At the same time as the confrontation between Gaston and Billy, the Silver was stuck in the fiercest battle they had ever experienced.
“SHIT! The hell’s wrong with his Karam Mountain Range!?”
Bruce wildly swung his sword around, mowing down the monsters around him.
“Just deal with it! We couldn’t go through Radeata, because the Nation’s security force would find us… there!”
Betty threw a dagger past Adolf’s face, hitting an Old Snake that was at his side.
“And we’re going through this crazy place instead!? Are you insane!?”
“I’m perfectly sane, Bruce.”
Blazer said calmly as he took down one monster after another.
“Kaaahhh! Lightning Blade!”
“Thank you, Sir Ryan!”
Reyna dodged the monsters’ attacks, then Ryan destroyed them with a powerful lightning stream.
“It is difficult to come here alone, true, but we are a team — and every single one of us has gotten much stronger over the past two years. If we lose to these simple monsters, we won’t be helpful to Sir Asley when the Devil King is resurrected. Isn’t that right, Sir Bruce?”
Ryan said as he kept swinging his sword. Bruce only quietly looked at him.
“Hmm… I’m all done on this side!”
And behind those two was Haruhana, wielding the Kozakura, her favorite katana. Her level of skill was no longer that of a fledgling adventurer.
Her fast improvement could perhaps be attributed to her endeavor to match her peers, or the support of all the talented people around her, or even both and more. Haruhana herself was not quite sure, either.
“Rise, A-rise! Hype Up!”
Natsu invoked a support spell in the middle of the team’s formation, near where Blazer was. She had the talent of pinpoint precision, and her Circle drawing speed was most likely a result of Trace’s teachings.
“Midors! Use that so much, and you’ll run out of energy! You gotta keep it for when you really need it!”
Idéa and Midors, both S-ranked mages, argued between themselves.
It was no exaggeration to say that they were indispensable members, with their addition to the ranks enabling a sizeable expansion of the team’s area of activity.
“Brother, it’s going that way!”
“What the– Mana!? You didn’t do that on purpose, did you!?”
Mana parried a monster’s attack and sent it Reid’s way, as if she was passing a ball to him. Naturally, her brother was not pleased.
Still, Reid had achieved so much improvement that he was now practically on Bruce’s level, perhaps thanks to the latter’s constant joking-yet-sincere style of support for him.
“Heyyy, man! You’re gonna lose to me again if you keep complaining like that!”
“S-shut up! I’ll beat you next time, damn it!”
With that said, Reid still had yet to claim a single victory against Bruce in a duel.
The attacking monsters’ ranks, numbers, and aggressiveness were on about the same level as they had been in antiquity, when Asley and Pochi attempted to come through this way. As for the Silver, they had gotten so much more powerful that even Ishtar of the Black was concerned, and although they had relied on their numbers to get through this hike, they did reach this mountain’s summit with relative ease.
“…Whew, it’s finally over.”
Bruce said as he sat down on a nearby boulder.
“According to the map, we should be in T’oued territory now.”
Blazer sat down on the same boulder and took a look at his map.
“……Don’t you guys think something isn’t… right?”
Betty asked, and Ryan nodded in agreement.
“I do think so. The number of monsters suddenly decreased the moment we crossed the national border…”
“Um… maybe the monsters on T’oued side just moved to the War Demon Nation side?”
Adolf asked, and Reyna shook her head.
“The change is too jarring to be normal. The ones on the War Demon Nation’s side are so much more… aggressive than the ones over here.”
“The Devil King’s resurrection in the War Demon Nation is starting to feel more and more real…”
“That’s exactly why we all have to keep surviving, Haruhana — and become as strong as we can while waiting for Asley. He’s achieved a lot, sure, but not many people would believe that he did. He’s too modest… relatively speaking. Being like that has its perks, but it’s not always the way to go. And… well, he does have something in him that easily inspires people to his cause. He sure is taking his sweet time, though — I have a feeling that, by the time he’s finally back, we won’t have much longer to prepare.”
