For the ten days until the end of the month, the party continued their training in the Team Graveyard. The first three days had been a horrible disaster — from Barbara having arrows stuck to her head, to Eunice dying from being targeted by Skeletons. It had been a good opportunity for Tsutomu to experience the aggro generated by <<Raise>> for himself instead of seeing them through broadcasts, but Diniel had frequently grumbled that it was unfair that only Tsutomu had an easy time through it all.
After another week, however, they had gotten used to fighting with Skeleton Archers in the enemies’ ranks, with Barbara now being able to block the arrows with her buckler or getting them to hit her arms and legs instead of her more vital parts. She no longer had arrows stuck on her head as often as before.
As for Eunice, she could maintain the effect of <<Protect>> as long as she properly focused on the Tank, and she was getting a better grasp on the buff effects’ durations. She still was not as accurate as Tsutomu, but she was indeed developing her sense of time, down to the seconds. Her management of Skeletons’ aggro values was getting decent, too.
Diniel had been attacking at her own pace… that meaning as sluggish as usual most of the time, but she seemed to have enjoyed the past week, perhaps because she had gotten to be somewhat more hands-off. She’d had a relatively easy time, such that she could occasionally talk to Tsutomu during battles, saying things like how she wished things would keep on going at this pace.
Finally, the party wrapped up their training at the Team Graveyard and moved on to the next stage, the green Valleys of the fifty-fourth layer. This location was perfect for their intended program since they could practice against the Orcs without triggering any multi-wave battles.
Barbara, having not been to the Valleys for some time, looked quite nervous as she led the way forward. Up to now, the best she had been able to do against the Orcs was pull the aggro of a single one of them. The bitter experience from that had stuck closely to her mind.
Seeing Barbara like that, Tsutomu wondered if he should speak to her, but then Eunice hurried past him and tugged the former on her bulky arm.
“You’re moving pretty stiffly, Barbara.”
“Don’t worry — with my support, you can fight against the Orcs no problem!”
Given some confidence-inducing words by Eunice, Barbara looked at her and nodded, albeit still seeming somewhat nervous. Then, as if to match with the party’s timing, Diniel detected a group of green-skinned Orcs loitering around the vicinity.
“<<Combat Cry>>, please!”
Barbara exerted her pressure and drew the aggro of five Orcs, and Diniel fired three arrows in quick succession at one of them. The arrows pierced both its eyes, and then its brain, producing a satisfying crunch sound with each hit. The Orc fell to the ground and turned into a Magic Stone.
“<<Protect>>, <<Area Heal>>.”
Eunice cast a buff for Barbara and set up a healing perimeter at her own feet. One of the Orcs shoulder-tackled at Barbara, which she blocked head-on. The Orc’s pig-like face loomed out in front of Barbara, and three other Orcs followed from behind it.
If Barbara were to keep pushing, she would soon be on the losing side. She herself judged that to be the case, Barbara pulled herself backward away from the power clash against the Orc, then looked at the other Orcs that were starting to surround her. Seeing one swing at her with its sword, she blocked the attack with her buckler while also paying attention to another Orc on her left.
Barbara’s training to fight against ten skeletons had broadened her natural field of vision, giving her the ability to grasp the battle situation to a decent extent even with her helmet obstructing her view. Before, she would have been too focused on the one enemy directly in front of her, which would have gotten her hit with a series of critical attacks by the other monsters.
With Diniel shooting the Orcs from behind her, Barbara used her buckler and armor on her arms to block and parry the Orcs blows and slashes. After taking a few hits to her arms, she was starting to hurt a little…
…But Eunice was quick to shoot her <<Heal>> shots, mending her injuries. With the pain gone, Barbara could move her body to the fullest as she kept on fighting.
However, unlike Skeletons, the Orcs were large and possessed tremendous strength in their arms. Though she had managed to block the Orcs’ attacks so far, she did have to grit her teeth harder with each hit, and with three of them coming at once, the burdens on her were quite heavy indeed.
Tsutomu instructed Diniel to stay on standby after leaving two Orcs alive. She quickly did as told, making short work of one of them then immediately putting away her bow, looking to be in a good mood.
For a while after that, Barbara continued her combat training against the two Orcs. She had to start by figuring out how she could withstand the Orcs’ heavy attacks, and the telegraphs at which they would initiate various moves, otherwise, it would be impossible for her to take on more than one at a time.
Barbara kept on standing her ground while receiving buffs from Eunice. Having been more powerful than the Skeletons, she had been able to exchange blows with them just fine. This time, however, her raw strength was losing against the Orcs’.
After some time, Barbara ended up collapsing from a blow, and was successively stabbed from the side and then knocked back. Her high VIT and sturdy armor mitigated some of the damage, but the next few blows she took ended the same way, with her being knocked back every time.
And each time, a green blast of energy wrapped over her, completely healing her injuries. She was currently up against only two Orcs, however — at this rate, she wouldn’t last against three, let alone five. Barbara, deciding that she could not brute force her way through like with the Skeletons anymore, switched up her strategies by becoming more mobile, avoiding head-on attacks from the Orcs.
As a result of that change, Barbara was no longer collapsing from clashes of blows. Still, she was a Heavy Knight. Her armor, being quite weighty in exchange for its high durability, exhausted her stamina just from running around. And with Barbara not yet being used to such movements, she was gradually accumulating fatigue, her breathing was thrown out of order, and her body heat was building up inside her armor.
“Eunice, please cast a <<Medic>> on her.”
Fortunately, the magic spell’s ability to dispel status effects also applied to alleviating one’s fatigue. Barbara felt refreshed, as if she was being enveloped in a cool air that dispersed the heat of her body, and was able to somewhat fix up her breathing pattern.
