At the same time, Hero Party Crack of Dawn was fighting against five Rock Lizards.
Rock Lizards were less than two meters long, but one-third of their body was composed of their tail, so they looked even smaller. They ate rocks and soil, as well as the plants and organisms within, to absorb nutrients and extract minerals to form a rock armor that protected their head and back.
“Why are there so many attacking us!?”
The thief Serge howled as he checked the surroundings.
In battle, the lizards moved very quickly: a lash from their tail could prove dangerous for any adventurer. Rock Lizards normally never moved, and it was even rarer for them to attack in packs.
“Don’t ask me!!”
“Crush them all, it’ll be a pain if they attack us from behind! Don’t let even one escape!!”
“Servant beasts!! Don’t let them escape!!”
<Lizards, how boring. There should be no need for us to fight. Twins, pressure them so they won’t flee.>
<These lizards’ rock armor can’t be easily cut by the swords of this useless lot…pressure them just enough to keep them in place, if you overdo it they’ll curl up in a ball. Then chase them around so that they will attack the useless bunch while showing their bellies. Make sure they attack one or two at a time.>
After the tamer Eric’s haphazard order, the gryphon gave precise instructions to the twins. They followed by jumping down in the rock valley and quickly circling behind the Rock Lizards. The next instant, the Rock Lizards’ movements came to a halt.
“They’ve stopped!! Do it now!!”
The wolves shook their heads a little: as if in response, the Rock Lizard closest to Crack of Dawn attacked the shield-carrying Olun. The others were all completely still.
The gryphon nodded, satisfied by the beasts moving as expected. For the gryphon and the magic wolves, it would be all too easy to crush the five Rock Lizards with brute force. They also had other ways to immobilize them without using something as vague as “pressure”.
This was all training for the twin wolves.
Pressure…to limit enemy movements through gaze and gestures to control the battlefield without using magic or physical attacks. This was simply an exercise for the wolves to improve their usage of it.
<Hehehe, so you have become capable of controlling your pressure while not scaring your enemy excessively. When facing many opponents, learning to control them without using attacks or magic is vital! Now you will be able to destroy even large crowds of inferior enemies attacking you, without letting them flee! A dream for any warrior!>
Soon enough, it was the Rock Lizard’s turn.
The Rock Lizards attacked one by one, as dictated by the twin wolves: they leaped at the party and its swordsmen cut through their bellies. There was no need for the party’s rear guard to do anything.
<….that useless lot…they didn’t even bring striking weapons in a place filled with rock-type magic beasts? Are they looking down on them, or do they have some plan? Choosing the appropriate weapon is the basis of battle, is it not? Are you fools? You are, aren’t you? To limit the choice of weapons to use in battle is a privilege reserved for the truly strong! Something allowed only to someone like me!>
<Gramps, enough already!>
The twin wolves complained to the endlessly droning gryphon. They managed to keep the Rock Lizards under control, but it wasn’t easy: they were focused on directing the beasts to attack Crack of Dawn one by one.
The gryphon looked displeased by the rebuke, but decided to keep quiet and not bother their earnest efforts. Not having anything else to do, it inspected the depths of the valley with its magic power.
<….things are proceeding well.>
Smiling at the results of the inspection, the gryphon whispered as quietly as possible.
The number of golems the gryphon detected was in the hundreds. It was already too difficult to keep track of their exact numbers. There were some different presences among them, which the gryphon attributed to there being not enough silver anymore for the golems to form their bodies, so they used rocks or other minerals.
The magic essence flowing into the valley probably grew scarce too: some golems crossed the valley and proceeded towards the forest.
The gryphon did not know why the golems were increasing their numbers to such an extent, but it was an ideal situation, so it didn’t dwell on the reasons any further. It could finally release the stress accumulated every day.
For the gryphon, concerning itself about things it didn’t care about was nothing but a waste of time. What is pointless is pointless. It could be said that it had a big heart or, put less nicely, that it was careless.
Deftly twisting its beak in a grin, the gryphon looked again at the twin wolves.
