Regarding the Enchanter who was going to be trained as a Buffer, they had originally retired as an Explorer and returned home to take over their family’s business. What Tsutomu could do about that now was to wait for them to be brought back here, so first he went to check out Ealdred Crow’s current main party Healer instead.
When Tsutomu asked Rook about the main party’s composition, he found that they had prevailed over the Fire Dragon with two Tanks, two Attackers, and one Healer. Currently, they were considering reducing the number of Attackers for the exploration of the Volcano areas.
Currently, Tsutomu was in a meet-up with the members of the main party.
“Good day. I am the one tasked with the role of Healer, Stephanie. Please make your acquaintance.”
The woman with long, bright pink, spiral-curled hair introduced herself as Stephanie and bowed ostentatiously to Tsutomu, complete with picking up the edges of the skirt of her yellow dress. She then clasped her hands together and looked up at Tsutomu.
“Mister Tsutomu, I have always wanted to meet and express my thanks to you personally, for your promotion of things such as long-ranged healing and the Healer role. Because of your contributions, I have managed to land myself a spot in the main force once again.”
“Is that so? Congratulations.”
“All that is thanks to the materials you have provided, Mister Tsutomu. Thank you very much,” she expressed her gratitude with a smile of a blooming flower.
Tsutomu had not seen her during the press conference, so he guessed that she had only recently returned to the main force from the second or third reserves. After all, her flamboyant, curly hair would have made quite a lasting impression if he were to see it among the audience.
“…Sova. Attacker,” The black-haired man greeted Tsutomu bluntly with a sullen look.
He was none other than the one who had given Tsutomu his opinion as an Attacker during the press conference, and he did not seem too thrilled about Tsutomu’s visit, as apparent from how he said nothing more.
“I am Bittman, employed by Ealdred Crow as a Tank. A pleasure to meet you.”
The man with a shaved head was not much taller than Tsutomu, being only of average height, but he had an overpowering, hard-to-approach air about him. Tsutomu, thinking how he was quite reminiscent of Garm’s initial intimidating impression, proceeded to shake hands with him, getting quite a firm grip and strong shake before letting go of his hand.
Tsutomu then turned to Rook; the latter looked back, seeming dumbfounded as he pointed at himself.
“Oh, should I do this as well? …Ahem. I’m Rook, right now a… Tank, I guess? Nice to meet you, my man!”
“Thank you. Nice to meet you all as well.”
“Since we’re all grouped up now, shall we head out? Let’s see… how about layer sixty-one? Oh, but we won’t force Tsutomu to fight alongside us, of course.”
“Oh, no, I don’t mind participating at all. It should still be relatively safe at that point of progress.”
“You’ve got a point there! But really, it’s great to finally get a change of scenery — we’re already beyond sick of the Canyons, you know! I mean, we were stuck there for almost a whole year! Not that I’m a fan of the heat, but I’m sure looking forward to seeing what the Volcano’s like!”
Tsutomu, seeing Rook being so full of excitement, replied vaguely.
This would be the first time Tsutomu went to the sixty-first layer himself, but he had already prepared himself somewhat by watching the Scarlet Devil Squad’s broadcasts. From what he had seen, he felt that he would have no problem going down to at least layer sixty-five.
By this time, the Scarlet Devil Squad had reached down to layer sixty-six. They had defeated the biome’s mid-boss, a lava-swimming loach-like monster, and had successfully updated their layer progression. At the rate they were going, they likely would not face any roadblocks until they reached layer sixty-nine.
Ealdred Crow’s clerks retrieved the team’s supplies from their Magic Bags and re-checked them piece by piece, while the workshops apprentices brought over their equipment. Once the main party was all geared up, they headed for the Guild.
Rook wore a full robe, while Sova was in a set of black-dyed leather armor. Bittman also wore leather armor, but one of a common variation. Stephanie, the only woman in the group, wore a yellow dress as her combat gear; it made her stand out quite a lot. She did have black stockings and long gloves on as well, so at least she was not bare-handed nor bare-legged, but it was clear that her defense rating was low.
[Not that I’m one to talk, though…]
Tsutomu’s pure white robe was a piece of equipment exclusive to White Mages found in treasure chests in the Dungeon; it had the positive correction effect to its White Mage wearer’s mental energy. On the other hand, it had almost no defensive properties, forcing one to rely on their own VIT for protection.
But then, if Tsutomu were to wear an extra layer of metal armor, he would become too heavy to move, and the common ones would break after absorbing a few hits from most monsters anyway, so it would not mean much to him in the long run. As such, if one’s VIT was not naturally high, armor would only amount to a layer of insurance.
After arriving at the Guild, registering their party, and lining up to use one of the Magic Circles, Tsutomu noticed Stephanie occasionally taking glances at him. When Tsutomu asked her what was wrong, she shyly fumbled and then dropped her gaze diagonally below her.
“Nothing much, Mister Tsutomu. I’m just… nervous. Compared to you, I’m just a Goblin Mage, after all.”
“No, you’re not — if you can do what the documents say, then you’re plenty skilled. Besides, you’ve defeated a Fire Dragon already.”
“But my power was insignificant. Mister Rook, Bittman, and Sova — they were amazing ones. They likely could have achieved victory without my contribution.”
