After two more days of training, Tsutomu had Barbara and Eunice begin operating together with the Clan’s main party. Tsutomu suggested to Leon that they explored the Canyon as they had done the first time, and Leon cheerfully, immediately agreed.
“S-so, do you think it’ll go all right?”
“You’ll be fine. Probably.”
“Just do your best out there! If nothing changes from before, I’ll be the one whose reputation is ruined, so…”
“S-stop it! Why’re you even saying that now!?”
Upon getting Tsutomu’s semi-pressuring reply, Barbara, who had been shuddering and pulling on Tsutomu’s shoulder, held her head, bear ears folding down.
“By the way, Eunice will be the team’s Healer right from the get-go as well, so keep that in mind.”
“Tsutomu, I’d like you to show me some more examples first, if you can.”
“It’s not like you’ll get things down right off the bat, though. Just give it a try first, and we’ll go from there.”
“…All right, I understand.”
Eunice showed no particular defiance toward Tsutomu’s words; rather, she was quite well-behaved. Leon, seeing that, had his eyes sparkling as he beckoned Tsutomu to go over to him. As Tsutomu approached Leon, the latter grabbed him by his shoulder and prompted him to turn his back to the two others.
“Looks like Eunice is behaving herself way better now… Nice job, Tsutomu!”
“Huh? Are you sure it’s not because of what you said to her? You know, when I was on break?”
Tsutomu had been worried that Eunice’s sudden change of heart after the break was due to Leon scolding her. However, Leon shook his head, denying Tsutomu’s assumption.
“Nah, she’s way too stubborn to listen to anything I say. Well, that’s one thing that makes her cute in her own way, though…”
“…Could you keep your love life stories out of this, please?”
“Whoops, sorry, sorry… Well, in all seriousness, it probably was that time…”
Leon recalled the time when Eunice had asked to party up with him and practice her placement skills, an effort that had ended mostly in failure. Leon thought that was likely when she had realized the difference between her and Tsutomu’s capabilities.
“Nevermind. C’mon, let’s go and see how much stronger they’ve gotten!”
“You can expect to see some good results, Leon — it’ll be worth your effort. After all, it’s thanks to you that I’ve been able to focus on teaching those two.”
“…Duuuuunno what you’re talkin’ about, man.”
“Please, there’s no need to hide it. You’ve been putting in a lot of work yourself, haven’t you?”
It was not as if Leon had simply been lazing around the past month — had read through the materials Tsutomu had handed out and understood well the three-role composition, and he had taken the initiative to help with his members’ leveling starting from the Tanks. He’d also had the Tanks mimic Tsutomu’s training approach, and also take notes from the Tanks of Ealdred Crow’s fully-equipped parties. Moreover, the Attackers had not been left out, either — he had been working to change for the better their attitudes toward Tanks over the past month.
Even if Tanks and Healers were trained well to work together, it would be useless if Attackers were to disrupt their coordination. On the other hand, if Tanks and Healers were stable, then the flow of the battle would be stable.
Tsutomu had intended to wait and show the results of his teachings in a bid to convince the Attackers. Leon, however, seemed to have understood that from the documents he had read through, and had been trying to convince the Attackers in his own way by having them party up with Tanks. None of the Clan’s members were able to openly oppose Leon, so at the very least, there was no one who discriminated against Tanks in front of Leon anymore.
At first, Tsutomu had thought that Leon would leave everything for Eunice to manage and do nothing himself, but that perception had changed around two weeks ago, when he had gotten to see the Wolfman’s activities on Monitor #10. It was obvious to Tsutomu that he was moving to match the Tank and Healer, unlike before. That was when Tsutomu realized that he had been doing a lot of work himself.
“Well then, shall we get going?” Tsutomu asked, sporting an I-mean-business smile.
“Aye-yup,” Leon said and shrugged his shoulders.
The party, with the same members they had started with, headed for the Canyon on the fifty-sixth layer of the Dungeon.
Upon entering the combat zone, Diniel started searching and reported spotting some Orcs. The party proceeded to the specified location.
Barbara was as tense as ever, and Eunice was somewhat stiff in her movements. Diniel was the same as usual, too — sleepy eyes, occasionally yawning.
“H-hey, you two sure you’re alright?”
“Y-y-yeah, I’m fine! No problem at all! Come on, Eunice! Let’s do our best!”
Leon’s call-out to Barbara had the opposite of the intended effect, making her even more nervous. Eunice’s steps were heavy, too, what with her not even trying to hide how anxious she was. When Leon made eye contact with Tsutomu, the latter only shook his head silently.
