two Attackers who were in full celebration mode after easily clearing the multi-wave battle, passed a towel to Garm, who was sweating quite profusely from fatigue.
“You did great, too, Garm.”
Garm accepted the towel and wiped the sweat off his face. Then he wiped his head as well, ruffling his hair. His black dog ears stood up as if asserting their presence.
After getting the towel back from Garm, Tsutomu put it in his Magic Bag, then handed over each member’s canteen so that they could rehydrate. Tsutomu, after soaking his dry throat with barley tea, took his mouth away from his canteen’s cup and proceeded to say,
“The battle went pretty well. Now, let’s search for the Black Gate and hurry back. The sun will be setting soon.”
“Huh, is it time already? I wanna keep going!”
Amy’s had lips tapered to a point as if she was saying that she hadn’t had enough fun yet. Garm parted his slightly sweaty bangs and took a sidelong glance at Amy.
“At the rate we’re going, we’ll probably get to the fifty-ninth layer tomorrow. There’s no need to push yourself too hard.”
“Yeah, yeah. Thanks for your oh-so-serious input, pupper.”
“…I look forward to seeing you fight the Fire Dragon — Where you’ll be shown to an audience of thousands in all your clumsy glory.”
“What? Big talk, coming from the one who the Fire Dragon stepped on again and again!! You were as good as dead!”
“But I didn’t — and you will.”
“What? You wanna fight, huh?”
Garm looked down at Amy with a cold stare, and Amy looked as if she was about to leap at Garm while standing on her toes. Seeing those two, Camille raised her hands in resignation, and Tsutomu shrugged in agreement to her as he walked up to them.
“What do you two think you are, elementary school students?”
Tsutomu stretched up his back and lightly karate-chopped both their heads. Garm looked down apologetically, while Amy looked up at Tsutomu in frustration.
“I know it’s been a long time, but remember to control yourselves, both of you.”
“He started it! It wasn’t my fault!”
“…The cat provoked me. I was just making a reasonable argument. It’s her fault.”
“Look, keep in mind that those who tell fellow party members to go die won’t be getting any support or healing skills from me.”
“Ooh, that means I’ll have them all to myself. How nice!”
Tsutomu, though a little surprised when Camille hugged him from behind, managed to maintain the smile on his face. The other two, seeing through Tsutomu’s I-mean-business smile, quickly approached him.
“Huh!? No way! I’m sorry!”
Behind Tsutomu, Camille giggled in amusement as the two approached him, while Tsutomu himself wiped the joking expression off his face and tapped both of them on their shoulders.
“All right, let’s head back for today. I’m exhausted…”
They nodded in response. Tsutomu proceeded to use <<Fly>> to ascend, following Camille while holding back the laughter toward how apologetic the two others looked.