“Alright. Let’s get things moving,” Suanori began after Tishnera took her place, making it six people sitting by the main table. “All of you have surely already familiarized yourselves with the situation and the initial plan submitted by Asterios, who was the first one to report the issue.”
Everyone nodded and she turned to Asterios, standing behind her chair. “Since I’ve already introduced you to the others, let me just quickly fill you in on the members of this meeting. You’ve already met Tishnera. She is a promising A-rank adventurer, an Artificer dealing in gadgets and such. I think you can imagine how her skills and experience fit in with our objectives.”
The dwarf girl nodded. Asterios had noticed during their short encounter a familiar vibe from her, one that people who loved to tinker with things emitted subconsciously. And her outfit also told him the same as Tishnera wore a short pleated skirt and a tank-top leather armor, both strapped with countless small bags and pouches; safety goggles rested around her neck.
“Then, the man who belongs to the same party and loves to tease her is Darlick. S-rank. A frontliner. Dual blades, as you’ve seen. Similar to Miria, but on a bigger scale. Well, at least physically. I’m sure her mana-coated weapons could easily tower over his own.”
“Oi. Who is that Miria and when can I teach her that no one has bigger blades than me?” The man squinted his eyes at Suanori.
“Don’t challenge her. We need you at full strength in the next few days or longer and that would be at risk after having your ass handed to you by her. Unless she fought completely alone, without her master’s support, but even then I’d bet on her.”
Darlick’s eyebrows raised to the extreme after hearing Suanori’s words. Asterios was sure that the man wasn’t known for losing in his area of expertise, considering the Guildmaster’s introduction.
“Anyway, next, that young demon in the black edgy trench coat. Svertaniel. A-rank Void Mage. As you already know, the Void element is the best at restricting and nullifying spiritual energy, and that also includes the one managed by dungeons. And its offensive power is nothing to scoff at, but Umbra definitely showcased it to you as some of his magic and abilities do use that element.”
The person in question sent Asterios an uninterested glance and then returned to sitting with his eyes closed like he was above this whole thing. His specific subrace was hard to distinguish as he didn’t have too many characteristic features that could be easily associated with a particular one. His skin was ash-grey and his waist-long hair was white. Four short black spikes were poking out of Svertaniel's forehead in a single row, curved to the sky.
“And finally, reaching the last of the adventurers, besides myself, Yuuze. He’s also a Summoner, focusing on the backline. An A-rank but isn’t that far from reaching S-rank. His summons are quite destructive. At least by the usual standards…” Suanori smiled wryly.
Asterios exchanged glances with the mature man. He had short dark blue hair and a quite tough-looking face. He wore simple leather armor in similar colors and had a shortsword strapped to his waist. Asterios could tell that Yuuze clearly had some doubts about him or something, judging by the man’s calculative and not-so-friendly gaze.
“As for the rest, many of the people around here are either guild strategists or advisors and a few of them were sent by the local lord. One person I should mention is Marina, authorized to make decisions on the lord’s behalf and currently sitting with us here.”
It was easy to notice Marina as she was pretty much the only one at the table in a full butler outfit and with a completely calm, professional demeanor. She nodded her head courteously while being introduced. And with that, Suanori covered the most important people who would have the biggest influence over the operation, and most likely also the highest contribution.
“Since everyone here knows what strategy we are planning to use, I’ll just briefly summarize. The key element will be the Elimination Squad, which includes me and Asterios. We’ll head to the middle dungeon and destroy the Core. In the meantime, Tishnera and Svertaniel will delve into the two other ones and start wreaking havoc inside, trying to cooperate well enough to damage their structure at the same point. Darlick and Yuuze will escort them with their own parties. Who gets who is up to you.”
Suanori swept her gaze over the sitting people and continued after assuming that they were following.
