Chapter 88 – The Actual Strength
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It required some effort to push through the crowds that had gathered in front of the Adventurer’s Guild. Plenty of people rushed here to lay their eyes on the magnificent bird, now perched on top of the building and looking around. Not only adventurers were lured in to admire it.

Selene entered the first stage of her Awakening and started creating bluish translucent stairs, leading above the people, with steps wide enough for all three of them to walk side by side.

After growing much stronger, this much wasn’t too straining for her, which resulted in Asterios squinting his eyes at her, pretty sure that if she could do this right now, she could have also provided for two people five days ago, without exerting herself a lot. Selene just chuckled at him with a mischievous smile.

With her help, they moved past everyone by traversing through the air inches above the heads of the onlookers, creating a much more interesting spectacle for some than the big hawk. Jumping down in front of the entrance, they went inside.

Immediately, they noticed a different atmosphere than usual. The adventurers present in the main hall were less loud and chatty, standing around while creating an almost straight path with two clear sides, leading towards the counters.

Asterios spotted a familiar receptionist—Raziel, if he wasn’t mistaken—and headed for her post. She smiled wryly after recognizing the trio. As they reached it, the adventurers quieted down even more, almost as if waiting for something to happen.

Raziel bowed to them lightly. “Welcome back. If you are going to meet the Guildmasters, I was instructed to let you through. Do you remember the way or should I guide you again?”

“We do, thank you. What’s up with everyone?” Asterios asked, pointing behind him.

“Oh, nothing to worry about. Just the usual reaction after seeing an agitated retired S-rank adventurer, recognizable in most guilds for their achievements, head straight for the counter and demand to see the person in charge. And they are listening so closely because she mentioned that her trusty aide would soon arrive too, so everyone made space for them and waited to see who the person was.”

Asterios glanced back over his shoulder and he could certainly see some people whispering between themselves while almost all of them were looking at his party. Fortunately, he wasn’t too well-known in this guild yet and no one knew about his rank or they would surely be much more surprised.

“I see. We’ll move ahead, then.”

They walked to the stairs while under everyone’s intense gazes and started heading up. Shortly after their feet disappeared from the bottom level, they could hear an instant explosion of chattering as the adventurers started discussing most likely what they knew about the trio. Asterios just sighed heavily. Suanori had accidentally brought some unnecessary attention to them with that mention.

Within a few minutes, Asterios and the girls found the door to the Guildmaster’s office. After knocking and not receiving any reply for over ten seconds, he pushed onto the knob and the door opened.

“—t in prison for all of this! You should have seen how furious the lord was when he learned about it! You’ll be lucky to still have your head after we deal with the situation!”

Suanori’s loud shouts made him flinch. They noticed the elf woman pressing her hands on the other Guildmaster’s desk and looming over the man who curled into himself in his comfy chair, listening to her scolding.

She noticed the door opening and made a heavy sigh. “You are here. Get inside.”

Asterios smiled wryly and they entered the office. He noticed an active Alcove of Serenity formation glowing on the door, explaining the complete silence on the other side. He wondered if every Guildmaster’s office had one or if it was her doing.

“How are things going?” Asterios asked after moving closer.

“Not any better yet,” Suanori answered, turning to him. “But, I managed to push everything through. Adventurers should start showing up at any moment. Some high-ranking officials will make an appearance too, including a few strategists. They were in favor of your plan. Mostly. We’ll have to wait until everyone is gathered. At least the important people.”

“Fine by me. Carving sigils takes time. I have quite a few available cores to process.”

She gave him a curious glance and nodded. “Good.” Then, Suanori turned to the other man again. “Order to bring out all the information you have on the three dungeons immediately. Prepare a room to store it and a room for strategy meetings. Preferably connected to each other. Keep the adventurers off the dungeons until we decide on the course of action.”

