“One of my men managed to tag the dragon with a magical beacon before they took off,” Salicia explained. “I’m able to track him with this.”
She held up a magical device. It had some layout sort of like a radar. I was helpless to understand it.
“Can I see?” I asked.
I was surprised that she just handed it to me. For a Bandit King, she was shockingly easy going. Her men had put down their weapons. Only Balrack looked angry and was glaring at me while stroking his ax. I might have to deal with him later, it seemed. My girls had relaxed a bit too, but only so much. They remained close together and looked like they could pull their sword and use it at a moment’s notice.
As soon as I got the device, I opened up my map and was delighted to see that the dragon’s location was pinged on it as a blinking icon. The point had settled at a location somewhere in the mountains. Unfortunately, it was in a completely unexplored area of my map. Furthermore, I didn’t have enough experience reading distances with the map that it was clear to me how far away the dragon was. If I had to guess using how far we traveled in a day as a guideline, the trip would be about eight hours by foot, maybe?
I handed the item back to Salicia. The icon on my map stopped blinking and greyed out. As long as they didn’t move, the spot would be accurate, but it was no longer being actively updated on my map, it seemed. It’d be nice if we could Portal straight there, but I hadn’t visited this spot before, and that was one limitation of the portal. On the other hand, since the mark was created, would it be possible to lock the portal on to the mark? If we chose to do that, we’d be popping up right next to the dragon.
Unfortunately, I could only make one portal a day. I could only test it one time, and if it worked, I’d be cutting off one of my ways to escape. Actually, I could still Return with all of the girls. It’d only be the bandits who were left there. I know they are bandits, but abandoning them like that seemed a bit wrong too.
Of course, I could rearrange my dungeon points a bit, but I didn’t want to make a habit of that. If I grew too comfortable swapping out points, it’d be really easy to accidentally not set up reset, and if I forgot reset, I was SOL. There was a dragon slayer sword, but it took 5 points. I’d have to give up my experience bonus to free up more points, and even then there was nothing on my list that seemed particularly useful for the situation. There were powerful spells, but I didn’t know the conditions they worked unless I tested them. A one-time-use spell that does slightly more damage than the spells Miki can already cast is hardly going to make a difference in a prolonged battle requiring the might of 10-20 people…
Furthermore, did a mechanical dragon even count as a dragon? If I gave it to Lydia to use, would it have the same power? I wasn’t stupid enough to risk all of my girl’s lives on a guess, so I decided it’d be best to stick with what I knew. The last time I had thought I knew what a skill meant, I had ended up dying. I wasn’t going to do that again, especially unnecessarily risking the lives of these four girls in the process. After a bit of thinking, I finally made my decision.
“Salicia…” I finally spoke out, “I believe I can create a portal and send us right there. Pick who you want in your attack group. I recommend three teams of five along with us. That’s twenty in all.”
Salicia nodded and agreed to it. With her group down to fifteen and us being able to teleport there immediately, I felt a bit less stressed. I really didn’t need another betrayal. I hoped that by not giving her the time to think of anything, and by separating her from the majority of her bandit horde, the situation would be in my favor.
“Alright… so we’ll be responsible for getting the dragon distracted.” I explained. “Your group will be trying to break the bond with the dragon.”
Salicia nodded. “I have two other groups. One will be responsible for physically restraining Carmine. The second will be long-distance attacks on the dragon.”
“Alright, so we have until you can break Carmine’s bond to destroy the dragon, right?”
“Once I have my sister free, I will leave, with or without you.” Salicia shrugged.
I walked over to my girls, taking them a distance from Salicia and her band. In the intervening time since we started this discussion, the Bandits in the city had successfully put out the fires and were now ransacking the town. They had allowed the remainder of the residents to flee unharmed. This didn’t fool me into thinking they were good people. Most of those escaping only had the clothing on their back, and there were countless dead. Ultimately, they were thieves, not murderers, and didn’t go out of their way to pillage or rape the town. That didn’t make them the good guys in any sense of the word.
“So… what do you girls think?” I asked.
“We will follow Master, whatever he wants,” Lydia said.
I smiled wryly. “I appreciate that, but right now, I want your opinions.”
