With the party of three having set a new record time in defeating the Fire Dragon, the celebration was great as well this time; even Garm, who normally would not even flinch from drinking the Dwarves’ favorite ale, was starting to get drunk by the end of it. Tsutomu had tried to enjoy things at his own pace, but had ended up exhausted from dealing with Amy’s drunken shenanigans.
After that, Tsutomu had a good time discussing various things with Camille and enjoying the party; in the end, he paid for everything out of his own pocket. He and Garm then carried the drunk-sleeping Amy and Camille back to the Guild Dormitory; Garm seemed to be at his limit, too, as apparent from how he laid down on the floor right when he was back to his room. With some struggle, Tsutomu managed to drag Garm along to the living room, at which he himself soon fell asleep as well.
The afternoon of the following day, Tsutomu, Garm, and Amy — all in non-combat clothes — went to an interview with two newspaper publishers at the Guild’s conference room. Amy was quite used to this sort of interaction, so things went along smoothly. Tsutomu, being asked about his party’s strategies and approaches, was also able to answer without a stutter.
After two hours of inquiries regarding the Fire Dragon, the newspaper people left the room. Amy looked satisfied, while Garm leaned his back against the sofa. Then, they heard a knock on the conference room’s door. Tsutomu answered, prompting Camille, in her indigo uniform, to let herself in.
“Everyone’s here — good.”
“Oh, hello. We’d planned to visit you ourselves after this, actually.”
“I heard that you were having some interviews with the newspapers, you see. It would have taken you a long time to get there from here, wouldn’t it?”
Tsutomu casually greeted Camille as she came in and let her through to the sofa in front of him. Camille had a piece of document paper in her hand.
“Hmm? Guild Master? What’s that you got there?”
Amy’s cat ears twitched, signifying her curiosity as to why Camille was wearing the Guild uniform, while Garm closed his eyes and remained silent, as if he had figured something out.
Camille sat down on the opposite side from the three and placed the piece of paper in her hand on the table.
“The recent victory over the Fire Dragon is considered to have erased the nickname of ‘Lucky Boy’. Therefore, Garm and Amy, your party contracts have expired. Any objections, Tsutomu?”
“No, not at all.”
“I see. Then sign here, and place your blood here.”
The speed at which the discussion was progressing rendered Amy dumbfounded as she remembered the bits and pieces of what she had been told by Camille the other day when they had gone out for a drink together. The disbandment of the party upon the erasure of the ‘Lucky Boy’ nickname — Amy had already known that it was coming, but she had always felt that it was still a long way off.
Tsutomu, having been told of it in advance during the previous day’s celebration, signed the paper, then jabbed his thumb with the needle that Camille offered him and pressed it on the sheet. Camille nodded as she received the document.
“We can’t let anyone borrow our Staff Members without a detailed procedure, but if you have any problem, do contact us. We’ll assist you to the best of our abilities.”
“I appreciate that. I’ll be relying on you when I’m really in trouble.”
“All right. You’ve also helped us along the way — truly, you have our thanks. We hope you’ll get along with us from this point on, too.”
“W-wait a minute! Stop, stop!”
Tsutomu and Camille shook hands; Amy was about to interrupt them, but Garm stopped her. Seeing Amy like that, Camille gave her a look of disapproval.
“I’ve already said this before, but… You sure don’t think things in the long term, Amy.”
“B-but you looked like you were having so much fun, Guild Master! You know what, we should all just join Tsutomu’s Clan! Yeah? I mean, he’s gonna create one, right!?”
“That is a tempting suggestion… But I have my duty of protecting the Guild. Sorry, but I’m unlikely to be able to enter Tsutomu’s Clan.”
Amy had already known that Camille had been entrusted the Guild’s leadership by her late husband. In turn, she had already expected what sort of answer she would get. Camille, seeing how Amy was taking her reply, withdrew her thought of trying to recruit Tsutomu as a Guild Staff Member, what with him having already declined once yesterday. This exchange also confirmed to her that Amy’s passion as an Explorer had started to rekindle, little by little.
“Listen, Amy. Your work has been piling up these past two months — work than only be done with your Appraisal skill. Now that the ‘Lucky Boy’ nickname has been cleared, we can’t possibly let you stay in Tsutomu’s party any longer.”
“I know… But…”
“Sorry. We intended to let you do as you please as much as possible, but there’s too much work that requires your unique capabilities. Get those over with first, then we can talk things over.”
As Amy looked down, Camille gave her a pat on the head, then turned to Garm. Garm straightened his posture and bowed to Camille; getting a read on his intention in doing so, she promptly looked away.
“Garm and Amy, you two will return to your regular duties starting tomorrow. You’re dismissed for today,” Camille said and left the room.
After seeing her off, Tsutomu turned to look at Garm behind him. The latter seemed relatively calm, perhaps since he had known and came to terms with what would be happening beforehand.
“Garm, thank you for joining up with me all this time. You’ve been a great help.”
“Right — I ought to thank you, too. It’s by your knowledge that us Knights are starting to see a glimmer of hope for our Job.”
The two smiled and shook hands. Garm’s powerful grip took Tsutomu by a slight surprise, but the latter managed to give a proper handshake before letting go.
“So, you’ll be forming a clan, right?”
“Yes. The plan is to get done with contacting the major Clans first, then set one up myself.”