“Apologies, but I take back what I said. Please don’t expect anything spectacular.”
“DUDE!? But you looked so confident before, though!?”
“Well, just look at them — they’re not in this at all! Then again, they might get used to it after getting to kill a few times, so…”
Seeing Eunice hyperventilating from nervousness and Barbara with her arms and legs sticking out together, Tsutomu put his hand on his forehead and heaved a sigh. As Leon looked at them with concern, he could already see some Orcs in the distance. The Orcs seemed to have detected the party, and were now charging at them with the force of a fierce boars.
“Heads up! Enemy incoming! Eunice, set up <<Area Heal>> then cast <<Protect>>! Barbara, step to the front row!”
Tsutomu shouted out and clapped his hands, prompting Barbara to ready her buckler and short spear in reflex. She had listened to Tsutomu’s voice so much over the past month that her following courses of action had become ingrained in her body. Eunice followed suit, setting up and casting the usual skills she would open battles with.
“All right, <<Combat Cry>> now.”
Barbara, having gotten so used to hearing the prompt, activated her skill immediately. Five Orcs, hit with the red aura, turned their attention to Barbara.
Diniel fired a volley of arrows, disrupting one of the Orc archers, while Leon held out his long sword and charged at another one of the enemies, holding it back. The three remaining Orcs, wall wielding melee weapons, closed in on Barbara.
[One cudgel and two swords…]
After confirming the types of weapons the Orcs wielded, Barbara blocked the leading Orc’s short sword with her buckler as it swung down at her. Then, she poked out her short spear to stop the following Orc while moving backward.
The three Orcs slowly approached Barbara, careful as to how she would act next, then decided to rush her all at once. Barbara first used her buckler to block the cudgel swing coming from her right, then proceeded to lunge forward with her buckler, knocking the Orc away. Then she got hit on her armor with another Orc’s sword, but it did not cut through, resulting in only a loud metallic ring and no injury.
She then swept her short spear in an arc, prompting the Orcs to jump back. The monsters stomped the ground with their thick-skinned soles and leaped forward, but Barbara avoided them by hopping back while keeping her spear held forward.
Barbara was thorough in her maneuvers to maximize safety, having trained so much to carry them out naturally. The figure of hers, clad in full heavy armor and carrying a shield and spear, looked like a humanoid fortress.
The Orcs were persistent, keeping on their effort in breaking through her defenses, but because Barbara was perfectly calm and never overreacted, they were not able to land an effective hit. Blows to her arms and shoulders were promptly mended by Eunice’s <<Heal>>, resulting in them doing nothing to hinder Barbara’s movements.
Leon, having spent the past month watching over the novice Tanks’ training, was enchanted by how Barbara fended off the enemies’ attacks. Of all the Tanks he had seen so far, Barbara’s display was the best.
Although Leon had been trying to train the Tanks as well, they were all his wives, so he had not been too strict on them. He had been careful not to overexert them, resulting in them often practicing through one-on-one fights, and he would immediately bail them out at the first sign of danger.
The details of Barbara’s training had only been made known to Leon through word of mouth; if he had actually been on the scene, he would have intervened without a doubt. His leniency was one of his great virtues, but also a flaw — one that had been taking his Clan into an undesirable direction.
Leon, having seen for a decent bit that Barbara could hold her own against three Orcs, turned to Eunice as the latter stood in the <<Area Heal>> perimeter while counting her numbers, her face quite stern.
Eunice’s energy sphere flew ahead without misting away and landed on Barbara’s broad back. Leon had only seen Eunice’s placement-type <<Haste>> while he had partied up with her during Tsutomu’s break, so he was delighted now to see that she had mastered <<Heal>> as well.
Once Diniel shot down all of the Orcs, Leon rushed over to where his Clan members were.
“That was great, Barbara!”
“…I can still only take on just three Orcs at once, though. Still a long way to go.”
“But it took you just a month, you know!? That’s more than fast enough!” Leon said and raised both his hands to express his joy.
“Y-you think? …Hey, thanks!”
Barbara scratched her own cheek in embarrassment, then let out a celebratory shout along with Leon.
“And Eunice, you’ve finally got those shots down! That’s great! I’m glad you pulled through.”
Eunice, having already mastered the shot-type skills half a month ago, briefly looked unsatisfied, but she soon smiled. She had been training to achieve this moment — there was no way that she was not happy.