The last Rock Lizard jumped at Stefan: the battle was about to end.
<…pitiful lot. As always there is no cooperation in your battles…the blowhard (party leader) and the big lug (tank warrior) are fighting, why do the others not support them? The scrawny fool (thief) and the barking mouth (tamer) are just standing around, while the harpy (female cleric) isn’t even in position…she even closed her eyes when the lizard attacked. They’re not going to be able to fight deep inside the valley. Should I have them fall asleep again, so they don’t get in our way? Or should I have them fight to their limits against the “snails”, then show them our power…?>
What the gryphon called “snails” were the golems. Just as it called the magic beast Rock Lizards as just “lizards”, it was clearly looking down on them. Slimes were “slugs”, and mineral bodies created from slimes…with a “shell”, so to speak, became snails.
<Hehehe…you’ve always tormented the brat. A bit of retaliation would be well deserved! The brat isn’t here this time, so we can play around a bit! He would probably be in trouble if you die, so I’ll make sure our game won’t go “that” far! Which means…I’ll have to draw them in while making sure they can’t run away. Being suddenly surrounded would be perfect…hahaha…>
<Grampa’s face is so evil! Creepy!>
The fight with the Rock Lizards was over, so the twin wolves returned to the gryphon’s side, looked at its face and backed away, disgusted.
After the battle against the Rock Lizards, a cloud of dust had been kicked up. The Norfar valley was formed when a river dried up, so it was rife with rocks and crags and had very little green. Because of that, it was easy for clouds of dust to form.
So much dust…my skin and hair will be ruined…
Bonne stroked her blonde hair with a finger. The sunlight in the valley was already strong enough: because of the dust, she would not only get filthy, but her hair and skin would suffer too.
Bonne made sure no one was looking at her and whispered a chant. Her body emitted a faint light, impossible to see under the bright sunlight.
Bonne nodded, pleased by the effects of the spell. She had used healing magic on herself, in order to preserve the fairness of her hair and skin.
Just a little bit, that’s okay…
She stroked her hair again, making sure it had recovered its gloss.
When she was still in the church, as a candidate for the Holy Woman title, she did it every day, but after becoming an adventurer she used magic in that manner more sparingly, following adventuring rules.
The effect was lighter than magic cast by someone else or a magic potion, but even one’s own magic could cause Magic Stupor. Because of this, it was common sense for adventurers to use healing magic as little as possible in a situation when they could face magic beasts.
After starting to use Roa’s recovery candy, however, Bonne had become used to that pleasant feeling, so her old habits resurfaced.
She always felt her best when her hair and skin were in top condition after all.
If she used cosmetics when she was fully healed, they would also have much greater effects. Her beauty, marred by the adventurer’s lifestyle, had finally returned to her peak days, when she was in the church.
“I have to obtain that candy again, as soon as possible.”
Bonne mumbled to herself.
After Roa was banished, the recovery candy stock quickly disappeared. Since it had been made by a talentless All-Rounder, she thought it would be sold pretty much anywhere, so she had cared little for how much was left.
She ordered her maid to buy some in town, to no avail: they even told her that no one ever heard of something like that existing. Bonne even sent a creation request to the Creators’ guild, but the response wasn’t positive there either.
She did not even think for a second that the useless Roa could have created an original recipe and thought that in the worst case, she could just ask her father’s alchemist to make it.
She did not have any candy left, so she used her own magic, but the risk of Magic Stupor was present. The recovery candy, a tool to preserve her beauty without worrying about Magic Stupor, had become a very important item for Bonne.
“…I want to go back already…”
In the party’s mansion there was the “Barrier of Purity” magic tool, provided by her father, which purified the atmosphere and eliminated all toxic substances, so Bonne’s skin would not be burdened. More than anything, the maid was there too, so she did not have to deal with any annoyance.
She did not dislike watching others fight, using magic, or even the smell of blood, but she hated not being able to use the maid to do her bidding.
Why can’t we bring the maid along?