“Hmm… then I have someone I would like to introduce to you. Someone I’ve been training with lately. If you don’t mind, I’d like you to consider letting him in as a member of your Clan,” Garm proposed the idea, albeit looking somewhat worried.
“Oh, please do. I definitely appreciate that,” Tsutomu answered with a smile, prompting Garm to nod in satisfaction.
Tsutomu then turned to Amy, causing the latter to flinch.
“You have my thanks, too, Amy. I wasn’t sure how things would turn out at first, but in the end, you were the best Attacker I could ever ask for.”
A wave of thoughts jostled Amy’s state of mind. She could quit being a Guild Staff Member and follow Tsutomu, but then, she would not be able to repay Camille’s favor to her. Back when she had gone through a rough phase after her Clan’s disbandment, Camille was the one who had invited her to the Guild and showed her the way forward. Amy owed a great debt of gratitude to her.
The alternative would be to give up on going with Tsutomu. But she did not want to do that, either. Amy believed that the current party would have no problem progressing past the Fire Dragon. With her passion as an Explorer being rekindled in her, she could not possibly resist the possibility.
Seeing Amy keep silent, Tsutomu looked troubled, while Garm sighed quietly. Amy, having found herself stuck between two decisions, looked up as she came to the idea of a way out.
“Tsutomu! You should become a Guild Staff Member, too!”
That was the loophole that she came up with. Guild Staff Members were those who managed the Dungeon’s entrance, and to do that, it was necessary that they possessed strength on a level equal to or greater than the Explorers. Therefore, people like Tsutomu were sure to be highly desirable for the Guild.
Moreover, she knew that Tsutomu could not possibly fail the written exam, and there was no way he would not be accepted after the interview with the Guild Master. There was nothing stopping him from becoming a Guild Staff Member at all.
Amy’s eyes sparkled, thinking she had just come up with the perfect plan. However, Tsutomu did not look one bit more cheerful.
“Sorry, but becoming a Guild Staff Member is… not very desirable.”
“Huh!? You think the test is too hard or somethin’? There’s no need to worry! You’re smart, Tsutomu! And I can help you study, too!”
“The position comes with various restrictions that I don’t want to have, you see. What I want to do is make myself a Clan and explore the Dungeon, after all.”
Tsutomu had been exploring the Dungeon so that he could return to his old world. He expected that something would happen upon clearing the hundredth layer, but if that were to turn out to be the Secret Dungeon, then it would take up even more time. If he were to take the exam and become an official Guild Staff Member, he would be responsible for his duties while also progressing through the Dungeon, and that was not an option he would want to take.
Amy, seeing that Tsutomu was as non-negotiable as Camille, could not say anything more to convince him. When Amy stopped talking, Tsutomu smiled at her to cheer her up.
“That doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere, though. We can meet up at the Guild as much as we want, can’t we?”
“I know… I know, but…! I want it to be more like… y’know!? Like, you telling me to quit my job and follow you, or somethin’!”
“Now hold your horses… what would you do if I actually said that? Camille would have a problem with that, you know, you suddenly quitting the Guild and all.”
“Besides, the job benefits do seem pretty good. I can’t just tell anyone to quit it just like that, you know…”
Having gotten to observe Garm’s lifestyle, it was apparent that Guild Staff Members were treated quite well by their workplace; Tsutomu couldn’t possibly bring himself to tell someone to throw that privilege away to join his clan instead. Moreover, Amy and Garm’s resignations would have dealt a heavy blow to the Guild’s function.
“And now, our party is officially disbanded — That doesn’t mean that we won’t ever get to party up again, though. When another opportunity to do so comes up, please do join me again.”
Tsutomu held out his hand to Amy for a handshake, but she swatted it away.
“…Leave a spot open in your Clan. After I’m done with my work… and repaying the Guild Master for all the help she’s given me, I’ll be right there,” Amy said quickly and bolted out of the conference room, her eyes lit with a spark of motivation.
As Tsutomu was rubbing his stinging hand, Garm nervously approached him and said,
“Yes, of course.”
Garm’s black tail wagged around; he seemed somewhat relieved to get the answer he had gotten. Then, not even a second later, he folded his arms as if to recover his composure.
“Now, you’ll have to move your things out. Have you found a place to stay yet?”
“Yes. Same place as the last, actually.”
“All right. Let’s get them over there right away.”
“…Thank you very much.”
Tsutomu was grateful for Garm’s natural offering to help. And so they started moving Tsutomu’s belongings to the inn; Garm helped until the very end.
Then, after parting ways with Garm, Tsutomu laid down on the bed in his room.
[So I’m on my own now, huh…]
Tsutomu had spent most of the past two months or so with Garm and Amy. Although he knew that he could just meet them at the Guild, with the party officially disbanded, he could not help but feel a little sad.
Tsutomu guessed, from how the two were behaving, that they might be finding a way to quit their Staff Member positions without causing trouble for the Guild. Both of them had said things implying so — and although Tsutomu felt guilty, he was also happy to hear it.
If that were to happen, then he would have to expand his Clan so that those two would not feel shame in joining him. Thinking that doing so could also serve as a sort of reward to them, Tsutomu promptly sat up.
[Gotta get things moving.]
Tsutomu pushed his hands on his thighs and stood himself up.