The day after the meeting, all of the relevant organizations gathered to participate in a joint training session. With that said, it was mostly just Ealdred Crow using Golems to build some fortresses and bases of operations outside of the barrier, and Alma and the Black Mages wrecking the wasteland with <<Meteor>>, so as to make the terrain hard for the Stampede to get through.
This training session’s purpose was, technically, to confirm the coming battle’s tendencies, but the most of it simply consisted of Leon carrying Barbara in his arms and hopping around the place, matching their positioning with the rhythm of the Black Mages’ magic shot skills and the barrier’s opening-closing time frames. The White Mages, Tsutomu included, did not get to do any specific training, and were practically on free time after they had been briefed on the battle’s general flow. Camille had also told him that the Guild would be in charge of the two Black Dragons instead, a change in the arrangements which the Security Team and most of everyone had already been informed of.
According to the information gained from Leon’s high-speed scouting, the Dragons would reach Dungeon City tomorrow; Tsutomu knew that the defending forces were technically more than enough to handle the initial invasion. Considering their capabilities, including a comprehensive assortment of anti-monster magic tools, the nobility’s defensive magic, and all the participating Explorers, there was no problem from a pure power standpoint.
What concerned Tsutomu, however, was what would be coming after that. In the game version of the ‘Banquet of Dragons’ event, the invasion of the elemental Dragons was simply the first checkpoint, technically the opening act. Considering that there might be a yet-to-be-introduced boss-level Dragon appearing later on, Tsutomu was considering an escape once again.
Unlike God’s Dungeon, the other Dungeons of this world had already existed for hundreds of years, and were considered as naturally occurring. Tsutomu felt that it was somewhat off-point to apply game knowledge to those Dungeons, let alone this world’s version of God’s Dungeon. But then again, the confirmed types of Dragons lined up perfectly with the Banquet of Dragons, making him unable to shake the bad feeling he had.
Tsutomu proceeded to re-confirm the information he had on the Black Dragon and told the others about some important points; by the time he was done, various musical tones began to echo from within the magic barrier. Those were from the nobility’s musicians, who had just begun their rehearsals.
The band was made up of Minstrels, whose magnificent tones not only raised morale, but also had actual positive effects on the targets’ status ratings. About a hundred Minstrels followed a Conductor, alternately playing music to make it last without interruption, buffing the powers of those who heard their songs and voices. Their skills also included some healing effects, helping to greatly reduce the workload of Healers.
Group support from a safe distance, especially on a scale too large to achieve in God’s Dungeon, was the Minstrel Job’s strong point here. Moreover, the band seemed as if they were putting together a single song as they efficiently cycled through their skills; Tsutomu was quite impressed by them.
[These songs have an emphasis on healing effects, too. They’re providing some great support.]
All statuses except LUK were constantly boosted, and skills that recovered health and mental energy were cast in regular intervals. Tsutomu tried getting himself used to this buffed state, moving around and adjusting his casts to the new rate of energy consumption, and also measured the timing of the incoming healing skills.
The sounds of the band’s performance and the Mages’ falling <<Meteors>> echoed through the air. Meanwhile, Tsutomu was lazing around and casting some <<Heal>>, <<High Heal>>, and <<Aura Heal>> spheres around him, when a certain young woman flew toward him.
The young woman’s yellow fox tail wagged as she descended — the person in question was none other than Eunice, one of the members of Golden Tune’s main party. She was in the same type of white robe as Tsutomu’s, and also carried a White Staff in her hands.
“…There isn’t anything to do,” Eunice grumbled.
“Right. That group’s got support covered, and the briefings are already over… us, well, we can only wait for things to happen.”
Eunice slightly pointed up her fox ears, seeming annoyed at all the constant noises in the vicinity. Tsutomu looked away from her and watched the <<Meteors>> fall in the distance. After a while of awkward silence, Eunice moved in front of Tsutomu and began talking to him,
“…This time, Golden Tune’s role is to provide support to all parts of the operation. I heard that the Guild will be taking on two Black Dragons?”
“So that’s why I’m here to support them.”
“……” Eunice groaned in annoyance, feeling as if Tsutomu was not at all interested in maintaining the conversation, and then proceeded to cast <<Heal>> and spin their spheres around. She had been practicing it on her own after Tsutomu had taught her, so her control and consistency were now perfect.
Tsutomu waited a few more moments for her to go somewhere else, but in the end, it seemed that she refused to leave, sitting there and spinning around some <<Heal>> spheres. Guild personnel, noticing the two randomly spinning around some spells, looked at them funny.
“…Do you need something?” Tsutomu finally caved and asked, prompting Eunice to turn around, her cheeks puffed up, though her tail seemed to suggest that she was satisfied. Tsutomu sighed, wondering to himself whether or not she had attention-seeking issues.
Eunice proceeded to say, “Tsutomu, I’ve heard that you’ve been teaching things to other Clans’ Healers.”
“Which means you have something new to teach me as well, don’t you?”
“Huh? Nothing comes to mind, no.”
“…Liar. There’s definitely something you haven’t taught me yet.”
Eunice had felt firsthand how quickly the spectating audience’s reception toward her Clan could turn so cold, after a mid-tier Clan like Silver Beast had overtaken their progress. Some of the people were even saying that Silver Beast might be a better selection than Golden Tune for this Stampede defense operation.
As things currently stood, Golden Tune had better Attackers than Ealdred Crow, and more importantly, access to Leon and his unique skill. Moreover, this coming Stampede was an irregular one — though this did not suggest that they would suddenly be benched if it was a normal one, either. As such, a regular like Golden Tune had been judged as the better choice this time around. Still, Eunice was quite frustrated by the people’s loose comments, and had started to train even harder than before.