Tsutomu continued to talk with Stephanie for a while longer, observing her gestures and manners of speech, with the latter looking down with a sullen pout the whole time. He saw neither intention of deceit nor modesty in her words; Tsutomu felt that she had truly meant everything she had said.
Stephanie’s flamboyant hairstyle had made Tsutomu initially think her to be a strong-willed person, but surprisingly, she turned out to be one without much of a craving for the limelight.
After he was doing talking to Stephanie, Tsutomu turned to Sova, but the latter made a grumpy face and turned away, refusing to make eye contact. Rook, seeing that happen, approached Tsutomu and waved his hand to ask Tsutomu to crouch down.
Tsutomu did so, and Rook proceeded to whisper into his ear,
“You know, Sova’s still upset about what happened last time — that’s why he hasn’t been able to make eye contact with you. Like, he’s apparently annoyed that your strats actually helped us score the win against the Fire Dragon, and stuff.”
“I see… Well, as long as he doesn’t interfere with the team’s coordination, I’d say it’s no problem at all.”
“Really, sorry about his behavior. He really respects the Scarlet Devil Squad’s Leader and the way they do things, you see. I think that’s why he keeps acting the way he does.”
“Aha, so that’s why he dresses in all black…”
The Scarlet Devil Squad’s Clan Leader was an impressively imposing man with signature long black hair all-black armor. Sova’s getup was the same — black hair, black armor. Seeing how the latter’s hair swayed slightly, Tsutomu thought of the ‘black fiends’ that often appeared in his old-world apartment during the summers.
Tsutomu, feeling somewhat ticklish from Rook’s high-pitched voice and breath, scratched his ear before standing up. At the same time, the line moved forward, opening up one of the Magic Circles. Rook declared to the staff the names of everyone that would follow him into it.
“All right, let’s go! Teleport to the sixty-first layer!”
The moment the sentence ended, all five were wrapped up in light particles, and were transferred to the designated location.
And the moment they arrived, Tsutomu’s eyes were dazzled by the painfully bright red light of his surroundings. Lava dripped down from the hills, leaking light through the black rocks as they flowed like blood vessels, illuminating the otherwise dark cave the team was in.
Such was the Volcano biome, starting from the sixty-first layer. Tsutomu and the party had been teleported inside one of its caves. As the Black Gate closed quietly behind them, Rook started things off by setting a round green bead on the end of his large staff and cast a skill.
“<<Summon — Goblin>>.”
As Rook spun his thick silver staff around, a Magic Circle appeared on the ground, and from it emerged three Goblins, exactly the same kind that was common in the Grasslands. The creatures, under Rook’s instructions, split out and started searching for enemies in the vicinity.
In the meantime, Rook rummaged through the pouch on his waist — actually a Magic Bag — and eventually pulled out a small box. When he pulled the lid open, it released a blast of cold air.
Rook then reached inside it, took out a small yellow clump-like object — apparently frozen candy — and threw it into his own mouth. Rook proceeded to hand out a few of them to his party members as well. Tsutomu received a red one, which he immediately tossed into his mouth.
“Wewicious, wight? Wee how wit’s swewwing wup wy wowth?”
Rook’s words were almost unintelligible, thanks to the lemon-flavored ice cube in his mouth. Tsutomu, not sure how he should react, defaulted to nodding back. The cube the latter had gotten was apple-flavored, so he enjoyed it while waiting for the Goblins to return.
The cave’s interior was scorching, most likely due to the rock surfaces and lava; Tsutomu was sweating hard just by standing still. Rook explained to him while wiping off his own sweat that, fortunately, this Biome was not all caves, and one could actually get some cooling air once they got outside.
[I wonder if this Sova guy is doing all right in this heat…] Tsutomu thought as he turned to look at the man in question.
Sova looked perfectly fine, despite the unsheathed long sword on his back starting to heat up. As Tsutomu tried to observe if the man’s armor had some kind of cooling function, the scout Goblins came back, as apparent from their squeals from a short distance.
“Mm-hm. Looks like we’ll be fine all the way to the exit of this cave. Now, lead the way.”
Doing as instructed, the Goblins walked off once again. Rook removed the green bead from his silver staff, took out a brown bead from his pouch, and set it on instead.
“<<Summon — Golem>>,” Rook cast another skill and spun his staff a little longer than he had done before, creating a Magic Circle from which an earthen, three-meter tall Golem emerged.
The Golem held out its hand to Rook, and the latter climbed up its arm and got on its shoulder.
“All right, let’s go.”
Tsutomu looked up and saw that Rook was smiling fearlessly. This sort of smug look got a chuckle out of Tsutomu, with him being reminded of a child showing off his secret base.
Rook and his Eidolons led the way out of the cave. Outside, the team of five was welcomed by the gray-covered sky. Tsutomu could not tell if it was the clouds or the volcanic ash, but he could clearly see some sort of black particle constantly drifting down in the air.
In spots, magma flowed like streams, eroding the black earth. And in the distance, the scout Goblins could be seen in a scuffle with a ball of rock — actually a monster called Rockin’ Ball.
“Now, everyone! Let’s do it just like we’ve always been!”
The three members nodded to Rook’s high-pitched command.