This has always been a mystery for Bonne. Without the maid, she had to ask the other members for “favors”, which was cumbersome for the proud cleric.
The other members said that it was difficult to fight with more targets to protect. Why would they need to protect the maid? Even if she was killed by a magic beast, we could simply hire another…
The dissatisfied Bonne kept thinking. She had given up as the guild’s regulations stated that only the party members accepting the request could go, but she wasn’t convinced yet.
In an escort mission, they would have to accompany useless people anyway; in extermination and gathering missions, they would be accompanied until the destination by useless coachmen. More than anyone, they had been burdened by a worthless All-Rounder all this time.
Why was only her maid not acceptable? She simply couldn’t understand.
She thought of having the maid register as an adventurer and come with them, but that would put the maid on the same level as them. Which would defeat the whole purpose.
A maid becoming on the same level as her…and a member of the Hero Party? Simply inadmissible.
It would be nice if a maid could be used like a servant beast….
Bonne realized that she had filled her chest with troubles and sighed, to keep them in check.
In this country, criminals were sometimes used as slaves, but even so, humans were treated like humans. It wasn’t possible to treat them as servant beasts.
…they’re the same things, and yet…it won’t work. Anyway, just a bit more and…
Bonne thought about a recently born glimmer of hope.
Now that they were awarded the title of Hero Party, she was practically back to being a candidate for the Holy Woman position. If she accumulated more achievements her training would be deemed complete and she would probably return to the church soon. She could then return to a lifestyle of freedom.
Feeling the troubles welling in her chest disappear, Bonne curved her lips into a smile.
Roa and Nostalgia’s members took the first break of the day in the location where they cut up the King Serpent. Thanks to the recovery candy they had no physical fatigue, but the Red Mushroom episode broke their focus, so they decided to take a break to regroup.
They all sat down and took out water from the magic bag to quench their thirst.
As soon as he finished drinking, Roa stood up and went to the location where the King Serpent was cut up, crouched and started doing something.
“….he’s doing something again…”
He just won’t stay still…
Kristoff then approached Roa to see what he was doing.
He was digging the soil in the place where the King Serpent’s unused bones and guts had been buried. If a magic beast’s carcass was left in the open after removing the desired parts, it would often attract other magic beasts, so burying it was considered good manners, for one’s sake and the sake of other adventurers too.
“What are you up to?”
Upon closer inspection, Kristoff saw that Roa was using a scissor-like tool with dull ends to catch something and put it inside the glass bottle he was holding.
“I’m gathering Ghoul Beetles.”
“They’re insects that eat corpses. The forest’s cleaners.”
Roa’s tool had indeed caught a black beetle. They apparently appeared in swarms in soil mixed with blood: there were several others crawling on the ground.
“But what’s the use of those critters?”
“The pelt craftsman told me to catch them if I found any. When you tan skins or hides, getting rid of leftover fat or flesh is really hard, right? But if you put these guys in a container with untanned hide, they’ll clean it up of any flesh in just one night.”
““Is really hard, right?” he says…”
Kristoff had learned various skills at school, but tanning hides wasn’t one of them. Their country was surrounded by the sea, so there were very few land animals or magic beasts. Because of that, they mostly depended on foreign trade to acquire animal pelts.
“Oh…when you tan hide, if you don’t remove fat and flesh properly, when you use Alm stones…when you use medicine, it doesn’t work as well. Normally you do it with a knife, but magic beast hide is really big, so it’s hard. These Ghoul Beetles, however, eat every speck of leftover flesh, so working on the hide becomes a lot easier.”
“Is that so…”
Kristoff’s reply was pretty vague. He didn’t know how hide was tanned, so even with Roa’s explanation he couldn’t form a mental picture. Roa was probably dissatisfied with that answer, so he thought again.
“….ah! A specimen! Mr. Kristoff, when you learned about cutting up magic beasts, you must have seen a magic beast skeleton specimen, yes!?”
“Oh yeah, they showed us one when we learn about the body structure of magic beasts.”