“The other adventurers will receive orders to pretty much raid the three dungeons and kill everything that moves. With a slight delay on the middle one to give us a head start. We will go inside after a certain amount of time to make sure that all the dungeons are starting to get busy with the guests from their neighbors. That would be it. I don’t think I need to tell you how to do your jobs. And you know the fine details already. Anyone against? We do have the permission from the lord to clear it, right?”
Marina nodded. “Yes. Please, proceed as you deem necessary. Lord Bayweld wishes for the safety of Nebula and its people. Having its territory periodically overrun by monsters is a huge issue for trade too.”
“Great. Nothing has changed then.”
“I can’t wait, hahahaha! This will surely be an exciting delve! We haven’t yet tried to sabotage a dungeon! All this obsession with explosions will finally be useful for once, right, Tishnera?” Darlick erupted into a laugh again and started poking the much smaller girl with his elbow.
“It’s not an obsession, you dumb oaf. Explosions are art. It’s adoration and respect. And it’s not like all I make is bombs! Did you already forget who tweaked all of your armor?”
“Hmmm… I think it was some tiny armor fairy that sneaked into my tent at night and had her way with it, hahahaha! Because who else would be so short and working after sunset, hahaha! I surely do love her though. I hope she visits more often so I can tell her that. Maybe I should sleep less.”
Tishnera looked away while clearly blushing. Asterios heard giggling in his mind and couldn’t help but smile. He certainly didn’t expect their relationship to turn out like that after the initial introduction he had with the duo.
“Why do we have to leave the most important part to some no-name?” Yuuze raised his voice, turning to Suanori and Asterios. “I believe you’ve said that he’s a D-rank, barely registered like a few months ago. And you expect me to believe that with just the two of you, an old dungeon can be conquered? That usually requires a well-prepared raid party.”
Suanori sighed. “Do you think I would pick anyone for this? Or that I did it because he came up with the whole plan? Do you think I would take some clueless newbie to the heart of an old dungeon? He has my token, it should tell you enough.”
“Like that matters. You can give them to whoever you want.” Yuuze threw his legs onto the table and started rocking his chair back and forth. “I don’t doubt your capabilities, but this is a huge mistake. Trust me, I’m a Summoner too. And a much better—”
“I would pick him rather than you ten times over.”
Yuuze almost fell backward from the sudden statement but caught his balance just in time. Stopping the rocking, he stared at Suanori with wide eyes and then moved them onto Asterios with a frown. Pulling his legs off the table, he stood up and walked up to Asterios, glancing all over him.
“What beast is your strongest summon?”
“I don’t know,” Asterios replied calmly.
“What? How can you not know? Are you blind or something? Or did you never read a single book about them?”
“I’ve studied at Rosewind’s academy for a few years.”
“How could they let someone who doesn’t even know what his summon is graduate? Did it degrade so much under the leadership of those old geezers?”
“I didn’t graduate. I was kicked out.”
“Bah! A fucking dropout!” Yuuze threw his arms into the air. “You have to be unbelievably retarded or talentless to get kicked out of there! What the hell were you thinking giving someone like that your token, Suanori! Even self-taughts are better than dropouts!”
“Should you really judge by just a few words?” Suanori asked, without even looking at the man.
“Of course! I went there myself! And the only thing I can recommend there is the library! Everything else is just overexaggerated by all those nobles that send their kids there! How could you pick this dead weight ten times over me?”
“Did you already forget the presence from earlier?” She still didn’t look back at Yuuze.
The man slammed his hands onto the table and stared at Suanori from the side. “So what! There are many more variables that define a good Summoner! Vast mana pool is not the most crucial element!”
“And he fulfills all of them better than you.”
Yuuze was speechless again. He looked between Asterios and Suanori in utter confusion, not believing in what he was hearing. And a chuckle from Tishnera clearly didn’t help defuse the situation.
