In a place far from where the fighting was occurring, Claude and Katie had entered the city from outside the gate. They were dragging along a human male.
Having verified their safety, Ilya let out a small sigh of relief and refocused herself.
“Groups one and two, please continue going straight as you’ve been. You will be encountering the enemy in the next block, so, group three, please make a right turn there and circle back around to pincer them from the rear.”
[[[ Understood. ]]]
[[ What should we do? ]]
“Groups four and five will turn right together with the third group and continue straight after taking the immediately following left turn to suppress the monsters there. Groups one through three will then reinforce groups four and five after they are done. Please.”
[[[ Understood. ]]]
She had the remaining group, the rescue group, head downstairs using the shortest possible route that wouldn’t encounter any monsters.
Immediately after finishing relaying the groups’ orders, she began connecting to Bard.
“Bard-san, sorry. I made a slight mistake with your path. Please take a detour to the right to avoid the block immediately ahead of you, then head into the hallway leading to the stairs you passed a little ago.”
She was thankful that he listened to her, but his crazy obedience to her was scary.
He was progressing without encountering any monsters, did he realize that she knew where they were?
(… Whatever. Thinking’s a pain. My brain’s fried. I wanna puke!)
A voice from the rescue group brought Ilya back out of her complaining.
[This is the rescue group. We have arrived at the t-junction.]
“Understood. Do you see the door inside the shop to your left?”
[Yeah. I see it.]
“Please go through it and leave through the service entrance.”
Bard and the rescue groups were progressing well, but the problem was the patrol group.
Frank and the others were having a difficult time with the mutated leader of a ronde red ape.
Frank had chosen a room with only a single entrance so that it would be easier to defend, so although they’d managed to keep it to a stalemate while preventing surprise attacks, the current situation left no room for Bard to get in.
(… Guess I can’t avoid it anymore?)
Losing everything for fear of a tiny loss was putting the cart before the horse.
Having come to a decision after only a slight moment’s hesitation, Ilya communicated with Bard again.
“Bard-san, after turning left and following the wall, please throw one of the stones into the third pathway you see.”
“Once you do, fill it with your mana and say an incantation.”
[No way, I’m horrible at magic!]
“It’s alright. You just need to cause the stone to discharge.”
[How’s that alright!?]
(Yeah, yeah! That’s how Bard-san should be!)
Ilya’s thoughts aside, these stones weren’t cheap in the least, so his reaction could be called the more natural one.
“Please. I understand your concern, but there is a group of monsters there. That stone isn’t worth human lives.”
Meanwhile, the human youth behind this whole situation that made light of people’s lives was being subjected to Claude and, having joined up with him, Hector’s interrogation.
(Terrorism… as well as a demon making use of the chaos…?)
It didn’t seem to involve the guild, so it wasn’t the thing that wouldn’t hesitate to use force against Ilya the Branch Vice Manager had told her to be careful of. In that case, was this one of Reinhardt’s spies?
Thinking up to that, Ilya let out a faint sigh. Either way, despite the warning she’d received, his employer, his organization, had brought about this predicament. Ilya, daunted by the goings-on, received a transmission from Bard.
“… Understood. Then please repeat this incantation.”
The incantation she told him was one to add a setting onto the stone. Although it would activate just be filling it with mana, when you added the same setting as what Ilya added with her mana to allow it to act as a communication relay but with another’s mana, the original magic on it would activate and cause a chain reaction.
“—Link the air there and here.”
[L—Link the air there and here.]
“By my will, connect our minds—excite the air.”
[By my will, connect our minds—excite the air.]
Bard threw the stone the moment he finished the incantation. It hit the ground where the monsters had gathered, producing a high-pitched clanging sound.
It bounce once.
Before it made it to its third bounce, the stone exploded and produced a shockwave.
It wasn’t enough to kill the monsters, but it did manage to open up a way to pass through.
“Now, go straight ahead and turn right at the second opening. Enter the room at the end of the passage.”
“So that you won’t be mistaken as an enemy, please place your stone against the door before you open it.”