The man kept nodding as she spoke to him. Asterios almost felt sorry for him, but you reap what you sow. He was sure the worst was still in front of the man as the officials Suanori mentioned surely weren’t going to give him a pat on the back. Maybe one with a bit more force.

“That’s it for now. Get to work. It’s the only thing that can still save your ass.”

Suanori glared at the man for the last time and started walking away. Asterios and his crew followed after her. In the corridor outside of the office, she made another heavy sigh and shook her head.

“I knew the father of this one. How far did the apple fall from the tree… Anyhow, it’s the third time you guys mention the cores. What do you need them for so badly?”

Asterios brought out one of his crystal tokens and handed it to her. Suanori examined the carving with an impressed expression.

“Self High Heal. Smart. Looks like you are covering for your lacking areas properly. But can your body handle the input? I’m aware of the usage of these amongst the adventurers, but this is a spell of a higher level than usual.”

“It can’t. But I found a solution.”

He pointed his hand to the ceiling and curled his fingers, pulling on the trigger. The black blade with crimson edges sprung out of hiding, surprising Suanori slightly. She didn’t expect an armblade hidden under a gauntlet.

“Wait… These inscriptions… Is that…”

“Looks like you know about them. Yes, that’s a Spellslinger.”

“Of course I do. Most elves grow up on tales about these. How did you manage to lay your hands on one? They are almost impossible to get these days with everyone hunting for them. And the amount of fakes is overwhelming. I assume this one is the real deal.”

“Family connections. And yes, it’s very much real. So much that you will most likely not find something like this in the current era. Unless you have access to some king’s personal vault or armory.”

Suanori furrowed her brows at him. “What do you mean by that?”

Asterios chuckled. “Nothing important. It works and it works well, it's all that matters. Maybe a little too well, to be honest.”

She was even more curious about his statement but decided to leave the topic for later as they reached the stairs to the main hall. As previously, the moment the first person noticed someone’s feet going down the stairs, they immediately began silencing everyone in a rush.

Suanori didn’t pay too much attention to their behavior and led the group to Raziel.

“Has the previous quest been processed?” she asked the receptionist.

“Yes, Guildmaster Suanori.”

“I’m outside of my own guild. It’s just Suanori here. Start slowly making preparations according to articles 37, 48, and 78. If you don’t remember these, check the rulebook immediately. Proceed according to the regulations. We’ll take over in a few days when everyone shows up.”

“Understood. Shall I assume that I was granted the permission and authority to issue and execute commands required for the aforementioned clauses to be implemented?”

“Yes. Until the proper person for it shows up, it’s on you. If anyone questions your authority, send them to me.”

“Then, I’ll excuse myself to begin immediately.”

Raziel bowed respectfully and disappeared behind the curtain located on her side of the counter. Suanori turned around and ran her eyes over the whole completely silent crowd, from right to left.

“Alright. Listen up. We’ll be holding an emergency meeting in a few days. Everything will be shared publicly then. For now, just know that we are in quite the deep shit. There’s no reason to panic since as you all have seen, we aren’t under a direct threat, but things can’t stay like this for long. And to fix this mess, we’ll need everyone’s help. So, until the proper announcement is made and the orders are issued, go and prepare yourselves as much as you can. Restock your supplies, sharpen your weapons, take a good rest, enjoy a good time with your lovers. There will be a lot of fighting soon. Enough for everyone to have their fill. And, the pay won’t be anything to scoff at. We understood?”

The whole hall roared in response while raising fists into the air. The adventurers returned to their usual not-so-silent behavior and some of them started heading outside, most likely to follow the advice. 

Suanori noticed Ast’s gaze on her. “What?”

“Nothing. Just had a slightly different image of you after our usual meetings. Like, slightly more refined one.”

“If you want to get through to the common adventurers, you need to keep it simple. And I’ve learned that swearing and crude language helps a lot. You won’t see elves use the popular curses that often, sticking mostly to our cultural equivalents, but it does happen. Now come on. Let’s move to a less crowded place. And I’m hungry after three days of flight.”