After that, the team proceeded to initiate a three-wave battle, and got through it without any significant problems. Points worth noting were when Barbara had been grabbed by a Wyvern and dropped down from the sky, and Eunice being too fixated on using placement-type skills for Leon that she had let others’ <<Protect>> effects run out, but other than those, their battles had been smooth.
Although there were skills areas for improvement popping up, the mood of the party was currently quite favorable. Eunice and Barbara discussed things and coordinated their moves with Leon with expressions of contentment, seeming as if they had lost the track of time. Diniel had kept herself a short distance away but properly listened to everything, and in the end, was able to cooperate with everyone else naturally.
They had started their exploration at noon; eight hours had passed, with Tsutomu being mostly idle, save for a few interruptions. Things had started unstable at first, but Eunice, as the party’s Healer, had always managed to stabilize the flow of battle.
Then, when Tsutomu announced that it was almost time to leave, the three combatants vehemently refused. Leon proceeded to crack a joke at Tsutomu, asking in good humor what throwing a tantrum would do against him. In the end, the three gave up, heaving a sigh as they started preparing to return to the Guild.
[Well, not that I don’t understand how they feel…]
The first time Tsutomu had gotten into a multiplayer session in Live Dungeon, he had ended up keeping on playing all day long. He had been especially addicted in the beginning, so he could definitely understand how the trio felt. As such, Tsutomu smiled as he watched over them, as if he was being reminded of his days as a beginner.
After everything had been wrapped up, Tsutomu called out to Leon,
“So… I think you’ve gotten everything you needed for the three-role composition. Still plenty of room for improvement, of course, but I think they’ve got the essentials down. What do you think?”
“I’m more than satisfied, man. It’s really a big help, you training these two into shape. I’ve been trying to do the same, but it never worked out, so…”
“Please don’t worry about it — it’s not uncommon for people to go easy on their family… But I do think you’re pampering them too much at times, though,” Tsutomu whispered.
Such was Tsutomu’s early impressions of Leon, especially seeing how willing he was to admit that a lot of the damage had been self-inflicted on his part. Leon dodged around Tsutomu’s statement with a dry laugh
“…That’s what a lot of other people always tell me. But I just can’t help myself, man — I mean, they’re all so cute, you know. It’s not a problem as long as it bothers only me, really.”
“…You should try to keep Eunice under control, at least. Frankly, I can’t imagine her teaching the ropes to the other White Mages all that well…”
Although he hadn’t had much of an expectation for Eunice from the start, Tsutomu was still worried about her overall attitude.
“Sorry, can’t. Like I said before, once she sets her mind on something, even I can’t get her to listen. Look, I’ll come up with some good reward for you, so can you cut me some slack on that?”
Leon, getting quite a reproachful look from Tsutomu, took a serious tone and apologized outright. Tsutomu, getting where the former was coming from, proceeded to present his idea,
“Oh, them I’d like to ask that you continue to accept the occasional interviews from newspaper outlets — other than Solit Company, that is.”
“What? That’s all you want?”
“Yes. I’d very much want just that.”
“All right, then… But you sure there’s nothing else? I’ll provide it if I can.”
Tsutomu, somewhat troubled by Leon’s insistence, lowered his voice and answered,
“Well, actually, I’m looking to recruit some capable combatants… not that I’d expected to get any form here. Ealdred Crow is where I’m aiming to find some anyway, so please don’t worry about it.”
“Oh? Recruiting yourself some crew? That won’t be a good look for you, yeah?”
“I’m not going to try and take anyone from their main forces, of course. Maybe the second or third substitutes… With levels about thirty to forty would be fine, too.”
“…Man, you really mean business, huh?”
Tsutomu, called out by Leon for his tone-deaf statement, chuckled lightly to dodge the question. Then, once Diniel found the Black Gate, all five members entered it, returning to the Guild
Back at the Guild, the establishment was packed and there was a lot of commotion. Suspicious, Leon called out to some Explorers he knew,
“Whoa, what’s going on? Pretty big hype ’round here today, huh?”
“What? On hey, Leon. Just take a look — you’ll get it when you see it. They’re just about to wrap things up.”
The Explorer pointed at the Guild’s Monitor #1. On it, five Explorers were raising roars of cheer, with a Fire Dragon starting to turn into red light particles in the background.
Among the group was a Summoner, carrying a large staff that did not fit his body, with a distinctive small stature and fluttering green hair — he was none other than the Leader of Ealdred Crow. The young man was being hoisted up by his four party members in celebration.