「Those were some pretty decent matches. Thanks.」
「That should fix their attitude problems. Now all I have to do is hope they can pull themselves together.」
Gamud heaved a heavy sigh as he looked over the nine adventurers we’d just knocked out. Honestly, their skills weren’t all that bad. They’d probably be able to grow much stronger so long as they gained a bit more mental fortitude.
「And these idiots thought they’d be good enough to make their way all the way to a haunt’s deepest depths. Can you believe it?」
「Haunt? Crystal Cage?」
「That’s the one. You been there before?」
「Nn. Went to midsection.」
「So even you only went that far?」
The place Fran was referring to as the Crystal Cage was the one place we’d gone in search of meat for the cooking contest’s sake. It was also the place in which we first saw Forrund. I still remember it quite well because we witnessed him totally wreck a thunderbird, a B ranked magic beast. Admittedly, the only reason I still remembered seeing him do that was because it’d freaked me out a bit.
「Want to go to depths? Not midsection?」
「Yeah. Anyone can visit the midsection whenever, but you aren’t supposed to go there or into any of the even deeper areas without getting permission first. There isn’t anyone keeping watch, so the rule isn’t enforced, but it’s still important. I mean, it was only made in the first place ’cause it was supposed to protect people and keep ’em away. Most of the people who break the rule end up dead.」
The Crystal Cage was a bit of a weird place in the sense that there was a pretty big disparity in the ranks of the magic beasts you could find there. It only made sense for the guild to tell adventurers to stay the hell out of places they weren’t strong enough to be in.
「The risk isn’t the only thing that goes up as you head deeper into the haunt. The rewards you reap do too. That’s why people tend to break the rule and go deeper than they should.」
Successfully defeating the magic beasts within the haunt’s deeper parts would net good rewards. Likewise, going deeper would also increase your chances of finding rare materials and herbs.
「Apparently, these brats have successfully hunted magic beasts in the midsection a couple times already.」
That sounded right to me. They did seem just about strong enough to pull it off.
「They were lucky enough not run into anything particularly nasty, so they managed to get out safe and sound. It’s why they started going on and on about wanting permission to visit the depths. The depths are a bit difference ’cause they’re blocked off by a magic barrier. You can’t enter or leave unless you’re given permission ahead of time.」
「The reason they want to go to the depths is ’cause there’s a place you can mine some pretty decent ores around there. They want to make use them so they can get themselves some new equipment.」
「Don’t want to fight?」
「Yeah. They seem to be confident they’ll be fine so long as they run away from everything that attacks them.」
Gamud’s disciples were cocky, but they understood that there was no way they’d be able to defeat a B ranked magic beast. That said, I wasn’t all that sure they’d be able to get away from one either. The thunderbird we saw was really fast. I felt that there was a chance even we would have trouble getting away from one unless we teleported around. There was also a good chance they’d be intercepted by other magic beasts as they ran. Letting them go was effectively the same thing as letting them march to their deaths.
That was probably precisely why Gamud had asked us to shatter their pride. He wanted to stop them before they did something really stupid.
「Thunderbird. Can’t run.」
「They probably wouldn’t be able to get away from a flock of storm eagles either.」
「Also darkness wolves. Like Urushi.」
「Oh yeah, that reminds me. You had a darkness wolf for a familiar, didn’t you? Whatever happened to it?」
「Sleeping in shadow.」
Urushi didn’t show any interest in the spars because he knew he wouldn’t to be able to participate. As a result, he ended up sleeping in Fran’s shadow all morning.
「Right… Actually, that gives me a bit of an idea…」
Gamud had his nine disciplines line up side by side after they regained consciousness.
「Well? You finally understand how weak you all are now?」
They turned their gazes downwards in response to the guildmaster’s question. It didn’t seem like they’d been too willing to accept their own deficiencies. Rather, they’d instead painted Fran as some sort of incredibly talented genius and came to the conclusion that it was only natural for her to be better than them. In other words, Gamud had failed to achieve his goal, an issue that he himself had also come to realize.
「…Alright, we’re going to be doing just one more spar.」
「Oh come on! Give me a break already!」
「Shut yer traps and listen goddamit! This last battle’ll be different from all the others. Fran, if you could.」
「Nn. Urushi, out.」
Urushi rose out of Fran’s shadow before going from his dog-like form to his usual larger one. It was quite the intimidating act to watch.
「This is Urushi, Fran’s familiar. He’s a C ranked darkness wolf, the kind you’re prone to running into around the Crystal Cage’s midsection.」
Gamud’s words amounted to nothing but total dog shit. The only part of it that was true was that darkness wolves were C ranked threats. Urushi, however, was different. He not only had a unique skill, but had also gotten a lot stronger because he’d trained with us. It honestly wouldn’t be a stretch to say he was pretty much on the verge of being a B ranked threat instead. He was much stronger than any of the magic beasts one would find in the Crystal Cage’s midsection.
Red, however, didn’t know that. Hence, he ended up informing his comrades that Gamud was indeed telling the truth because his Appraisal skill had told him that Urushi was indeed a darkness wolf.