Bard’s tension had lowered, the situation itself was progressing well.
Then, while telling the rescue group their route, she considered when she should request for them to retreat and have the first floor’s group finish eliminating the monsters there.
The fact that there were few monsters on the first floor was a small blessing as she’d been able to focus on the patrol group.
[Ilya, I’m at the door.]
“Alright. Frank-san. Can you hear me?”
“Yes. Bard-san is in front of the door. Could you let him in?”
Now that it was safe for him to do so, Bard joined up with the patrol group. Alright she’d be able to put the patrol group’s strength to use now, the only one with a stone was Bard. She’d have to have them meet up with the rescue group first in order to have the patrol group split up into several groups.
The first underground floor didn’t have many monsters either, so the reinforcement group should be able to manage it somehow.
Amending her plans, Ilya received a transmission from the voice she heard most often in this town.
[Ilya, what should Bard do now?]
It seemed that Bard had handed the stone off to Frank.
Bard specialized entirely in covert operations, so it was a natural decision for him to make after taking his abilities into account.
“Please have him accompany everyone in the patrol group until you meet up with the rescue group.”
[Understood… Are you alright? Don’t overdo it.]
“Ah—yeah. Thank you for your concern… wait, Frank-san, it’s not time to worry about other people.”
He seemed to still worry about others even in a situation like what he found himself in.
Refocusing her mind on the matters at hand, she had to prioritize them merging with the rescue group as planned.
“—Please continue going straight ahead.”
[Understood, I see them!]
After guiding them to the rescue group, she had the group distribute out stones.
Meanwhile, it was decided that Bard would play the role of a scout.
The purpose of this was to accurately understand the monsters’ positions, of course.
[Ilya, can this stone transmit to anyone other than you?]
“Eh? Oh, yes. That is, as long as they’re within the stone’s range.”
Saying that as long as they were within range of Ilya’s mana would be more correct.
However, that would destroy the pretext she’d set up by saying they could only communicate with other stones.
But since Bard, as well as Frank who should have been standing just next to him, didn’t know much about magic, they didn’t doubt her assertion, allowing for the discussion to continue without any further questions.
[In that case, we’ll cooperate between ourselves from here on. Don’t overwork yourself.]
[We’ll come back in one piece, don’t worry.]
“… Alright… I understand. Please, stay safe.”
As long as the situation doesn’t become very dangerous—she added in her mind as she agreed.
(… I don’t want to make Rachelle sad.)
Ilya, piling up excuse after excuse, decided to stop thinking about that for now and focus more on understanding what was happening.
She wasn’t just trying to understand it, either, as she began also attempting to figure out their objective.
She hadn’t used [Detection] until now since it would cause her to sense all those insects—even if just for a moment—so if she missed this chance and have to start all over by perceiving the entire planet, she could easily imagine herself using the experience of having done so as an excuse to not do it again and be forced to use some other means.
Given permission to do so, Ilya clung to Haku as though to rely on the young dragon.
Meanwhile, their communications with Ilya done with for now, preparations for a counteroffensive were steadily being taken.
Their eyes all seemed to shine as though wanting to vent their frustration for everything up till this point.
“… Was that alright to do?”
“Hm? … Yeah.”
Hearing Bard, who’d been waiting for his orders as a scout, speak, Frank smiled wryly.
“It’s just… it’s the first time I’ve heard her sound like she was in pain. I can’t make her force herself anymore.”
“I agree, but… Ilya’s advice is like a guiding star, right?”
Now that he’d said that, it did feel like their surroundings felt more ominous now that they’d cut communications with Ilya.
Was that what happened when you willingly let go of good luck?
“… Worrying about her’s alright, but it’ll be super uncool if we end up injured now because of it.”
“… … Didn’t I say it already?”
Mutually exchanging smiles that couldn’t exactly be called cheerful, Frank handed Bard his stone back as the scout looked over his equipment one last time.
“We’re making it back in one piece.”
This time exchanging a smile that looked eager, Bard set out.
Those who hunt and those who are hunted—a fight where the line between those two blurred had begun.