“You didn’t eat anything during that time?” Miria asked in surprise.

“Simple meditation. At least for us, elves. Worst case scenario, I can survive for slightly over three months without any sustenance. But, I wouldn’t be able to do anything else besides acting like a dried-up mummy waiting for rescue after the initial two. That’s of course without any magic specializing in things like that taken into consideration.”

“That’s still amazing…”

“Fun trivia—in a situation where they wouldn't be able to acquire food in their own realm, for whatever reason, summons can survive just off the Summoner’s essence if it’s shared with them regularly, and it won’t impair them much,” Asterios informed them as they were walking through the streets.

Miria blushed instantly at the mention of essence, averting her gaze to the side, and Selene chuckled at her teasingly. She knew very well what kind of sharing the panthergirl had just imagined. Meanwhile, Suanori had no idea why she reacted like this.

The elf lady led them to a restaurant she knew from her past visits in Nebula and placed an order. Ast’s group already ate not that long ago so they just accompanied the Guildmaster while chatting casually about each other since they would be working together during an important task.

Since Suanori was curious about his crystal sigils, he kept carving a few low-level ones that didn’t take too much time while she ate. She admitted that the process was much more mesmerizing than what she had heard while Miria assured her that it was even better with a lit campfire present.

Afterward, Suanori suggested getting to know each other’s fighting styles and abilities a little better and everyone agreed to have some simple joint training and showcases while leaving more complex practice for the next few days, giving her a night to rest properly after the journey.

Miria and Selene jumped back to their realm as Asterios was invited to ride on Suanori’s giant hawk. It was not a summon but a tamed beast. She had supposedly raised it herself from the very egg after saving it from a predator. It imprinted on her and was now her personal flying mount. It wasn’t really a combatant.

Asterios jumped on the back of the giant bird and hugged Suanori tightly. There was no saddle or reins; they had to hold onto the feathers to avoid falling down due to the air currents. With him completely inexperienced in such means of travel, Asterios decided to just rely on her expertise to keep everything in check.

They circled the nearby region a few times and the hawk was led towards the middle dungeon they would be launching an assault on if nothing changed. Choosing a proper place to land, without any monsters around, it let the two people riding on its back down and flew into the sky again after receiving some scratches from its master.

“Now then. I more or less know what you can do, but that only comes from the official reports and my own research, so it’s not much. I assume that you don’t mind us speaking without any honorifics since we are now part of the same party, so, does Selene turn into a huge fox like Miria does?” Suanori spoke up first.

“The Summoner’s Harem secures a new member,” Selene commented and hit a high-five with Miria. Asterios shook his head with a wry smile.

“No, she doesn’t. At least not that way. Selene?”

A ripple of spiritual energy traveled through the air and made Suanori shiver when powerful pressure exploded from the white-haired lady as four more tails appeared behind her back, shimmering enchantingly.

“While Miria is purely a close-combat specialist with her dual shortswords and abilities, Selene is more fluid, currently focusing on ranged attacks and defense through her spiritual arts, while jumping to the frontlines under her Awakening, which you are witnessing right now. In this state, she is much more powerful than Miria, but it’s not something she can use constantly and for longer periods of time.”

Selene withdrew her transformation and nodded with a soft smile.

“Before we move onto a short presentation, there’s also Umbra.” As he finished speaking, dark smoke started rising from his whole body. “He is not just a one-trick pony specializing in mind arts. Currently serving kind of as my undergarments, he can protect me from most non-magical attacks.”

Asterios pulled out his normal dagger he had used in combat in the past and lifted part of his clothing above his belt, revealing a dark shadowy substance under it. He tried stabbing himself a few times, but the tip of the blade couldn’t pierce through the unusual armor, sliding over it each time.