“Alright. I’m done with this.” He took his hands off the table and stepped very close to Asterios, almost throwing his face into his. “How can this wet-behind-the-ears kid be of any use in this raid? Even if he can summon ten familiars with his huge mana reserves, what after he gets spent in like two hours? Look, I can just literally snap this wannabe adventurer in half like a twi—”
Yuuze grabbed Ast’s vest and pulled with all of his strength, just to be met with unexpected resistance. He not only didn’t succeed in doing anything else besides stretching Ast’s clothes a bit, without making him even flinch, but even was thrown forward from his own force and slammed his head into Ast’s chest with a loud thud, getting sent onto the floor.
“Ugh! Fuck! Dude! Are you hiding stone plates under your shirt? What the fuck?” he shouted while rubbing his forehead.
Suanori sighed again. “I purposefully didn’t mention a lot of details and just gave them a general idea to avoid revealing too much, but could you…?”
She glanced up at Asterios and he nodded. “I appreciate the thought, but it isn’t necessary for situations like these. I’m not exactly hiding things either, just not flashing them right and left. But, I guess we’ll have to change that soon.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at him softly and turned to the others sitting by the table. “Despite what he said, I would like you not to share what you are about to see unless it would be really unavoidable. Especially you, Marina. Can I actually request that of you?”
The female butler nodded courteously. Asterios sighed and walked to the man still sitting on the ground, who was looking up at him with a mix of confusion and irritation on his face.
“For your information, no, I’m not wearing stone armor or anything. You are doing a similar thing with that spider familiar sitting in your inner pocket but you haven’t noticed mine?”
Yuuze’s eyes widened. “How can you—”
Interrupting his question, black ominous smoke started seeping through Ast’s clothes and dripping onto the ground. Slowly, bit by bit, it began rising and forming a tall, shapeless pillar of light-consuming shadow, thrice as tall as Asterios, reaching almost the very ceiling. Two sharp purplish spots lit up in the intense darkness and turned towards the man.
“Let me introduce you. Yuuze, I don’t know. I don’t know, Yuuze,” Asterios gestured with his hand between Umbra and the Summoner.
Umbra’s deep bone-chilling voice resounded in everyone’s heads, causing a wave of shivers to pass through the attendees. Yuuze’s face paled instantly. Not only was he not able to notice any trace of a familiar near Asterios, but he couldn’t even fathom the might of the entity currently towering over him with all his knowledge and experience. He could feel his familiars tremble and the spider that Asterios mentioned had fled back to its realm long ago.
“By the gods…”
Everyone’s gazes turned from the ominous shadow to the demon man, who stood up while toppling his chair. Svertaniel’s eyes were as wide as possible and his vertical pupils were narrowed into thin needles. He walked closer to Asterios and Umbra with an unsteady step and fell onto one knee in front of the shadow.
Asterios raised his brows at the man and glanced up at Umbra.
~Uhhh… Don’t ask me. I don’t know that guy.~
“But of course, oh Great Lord of the Abyss… How could you know this insignificant soul… It is our first meeting, my Lord… Your darkness blesses this fortunate soul, grateful to bask in your shadows… If you have any wishes, please, grant this unimportant scholar of the Void and Abyss the pleasure to hear them.”
Everyone started looking at Svertaniel like some crazy guy. But, perhaps it wasn’t that far off the mark.
~Uhhh… Ummm… Maybe… return to your seat for now?~
“Your wish is my command.” He stood up, walked back to his chair, picked it up, and sat down with grace. “I have no qualms with the plan. We should proceed immediately.”
Suanori was the one to receive all the gazes next and she smiled wryly. In the meanwhile, a single crimson gate opened on Ast’s side and his companions walked out of them, surprising everyone greatly. Yuuze’s eyes were practically bulging out at the sight of two humanoid girls getting summoned to this realm.
“To dispel all the possible doubts about the two of us—Suanori and I—being unable to clear the dungeon by ourselves, let me introduce you to the rest of the squad. You’ve already met Umbra, our scout and overall crowd control support. This cute panthergirl is Miria and she is our CQC specialist.”
