Deciding on a plan just before we exited the labyrinth, we got down to work.
First, I cast Title Up and Hype Up for every party member, including myself.
Thanks to the Star Rod’s capabilities, I could do layered casting easily, but I had to exclude the usual Fire spell in favor of Title Up.
And now that I used up all of my Swift Magic, forming Spell and Craft Circles in the heat of battle will be more difficult.
“All right then… Here I go!”
Pochi went on ahead, storming out of the labyrinth and then instantly gigantifying.
Having analyzed their ranks beforehand, she leapt right at the weakest of the enemies. Looking at her engaging them, the rest of us emerged from the labyrinth a few moments later.
By the time Blazer, Bruce, and Betty formed a defensive rank around me, Pochi had already gotten one of the enemies with her fangs.
“Seven to the left!”
“One down on the right, five remaining!”
“No changes behind or above!”
Seventeen in total.
We had to take on all those Laughing Fox bandits with just five people on our side.
“Pochi has our right covered! Bruce, focus on our left!”
Befitting an experienced fighter, Blazer promptly issued his command. His voice sounded strongly encouraging, raising the party’s morale.
Now the real fight begins!
While keeping an eye on Pochi’s situation, I started drawing my Spell Circle. At the same time, the enemies at our front and on the left made their moves.
Another bandit’s deathly scream of agony could be heard as he was ripped by Pochi’s fangs.
A man at the back of the enemy’s vanguard issued orders, sending four close combatants in the front to confront Pochi. That was the same man Betty had faced on our way here. As I had thought, he was the leader.
Still, this meant Pochi was now successful at being the decoy.
“Heh, so we got eight here…”
“Betty, intercept them and help Pochi and Bruce! Bruce, take on the six of them!”
As siblings who seemed to have always fought alongside each other, they answered in unison. Bruce had to take on six enemies, so Betty had to intercept the remaining two.
Blazer was relying on his intuition to make the best use of each fighter’s strengths and he did it incredibly good.
The bandit leader was making his move too. Including him, Blazer had to take on three enemies.
Bruce made his first move, signaled by the first clashing of swords. From the impact of a back swing strike from Bruce, the enemy’s sword was knocked away in an instant, and got stuck into a rock on the side of the labyrinth’s entrance.
The enemy’s face twisted in numbness and pain. As he let his guard down, he was promptly struck right on the crown of his head with a dagger that flew from Bruce’s side. The dagger was one among many that Betty had equipped on her thighs.
“You’re amazing, Betty!”
“Of course I am!”
A splendid combination. It was unlike any battle I had ever been through.
Blazer was also quick to make his move, killing off one enemy in short order.
I’m hearing some chaos from where Pochi is as well. The situation seems to be in our favor so far.
“……! Prioritize the mage!”
The leader of the Laughing Fox assessed the situation and shifted his attention to me. As expected of a battle-hardened opponent.
The bandits around us changed their priority from defeating our close combatants to stalling them. All the enemy needed now was to get to me, after all.
A few of them threw themselves at Bruce, blocking his range of movement.
Bruce unleashed his special technique, swinging his sword to shatter the sword of his nearest enemy, and cleaving his way right through.
The enemy’s upper body was blown away with immeasurable force. He weakly groaned as he hit the ground before falling silent.
The battle dragged on. Bruce was faring well against the enemy leader, but when another enemy joined the fight, he started taking more and more blows, sustaining quite a few injuries. But nothing too serious.
Pochi’s cry could be heard from our right. She, too, was starting to take hits.
But she didn’t call for help. She understood full well that we couldn’t help her. Everyone of us had our hands full.
Bruce unleashed another big move, with Betty covering for him by taking a hit on her right thigh. In response to that, Bruce immediately stepped to cover her right side.
“Dammit! Asley, man! How much longer!?”
I couldn’t answer. All of my senses were concentrated on drawing the Spell Circle.
Like a great tree that overwhelms fire, withstands wind, shifts the flow of water, and spreads its roots wide across the earth…!
“Enemy Trap! Gravity Stop!”
In an instant, the air in the vicinity was under my control. First, red light shone on my enemies, and blue on my allies.
The Laughing Fox bandits all bent down, as if they were being pulled down to the ground.
That was the work of the gravity-manipulating space-time spell, Gravity Stop. Used together with the Hexa Boundary magecraft, it focused the gravity amplification exclusively on the enemies’ bodies.