Bruce, Betty, Mana, and Reid grinned upon hearing Blazer speak out his concern for Asley.
“Hah, it’s been a while since you talked this much, man.”
“Might be the first time, in fact!”
“Really, you sound like my Brother when he’s talking about Lina.”
“Yeah, you’re– HEY! What’s that gotta do with me!?”
Haruhana, seeing the scene play out, had a hint of happiness in her usually stoic expression.
[They all smile whenever they talk about Sir Asley. He sure is a mysterious and interesting person…]
Natsu tilted her head, curious about the look on Haruhana’s face.
Then everyone turned to Haruhana, surprised by her startled voice.
“Is something on your mind, Haru? You look… kinda happy?”
“W-well… I ALWAYS have things on my mind… A little bit of this… and a little bit of that… and a little bit of those…”
Haruhana, unable to come up with a good excuse, ended up repeating herself — which prompted Betty to crack a mischievous grin.
“Listen, Natsu — it’s because she really likes Asley! And you become happy when the people you like are praised!”
“Oh, I see!”
“What–!? Miss Betty!? You can’t just say that out loud!”
Haruhana, face turning red, glared at Betty as she chuckled.
“I see, I see… What about you, Mana? Still getting the feels?”
“W-what’re you talking about, Brother!? Look, maybe you’re getting back at me, but that’s too much!”
Mana, her expression like that of a raging Ogre, grabbed Reid by the collar of his shirt. She was so intense that Reid, as brawny as he was, was forced to look the other way.
“Hahahaha! Y’all are so funny! Well, we all know by now that the dude’s popular… but man, that’s a lot of rivals. Lina, Tifa, Betty… and now Haruhana and Mana? Oh, I almost forgot Miss Irene! Hahahaha!”
While Bruce counted the numbers with his fingers… a tightly-clenched, arcane energy-reinforced fist came flying at his head.
“Why’d you even put my name on that list!? How about I tear you into a million pieces, huh!?”
Bruce held his head and writhed in pain, too hurt to hear any of Betty’s scolding.
“Hahaha… they’re getting a bit too heavy-handed, don’t you think, Idéa?”
“If anything’s too heavy-handed around here, it’s your lack of subtlety, Midors.”
“Wha–!? For real!? …Yeah, sorry, I’ll be careful.”
“W-well, at least you’re willing to admit it — that’s good.”
Midors’ expression promptly brightened after Idéa’s last remark.
Ryan, watching the interaction between those two, happily stroked his own chin.
[Hmm, those two have gotten much closer since that disastrous day in Beilanea. It seems that there’s a silver lining to that incident after all.]
As Ryan nodded to himself, Reyna looked at him… in a not-so-stoic way. The only one to notice that happening was the team’s leader, Blazer.
[I swear, our relationships have as many layers as onions… That naturally comes with the expansion of the team’s size, I suppose. And then again, Reyna did have her eyes on the man long before joining us…]
Now perhaps noticing that Blazer was looking at her, Reyna blushed and promptly cast her eyes down.
[And no one else’s noticed that because… of her ability to hide it, probably.]
Setting with that answer for himself, Blazer stood up from the boulder.
Everyone, seeing their leader act, all started to stand up as well.
“Come on, let’s go — we still have much more of the mountain range to get through. Be on your guard, everyone.”
“We’ll aim to reach the top of the next mountain within today– Hmm?”
Bruce, thinking it strange that Blazer would interrupt himself, walked up to the latter.
Blazer’s line of sight had not moved from the mountaintop that the team was aiming for.
“What’s that, Blazer? You saw a smokin’ hot babe or what?”
“Of course he didn’t! It’s nothing but monsters around here!”
Betty threw another hit at Bruce.
“So… is something wrong, Blazer? What’d you see?”
“Ah, no, nothing — just thought that something passed by for a second there. Probably just my imagination. Come on, let’s go!”
T’oued was still a long way off, but The Silver was making steady progress.