Miria bowed towards everyone with a cheerful smile but not without flaring her own killing intent and mana, making them flinch again. She glanced at Darlick and waved at the man, causing him to gulp audibly. He could tell that she wasn’t a pushover.
Asterios then put a hand on Selene's shoulder. “And this is Selene. Our Spiritualist. She usually takes care of our safety and defenses, but she prefers much more to fight on the frontline while releasing the limiters on her spiritual energy.”
Selene bowed and entered the fifth stage of her Awakening, causing a huge spiritual explosion that made a lot of documents fly into the air. The pressure in the room got so heavy that the non-combatant personnel had issues just breathing while all the adventurers—excluding Suanori and Asterios—felt like they were in deep water, restricting their movements significantly.
She quickly withdrew it with a soft smile and stepped back to return closer to Ast’s side, not without leaving a mischievous peck on his cheek, followed by a quiet chuckle. Seeing that, Miria just had to peck Ast’s other cheek while giving her a stare.
Asterios sighed at their antics and looked down at the other Summoner. Yuuze was just lying there, unconscious. He directly experienced the full brunt of spiritual auras emitted by both girls, and Umbra earlier.
Moving his eyes back to the other attendees, who were in a much better state but still clearly shaken, he stepped closer to the table to let them see him better.
“And finally, there’s me. I mostly support all of them with my techniques, but I can also utilize crystal sigils to fire off a variety of spells that fit the situation. Like this.”
With the correct motion, the black blade revealed itself, and Asterios slotted a Runic Chip into his weapon. After supplying some of his mana into the circuit, the inscriptions glowed in golden light as he raised his arm up into the air.
Everyone received the calming effects of Lion’s Heart, washing off all the stress, pressure, and anxiety that had built up in their minds during the last few minutes. It was easy to notice people slowly turning much less tense and shocked the longer the light shone onto them.
Then, the crystal cracked and got launched out of the slot with a whizz of pressurized air accompanying it. Asterios glanced over everyone and noticed Tishnera looking at him with her eyes literally sparkling. He chuckled. The dwarf girl most likely recognized a thing or two.
“Alright.” Suanori clapped her hands to gather everyone’s attention. “I presume that there are no more doubts.”
“Isn’t it like… you have your own versions of me, Tishnera, Svertaniel, and Yuuze by your side?” Darlick asked with a wry smile.
“Now that you’ve said it… yes, it seems so. Pretty well-balanced party, don’t you think?”
“I can see now why you’ve been so confident about this, hahaha…” He laughed, but with much less enthusiasm than before.
“Since everything is cleared up, let’s begin the operation. First phase—informing the adventurers about the situation and their role. Then, all of you know what to do. If everything goes smoothly, we might see the start of this even today.”
Everyone nodded and started leaving. Svertaniel carried Yuuze outside, saying that the Lord of the Abyss should not concern himself with such insignificant matters. Asterios could notice how Tishnera had been sending him glances all the way to the door. The two of them would definitely share their knowledge and experiences soon enough. At least that’s what he felt.
With just him and Suanori left in the chamber, she sighed heavily and fell onto the table. “Ugh… Sorry about that…”
“It’s fine. Nothing unexpected. You should have told them a little more about me. But, I guess there was the chance they wouldn’t believe it either.”
“I’m going to boost your ranking as much as possible from this…”
“And we’ll start showing off a little more. It’s not just Miria and me anymore so it’s fine now. I plan on another attempt in the Demon Continent. Maybe this dungeon run will net us some valuable materials for that.”
Suanori sighed once more and raised herself to stretch her arms and back. “Let us move out too then. It’s so weird to have almost all your supplies stored in huge storage in another realm. So similar to spatial magic yet so different.”
“I’m glad to be of use!” Miria chimed in cheerfully.
“Time for some dungeon delving then.” Asterios ruffled through Miria's hair and they all headed out.