“While not wrapped around my body, he usually moves around to scout for us since he can jump between pretty much any shadow, or takes to the skies to watch over us from above. Ah, but his combat ability is on par with the other two.”

“And I thought just Miria was incredibly powerful when we first met... Each of them is a monster on their own…” Suanori could only shake her head after the insane explanation.

Then, they used Umbra’s scouting to find packs of monsters for them to show Suanori how each person dealt with their opponents. Just the accuracy and safety of the reconnaissance the shadowy raven provided was unbelievable to her. And it even allowed all of them to witness what Umbra saw if they had a need for it.

The middle dungeon was the one with its theme revolving around the undead, so the monsters they found were packs of Ghouls, Skeletons, Zombies, or Death Hounds. Miria’s slashing weapons were at disadvantage here, but she properly filled for that weakness with her abilities. 

After fighting alone for a few minutes, she got supported by Asterios and the pace of the bouts changed completely, causing Miria to shred through enemies with ease, making incredible use of Haste and elemental enchantments provided by him. She was like a different person.

Selene first showcased her defensive role by using her spiritual energy to block attacks and trap her enemies. She soon switched to launching her own attacks in the form of orbs of mana and other shapes. But, what was most effective against Skeletons were her Martial Arts.

Even without her Awakening, she was able to smash the more frail monsters into pieces with her enhanced fists. The spiritual apparitions she could bring out after filling her external circuits with mana also increased the repertoire of her moves.

But, of course, the most shocking part was her destructiveness in the Awakened state. Suanori couldn’t believe her eyes while watching the foxkin basically teleport from place to place as she caused earth-shaking tremors with each punch or kick, creating huge craters in the ground or casually pulverizing rows of trees into nothingness.

And to top all of that, there was Umbra. He didn’t show much, but the fact that he was pretty much impossible to wound by the monsters with his elusive body that seemed to exist and not at the same time, certainly was a big deal. 

Additionally, he could strike from literally any angle, exercising full control over the shadows. That was without even using his prided mind arts since most of the undead didn't really have a mind to be properly attacked. 

Suanori was going to take her turn now that everyone from Ast’s side was done, but she stopped when something she completely didn’t expect happened. Asterios went after the monsters himself. She was fully convinced that he was a support-type Summoner, but he proved her wrong.

Drawing a few different magical sigils, he slapped them onto his gloves. First, borrowed Miria’s physical prowess. Second, borrowed her sharp senses. Third, seemed to be some kind of protective charm. Additionally, his hair and eyes changed, creating a different aura around him.

Utterly confused, she watched Asterios use his armblade to swiftly deal with numerous Zombies, cutting through them without much trouble, which usually required quite a bit of strength. He was able to avoid getting hit, letting some attacks reach him only to show how he could guard against such strikes with his gauntlets.

Then, when much more mobile Death Hounds joined the battle, he started raining spell after spell at them, perfectly picked according to the situation he found himself in, with the use of his Spellslinger of course.

The air was filled with countless whizzes and pops as crystal tokens were spent one after another, sent into the air in tiny pieces by the magical mechanism. His hand was speeding to slap a Runic Chip before the previous one got launched out of it.

Arm to the sky, blade into the ground, swipe to the right with it still sunk in the earth, and then a quick push forward after pulling it out. Blinding Light into Vine Snare into Area Geo Spike into Arc Lightning and the whole pack was annihilated before it could do anything. 

And the single enemy that got a jump on him by not joining on the group attack, appearing from behind shortly after its comrades were defeated, got sent back by a perfectly timed activation of Force Dome just moments before its fangs sunk into Ast’s body, maximizing the damage from the blast.

Amongst the crackling of the leftover spiritual energy turned into lightning particles, and the sizzling of the overheated from the constant stream of activations slot in the Spellslinger, stood Asterios as a winner; only mutilated bodies surrounding him.

“Am I even needed here?” Suanori chuckled to herself wryly.

 

Almost there :)

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