Depending on one’s strength and mass, they may not be able to support their amplified weight and collapse right on the spot.
“Guh… Damn you…! What did you do!?”
“I see that you can still move somewhat.”
“Ugh… So… heavy… Can’t… move…”
“I’d advise you not to push yourself. No matter how much you resist, the pressure on your brain and internals will still be the same.”
Upon hearing my explanation, the man’s expression turned grim. That stern, burly face of his broke out in a cold sweat.
By now, Blazer and the siblings seemed to understand what had happened to the enemies, too.
“…So this is some form of movement restriction?”
“How long does the effect hold, Asley?”
“Until my mana runs out… so quite a while. What should we do, Blazer?”
Right as I finished saying that, Blazer and Bruce went around beheading the remaining enemies.
Absolutely without restraint, nor with any hesitation on their faces.
“This is how it is in the world of adventurers, Asley. A moment’s hesitation can spell your doom.”
“You can say that again. That was for our survival, so I certainly won’t speak against it…”
“Now then… you are Maüs, leader of the Laughing Fox, correct? I’ve seen that mug on some wanted posters not long ago.”
Blazer fixed his sword on Maüs’s neck. With Bruce’s sword already on the other side, the bandit leader had his neck between two blades.
Betty, on the other hand, went to check on Pochi, who had sustained quite a lot of injuries.
“Answer me. What happened to the party that came here before us?”
“…Hmph, do I even need to tell you at this point? Business as usual for adventurers.”
Maüs grinned, looking up at Blazer with a condescending attitude.
“I see. At the very least, I’ll make it quick, then.”
The moment Blazer brandished his sword, a knife was flung at his foot. Well, no, I hadn’t even noticed that. The first thing I saw was Blazer jump backwards, then Bruce who failed to dodge and got his foot pinned to the ground by the knife.
Next thing I knew was that there was a new arrival to the fray; a girl standing beside Maüs.
She was small, and seemed quite young. Her expression was completely cold, as if she was devoid of life, even Blazer was unsettled with her strangeness.
She supported Maüs on her shoulders and took off, displaying far greater strength than one would have expected from a girl of her stature. She retreated through an escape path.
“…There they go.”
“Dude, my foot! Help me out here, man!”
“Forget him, Asley! You gotta help Pochi, quick!”
Betty shouted, emphasizing the need for immediate care for Pochi, who had already reverted to her normal size.
Right, I gotta treat her!
I hurried to Pochi, who now laid on Betty’s lap, desperately gasping for breath.
“Ahh… Master, are you still alive, or…?”
“Stop talking. Just practice making funny faces or something–“
“Ahaha….. that stings.”
There were no irregularities in her pulse, but she had a lot of internal injuries. I’ll have to apply the restoration effect from the inside, instead of the usual external patching.
“Rise, Arise, Arise. Holy Virgin’s Boundary.”
I drew a Craft Circle above Pochi, invoking a craft that wrapped Pochi and Betty in a faint light.
“…What’s this? It feels… warm.”
“The vitality of the earth is condensed and transferred through this Spell Circle. It has an energizing effect on the body, speeding up natural recovery. With how Pochi is now, it’d be better to focus on internal recovery over mending her external wounds.”
“Hmm, sounds like the restoration will take time. Bruce, I need you to keep watch!”
Bruce, still with his foot stuck, cracked a joke from afar, but no one reacted to him.
“Magic sure is convenient. Maybe I should’ve focused on studying it too?”
Thanks to magecraft and magic, Betty woke up the next morning with her legs fully recovered.
“Now, Bruce, let me look at your foot.”
“A bit too late for that, man!”
“Sorry, I’ve been too fixated on patching up Pochi, so…”
“Heh, I’m not blaming you or anything. You got your priorities right.”
Bruce said, totally missing my point as he stuck out his foot for me to patch up.
It was extremely rare for adventurers to consider Familiars as anything but tools. Naturally, humans would usually receive medical priority regardless of urgency, so cases like Bruce prioritizing purely based on urgency was rare.
Nowadays, many mages seem to treat Familiars as expendable tools. From my perspective, it is quite worrying.
“Thank you. I wish I could do more, but when it comes to recovery magic, I’m still in training, so…”
“Apologies for my Master’s shortcomings.”
“Hey, why’re you even speaking on my behalf!?”
“Eh, did I hit a nerve?”
“Not at all!”
“Then you shouldn’t have any issues with that, right?”