Barbara continued the two-on-one fight for a while longer, with Eunice backing her up with <<Heal>>, <<Medic>>, and <<Protect>>. Diniel and Tsutomu, on the other hand, dealt with the unrelated monsters that occasionally invaded the vicinity.
At the point when Tsutomu deemed Barbara and Eunice to be faring well enough, he started trying on the roles of Tank-Buffer to give himself something to do. Tsutomu had been absolutely against playing the Tank role. Afterall, he did not want to get hurt no matter what, but now, he decided that getting some practice just in case. It would be better than nothing. He proceeded to face the approaching monsters, while also constantly maintaining the <<Haste>> effect on Diniel.
Using <<Barrier>> to defend against Verdant Wolves and Earth Boars’ attacks, he also occasionally cast <<Air Blade>> to build up aggro while also making sure that none of the enemies went to Eunice and Barbara.
The Verdant Wolves would appear behind Eunice, and the Red Grizzlies from the bushes near where Barbara was; Tsutomu attracted the attention of both kinds using <<Air Blade>>. Eunice wanted to stare at Tsutomu and use his movements as a reference, but she quickly had to turn her attention to Barbara and do her job.
[Man, <<Barrier>> sure takes a lot out of me…]
The spell’s mental energy consumption was quite high, partly because Tsutomu hadn’t gotten much practice in with it yet. And although the protection it provided also enabled him enough time to drink Blue Potions, now that the market prices of Blue Potions had skyrocketed, he had to consider his financials wisely before using them.
Additionally, if his team were to have more than one Attacker, his rate of aggro generation via attacks and supports would lose against them, forcing him to use healing skills to just catch up. There was a catch, however — <<Heal>> would not generate any aggro if used on an uninjured ally. Quickly using <<High Heal>> each time a party member was hurt would net him sufficient aggro, but doing that would consume too much mental energy.
Moreover, White Mages would surely die instantly if they were to make a single mistake, with their VIT being so low. While thinking to himself how there were no viable options at all, Tsutomu watched on as the Verdant Wolves kept on trying to bite his <<Barrier>>. Unlike dogs, these monsters’ fangs were long and atrocious, and the green mane-like fur around its neck was so thick and tough that it was impervious to ordinary blades.
[This is starting to look like a zoo… well, more like a monster park, I guess. Sounds like a place with lots of dead people.]
Although some of the monsters in this world were cute-looking and-or harmless, it was common knowledge that their kind was overall dangerous.
The process of studying their ecosystems commonly involved capturing monsters from the other Dungeons, but the processes themselves were so difficult that one had to put their life on the line. Capturing monsters deep inside Dungeons and bringing them out was difficult, while restraining some of the monsters that flooded out of the Dungeons during Stampedes was relatively easy.
However, since the use of Appraisal skills could provide one with a decent amount of information on monsters, most people would not put the effort into catching and studying them. Take for example Amy, who had defeated the Fire Dragon and proceeded past it into the Volcano biome. Currently, she was working diligently for the Guild together with Garm as her escort, using her Appraisal skill to analyze the monsters of the newly-reached area.
Incidentally, Amy and Garm had once encountered the Scarlet Devil Squad during their investigations of the Volcanoes and had been recruited by them, but they both declined, telling them that they had prior commitments.
While Tsutomu was absent-mindedly watching the Verdant Wolves head-butting the transparent <<Barrier>>, arrows flew at them from the side, hitting them and turning them into Magic Stones as they collapsed. Tsutomu disengaged his <<Barrier>> and picked up the arrows on the ground for Diniel, then collected the Magic Stones.
Then, after spending another hour or so watching Barbara fighting the two Orcs, Tsutomu decided that she had gotten used to it well enough, and so, he had Diniel kill off the Orcs so that the party could take a break.
“See, Barbara? What did I tell you?”
“Yeah! I can do this! WE can do this!”
“H-hey, let go of me!”
Barbara, elated to get a different response from before, cranked a smile and lifted Eunice up while the latter was just standing around with her staff resting on the ground. Eunice, feeling ticklish because of the former’s hands holding her up under her armpits, blushed and repeatedly slapped Barbara’s arms.
Seeing how Eunice and Barbara were acting, Tsutomu could not help but mutter,
“Those two sure make a strange pair.”
“Yeah, they’ve always been seen like that by other people. The Attackers find them annoying in a cute way.”
“Huh. And what about you, Diniel?”
“<<Eagle Eye>>… Just all right, I guess. They seem to hate how I always hold back, though.”
While glancing at Barbara lifting Eunice up and spinning around, Diniel shot an arrow into the sky, using it for her monster-searching skill. As usual, she was sleepily lowering the corners of her eyes, seemingly unconcerned about Eunice’s label on her as a slacker.
Tsutomu, having not perceived Diniel to actually be that way from his observations, played it nice and followed along with her,
“It’s not necessarily all bad to do that, though. From what I’ve seen from the beginning, you seem to only hold back in the parts that aren’t absolutely necessary, at least.”
Diniel, somewhat surprised, raised the corners of her eyes and looked at Tsutomu’s face in profile. With how fast-paced his roles and multi-tasking were, she had not expected him to be so observant of such details of hers.
“Oh, but you can’t slack off on the important things, all right? To keep the operation together, you have to pull your weight properly when things get tough for everyone else.”
“…The party you’ll eventually lead is in for some tiring work.”
“I mean, they wouldn’t get to slack off, after all.”
Despite the words she had said, Diniel chuckled and put one hand over her mouth, hiding the rare smile she had briefly shown. Once she was done smiling, she nocked some more arrows and resumed searching for enemies.