The issue was that those increased efforts had not shown their results yet, causing her to feel stuck and impatient. Eunice had approached Tsutomu to get some advice, but in the heat of the moment, she lashed out at him instead,
“Well, not that I care. I’ll get better than everyone — Silver Beast, Ealdred Crow, and even YOU! I’ll come out on top!”
“Ugh… Just you wait and see!”
Having said that, Eunice cast <<Fly>> and leaped away. Tsutomu, in the end having no idea what she has approached him for, kept silent and watched her leave.
Golden Tune had yet to show any significant results in their current state, but Tsutomu knew that it was only natural. After all, he had laid down some decent groundwork for Silver Beast’s three-role composition, and Ealdred Crow had even done so on their own. It was only natural that Golden Tune, without any prior preparation, would initially fall behind.
Eunice’s current reputation was not all that bad, either. Despite her demeanor, she was a hard worker, and had good enough intuition to even learn placement-type skills by imitation. Tsutomu believed that Eunice’s performance would shine through once the three-role composition was in place in her Clan.
Afterward, Tsutomu spent his time assessing the band’s supporting patterns, during which Stephanie showed up. Rook and the other Summoners were busy building structures with Golems, so she had free time on her hands once the initial briefings were over.
Tsutomu greeted Stephanie and brought up the topic of the exploration of Volcano layers, and the latter was happy to discuss it. She seemed confident that her Clan would manage to catch up with the Scarlet Devil Squad once the Stampede was over with.
Once the informative chit-chat died down, Stephanie proceeded to listen to the sounds of music that still echoed through the area.
“The band is performing as splendidly as ever.”
Stephanie gazed at the performing musicians, enraptured. Tsutomu, recalling how she had waved her staff like a conductor stick, tried asking her about it,
“So… I take it that you wanted to join the band at one point?”
“Was I being that obvious? But yes, I did, when I was very little.” Stephanie narrowed her eyes with nostalgic sentiment, but then quickly cast them down. “But then God’s Dungeon appeared, and with it the new requirement that one had to be a Minstrel to join. Besides, my musical aptitude was… quite mediocre, you see. All that was why I gave up on it completely.”
“Oh, I see…”
“That must’ve come off as an uninteresting subject. Apologies.”
“Please don’t say that. Still, it’s… pretty sad, don’t you think? I do hope you’ll find an opportunity to change your career path, if you still would like to.”
“…Back then, I did think that would have been nice, yes.”
In the game, a character’s Job could be switched out at will, but this world did not have such a feature for its inhabitants. They could only decide on a Job when starting out, and had to stick with it.
“But even if I were to change my career path now, I’ll continue to work as a White Mage as well.”
Seeing Stephanie’s eyes light up, as if motivated by a sense of purpose, Tsutomu tilted his head slightly and replied,
“As a fellow White Mage, I am glad to hear that. But either way, I’m sure you’ll improve yourself more and more from now on, Stephanie.”
“…Speaking of which, Mister Tsutomu, I would like to ask you something.”
“Yes? What is it?”
“I’ve been told that Lorena, a member of Silver Beast, has received training from you. Is that true?”
“Ah… That is true, yes.”
“I’ve recently watched her in action through the Pedestal broadcasts, you see — she was impressive,” Stephanie said, her eyes blazing all the while. She seemed to have it in her head that Lorena was now a worthy rival to her.
“She has shown quite a lot of improvement, true.”
“But her support skills are still unrefined, I would say. Frustrating to watch, even… But despite that, I felt as if she was better than me. Perhaps I was outmatched by some other aspects of her.”
“Her strongest points are… aggro management, followed by party cooperation, I guess?”
“Aggro management, you say?”
Tsutomu felt that Lorena was particularly good at sensing monsters’ hostility, which may or may not be thanks to her being a Conykin. Either way, it was clear from the monitor footage he had seen that she excelled at managing her whole party’s aggro levels.
And what enabled her to do it well was the overall party’s tremendous ability to cooperate, having been together for so many years. Thanks to their understanding of one another, Lorena’s instructions were always quick and precise.
In terms of abilities, Lorena on her own would be on about the same level as Stephanie, but as a team player, Lorena was the superior one. The latter part was the difference that Stephanie had felt.
“I can’t let myself be left in the dust!”
Tsutomu looked on as Stephanie clenched her fists, fired up by a self-induced sense of rivalry. Although he had no one in Live Dungeon he would consider as having been rivals with, he did remember a few skilled players who had motivated him to improve, and vice versa. The last one he recalled was a famous Channeler player who had reassembled a party that had been in the danger of dissolving for good; Tsutomu had been referred to them several times by his Clan members.
That Channeler player had quit the game quite a long time ago, however, in the end leaving Tsutomu alone. Since then, the game’s server had started losing more and more players, and no such personality had ever appeared to him again. As such, Tsutomu was feeling a little jealous of Stephanie here.
“W-what is it, Mister Tsutomu? Is there something on my face?”
“Oh, sorry. It’s nothing.” Tsutomu, seeing that Stephanie was blushing a little, promptly looked away. Then he noticed that some of the Guild were calling him, inviting him to go for lunch together. “Looks like it’s about time I had my lunch now.”
“Yes, of course. I was about to leave as well.”
“Oh, and Stephanie, see to it that you make it out alive. Please prioritize your own safety.”
“Y-yes. I certainly will.”
Stephanie, seeing how serious Tsutomu was, nodded in agreement. She then went back to Ealdred Crow, while Tsutomu went to regroup with the Guild’s members.
Tsutomu, on his way back into Dungeon City, thought to himself how the upcoming lunch would be the last he would ever have, what with the Dragons being set to attack tomorrow. He took his time with his meal, savoring it while worrying about what was to come.