「I’ll let you guys enter the Crystal Cage’s depths if you can prove to me that you can escape from Urushi.」
「You have my word, and as a man, I’m rather inclined to keep it.」
The current circumstance was the conclusion Gamud had come to after discussing his idea with us. The rules were as follows: the adventurers were to gather in the training ground’s center while Urushi stood by near one the wall opposite the entrance. If at least five adventurers managed to escape him, then they would be considered the victors. However, they would lose in the case that Urushi managed to take down that same number.
Not everyone needed to escape because Gamud had determined that they only needed five members to be able to make it back to the haunt’s entrance in one piece.
Hearing the conditions laid out for them caused the adventurers’ expressions to brighten. They seemed to think that the conditions were in their favour, and that they’d finally have permission to explore the Crystal Cage’s depths.
They quickly agreed, and so, they they joined Urushi in a game of tag.
「It’s all up to you!」
The faster adventurers immediately darted towards the gate while Miguel, the greatsword user, and three others attempted to engage Urushi in combat in order to pin him down.
In other words, their plan had been to abandon four of their members right off the bat. Most notable of the bunch that’d been left behind was Wanda, who’d let loose a Fire Arrow in Urushi’s direction.
For a moment, it almost seemed like they’d won. The escapees had made almost made it to the gate, and Urushi hadn’t budged. But that all changed when he finally decided to move. He disregarded almost all the attacks that came at him; they bounced right off his fur without inflicting even the slightest bit of harm. The only one he bothered responding to was the Fire Arrow, which he swatted out of the air with a paw before breaking into a howl.
Fear appeared all over the adventurers’ faces. Their limbs froze in place, as if they’d been petrified. Urushi’s howl was an application of the Howl, Fear, and Darkness Magic skills. The combination of the three abilities gave his cry the effect of terrifying any lower leveled foes.
The next thing the wolf did was use Shadow Slip to teleport while the party of nine was still frozen in a mix of fear and awe. His destination was obviously the door; he sealed off their escape.
He hit the five closest adventurers with his paws and dark spells as lightly as he could in order to send them flying back towards the room’s center.
His foes failed to realize that he’d been holding back, and as a result, interpreted his weakened attacks as a sign that he didn’t have much offensive ability. Hence, they decided to work together and attack him all at once. They chose defeating him over yielding.
「One more time!」
They continued pressing on an in attempt to beat him down, but to no avail. All their physical attacks bounced off their fur. Likewise, their spells didn’t end up having any effect either. He tore right through them with his fangs. They were able to put a little bit of damage on him from time to time, but he would heal it all off with Regeneration before he took any more.
But again, they didn’t let up. They knew they had to get him away from the door, so they ended up coming up with a strategy. That is, they once again split into the same two groups as before, with Miguel’s once again functioning as a decoy. Their intentions were obvious, and Urushi knew that he would eventually win so long as he just sat still by the doorway. Still, he decided to take the bait. He understood that the group wouldn’t get much out of training with him unless he played along.
Dewfo’s group took the opportunity to move towards the exit while avoiding Miguel’s. They’d even stuffed their ears with cloth this time around so Urushi wouldn’t be able to catch them twice with the same trick. Their faces were decorated with triumphant smiles. They thought they’d finally won.
All they needed to do was step out the door while Urushi beat down Miguel.
But they failed.
They failed to grasp the extent of Urushi’s abilities.
The wolf’s Darkness Magic allowed him to knock all four decoys out in an instant; they hadn’t even been able to buy the escaping party a full second. Though Dewfo’s group was very clearly intimidated by the ease with which Urushi had defeated their allies, they didn’t falter. Victory was right before their eyes.
Too bad for them, it simply wasn’t meant to be.
Urushi spun around and immediately chased down the party on the verge of escape. He zoomed right past them and once again blocked off the room’s exit.
「Why is it so fast!?」
All five remaining adventurers realized that there was no way they could actually outrun Urushi, so they tried to take him down with one last desperate struggle — to no avail.
The first and second were hit by Urushi’s front paws. One ended up crashed into a wall after flying a full 10 meters. The other was knocked onto the ground. He tackled the third, swatted the fourth with his tail, and used Darkness Magic to half-kill Dewfo, the fifth and final adventurer.
Less than 30 seconds had passed since he overtook them, but they’d already all been rendered incapable of combat. There was no doubt that they would’ve died had this not been just a spar.
「And the winner is Urushi!」
Urushi let loose a spirited howl. It’d been a while since he’d been allowed to get a bit rowdy, so he was quite content with what’d just happened.
「And that’s it for today. ‘Course this time, I actually mean it.」
The adventurers managed to regain their consciousnesses, but they seemed quite exhausted. Urushi was a magic beast, so losing to him had felt much more impactful, as it made them feel like they actually could’ve lost their lives.
We did all we could. The only other thing we could possibly do was hope that Gamud’s disciples actually ended up learning the lesson their instructor had wanted to teach them.