“That’s it!! That’s another one of these Ghoul Beetles’ jobs! If you let them eat leftover flesh from the bones, the skeleton becomes that clean! Amazing, right!?”
“That’s amazing all right…”
“Right!? The fact that these tiny insects can eat every little last piece of flesh like that is really amazing!! Regular Ghoul Beetles can eat a lot too, but the ones that dwell in magic beast forests are a lot more voracious. But even if the pelt craftsman sends a capture request, the guild doesn’t even answer them, so they always ask me.”
Roa was overjoyed that Kristoff finally agreed about how amazing the Ghoul Beetles were and nodded strongly to himself as he continued talking and carefully putting the insects in the bottle.
Roa seemed to think that Kristoff was not convinced before not because he hadn’t understood the explanation, but because he hadn’t understood how incredible those insects were.
This guy is really funny…
Kristoff, impressed, continued watching Roa work. As he focused and his head emptied itself of thoughts, he recalled something.
“….oh yeah. Don’t you think that the forest is unusual today?”
Roa was surprised by the sudden question.
Kristoff asked it because he thought that Roa, who was very knowledgeable about the forest, its mushrooms and insects, might know something about the unusual phenomenon they noticed.
“I mean, even if we are in a magic beast forest, encountering three of them in such a short time is pretty unusual, isn’t it? They’re all beasts that normally stay deeper in the forest, too. Isn’t it unusual for them to be in these parts?”
Roa’s response was unexpected for Kristoff. He thought that Roa knew more about the forest than them, so he started wondering if their hypothesis was wrong.
“….I’m sorry… now that you mention it, that is unusual.”
Roa reflected a bit, then his expression changed and he replied with a glum expression on his face.
“Honestly speaking, I was always together with a gryphon whenever I went into a forest until now, so there were always few encounters with magic beasts. I thought that entering a forest normally would make you encounter this many monsters, so I didn’t think about it too much. I’m sorry…”
“Oh, I see. Nah, you don’t have to apologize.”
Being together with a gryphon would surely make the magic beasts behave differently than normal. Most magic beasts would follow their instincts and flee if a gryphon was around after all.
The only ones attacking would be magic beasts driven into a corner or those with an extremely aggressive nature. Being used to such a situation would surely make one lose sight of the difference between usual and unusual.
Kristoff had also guessed the reason why Roa was so knowledgeable about the forest. If a gryphon was with him, he could walk around freely and safely, so he could explore various locations.
“…we’ll discuss about the forest’s anomaly ourselves. Sorry for asking without considering your circumstances. Please forget it.”
Kristoff smiled at Roa, trying to make him feel at ease.
“As I’m sure you know, when an anomaly is spotted it’s an adventurer’s duty to research it as much as possible, but in an escort mission the target’s safety takes priority. If the situation becomes dangerous, we’ll have to interrupt the mission and turn back. Please understand.”
Roa was concerned even if Kristoff said to forget about it. The latter then whispered to Roa’s ear.
“Roa, my man…you’ve made a forbidden love potion before, haven’t you?”
Kristoff whispered so that only Roa would hear.
“Heh!? No, no, I…never!”
Roa’s panic at the unexpected question painted a large “Yes, I have” sign on his face, despite his words of denial.
Kristoff’s curiosity had been piqued by the fact that Roa, who explained so thoroughly about aphrodisiacs, just said that love potions that worked against the target’s will were “illegal” and nothing else.
A bundle of scientific curiosity like Roa, even if he wouldn’t use the potion himself, with the ingredients and recipe available…it was difficult to imagine that he would never attempt to make it.
“….I just bluffed. Roa, you’re an open book.”
Kristoff flashed a huge grin.
“Just because I bet our leader will ask the same trick question. You better deny it without letting it show then. If he notices, he might force you to make one and use it on someone…we don’t want to become associated with a criminal.”
Still grinning, Kristoff walked away from the troubled Roa.
It took a little more time before Roa could notice that Kristoff’s joke was meant to lift Roa’s slumping spirits.