Lydia looked uncertain, but Miki stepped forward with a defiant expression on her face. “I don’t trust her! She’s definitely going to do something to betray us in the upcoming fight, just like her sister did!”
“I agree… does that mean we should just give up on the dragon and the dungeon lore?”
“Ah!” Terra suddenly looked like she was about to cry, but she lowered her head without saying anything.
She didn’t need to say anything to show what she meant though. Defeating that dragon was what she had literally been built to do. She would follow my orders now that she was my slave, but her heart wanted to pursue and finally get vengeance on the monster. The other girls seemed to pick up on this as well and gave Terra sympathetic hugs and looks.
“Master…” Celeste said uncertainly. “When I leveled, I gained a new skill. You may be interested in seeing it.”
I used the Skill Analysis to check on her skills. I immediately noticed the new skill that was listed under Master Magician. I raised an eyebrow.
“Master Magicians really do have it high powered.”
As a 4th tier job, Master Magician was about as high as someone could get in this world. Evolving into a Sylph, Celeste automatically unlocked the Master Magician ability. Although it was powerful, without having gained the appropriate levels in Adept or Apprentice, she likely had a few holes. For example, she had the Haste spell, but it used a lot of mana and things like keeping it cast on everyone in the party was out of the question. At best, she could use it for a temporary speed boost when the need to use magic wasn’t too vital. Her new skill was likely just as limiting.
“Celeste, I want you to target Carmine with this spell,” I explained. “Hold off on initiating it unless we need to.”
“Y-yes!” Celeste responded. “But will it really make a difference?”
I shrugged. “If Salicia and the bandits do choose to betray us… it’s the least we could do in response.”
After making our own plans and contingencies on what to do in case of certain actions from Salicia or the dragon, we finally returned to the Bandit King. At the end of the day, I still had the Return ability. It was the only reason I was willing to walk into this situation. The enemy of my enemy might be my friend, but they weren’t a friend I was going to bet our lives on. As long as we didn’t end up in another dungeon, we should be able to escape the situation, no matter how dangerous things got.
Even after telling myself that, I felt a bit of anxiety. This was the first time we were going up against a stronger boss. In truth, Lydia and Miki weren’t strong enough. They depended on their unique lineage specializations to protect themselves in the battle. Celeste could be strong, but in many ways, she was the most fragile girl in the group. As for Terra, I hadn’t fought alongside her before, so I didn’t know her strengths and weaknesses. She was an Earth Golem, but I didn’t know what that meant.
“Open this portal then.” Salicia sneered. “Take us to my sister.”
Looking across the group of 15 people she had picked, they did look like a bunch of tough people. Balrack was one of them. He seemed to be leading the team who was tasked with snatching Carmine. Balrack hadn’t impressed me before, but we did get the jump on him. It was hardly a one on one fight to the death, let alone even one where he surrounded us and captured us. The point was, this was real life and the situation in which I defeated him was not necessarily comparable. Simply using levels to assess how powerful someone was or who would win in a fight was an idiot’s game.
I pulled up the map and looked at the spot that Salicia’s magical device had indicated. It had been about thirty minutes since I had updated the position. I didn’t want to update it again. I asked Salicia if Carmine had moved from her starting point. It seemed like she had moved a little, possibly entering a cave. This was taking us directly to the point on the map. I didn’t want the portal to open right on top of her. Rather, I was hoping she had moved since I had last checked. Perhaps, we could sneak up on them even.
“Portal!” I cast the portal while focusing on the spot on the map.
I was only a little surprised when it actually connected. I didn’t think it would fail, but I didn’t know for certain until that moment. It would have been very embarrassing if it failed in front of the bandits. I would have lost a bunch of my credibility. Before I could say anything, the teams of Bandits ran right in. Apparently, the Bandit King was giving me some of her trust as well. I could have connected the portal to a prison cell for all they knew. I assumed they’d make us go first.
“Ladies…” I gestured and my four girls ran just behind them.
I didn’t want them to have time to set up a trap on the other side if that was their intention. Taking one last breath and looking across the city still being ravaged by at least another hundred Bandits, I sighed and took a leap into the portal. It was time to battle the dragon and put an end to the dungeon’s lore.