Chapter 90. Crimson Roar (2)
Even in winter, Windermere was beautiful. A few ships were tied to a dock and a silver lake was spread out beyond it. The nearby town was small and had clean, pretty roads.
However, the people there had deathly pale faces and were mostly ability users. In the lake, a large tuna-like thing jumped up every once in a while, then disappeared back below the surface. Those guys, weren't they in the wrong place? This wasn't the ocean, it was a lake!
I turned my head at the slightly piercing voice that called out to me. Hwaya, who was running towards me with a smile after I got out of the limousine, suddenly frowned. She must have realized my appearance was different than the last time we met.
I wasn't just covering my face in a way that would hide that I was 'Yeon Hwawoo.' My entire facial structure, hair color, and eye color were different. It meant that I had a way of changing my appearance, and that the appearance of Yeon Hwawoo I showed Hwaya before would have a chance to be false. In that case, it was normal that she would doubt whether my name even was Yeon Hwawoo.
Hwaya seemed to have realized the truth from my apology as she clenched her fists. Then, she unclenched them softly.
"Haa, I understand."
"Thanks. I'll tell you more about it later. You know why I did it, right?"
"If you lie again, I'm going to pull out your hair, and you'd better tell me properly later. Show me your real appearance too."
"Good... Well, thanks for coming... and for believing in me."
After a light hug, we shook hands. Behind her, I saw three other ability users. As Hwaya greeted me, they watched us with curious gazes. Hwaya then turned and introduced me to them.
"He's Thunder Knight."
"That's him? How young!"
They each spouted awestruck words and stared at me fixedly. Hwaya then bragged without any hint of unhappiness.
"Didn't I tell you? That I was an acquaintance of Thunder Knight!"
"Amazing, Mastiford. I didn't think you could really call him here."
"Not to mention, I didn't think I'd see the face of someone who never revealed his identity. Though, he's still wearing a mask."
Without showing any signs of doubting Hwaya's words, the three ability users showed interest in me, seemingly with good first impressions. At their following questions, I tried to use my beginner level English to barely respond to them. I was thankful I could understand them properly. British accents were difficult...
Damn, Korea really needed to teach English on a conversation level basis! The English I learned in my first semester of college was more helpful than the English I studied for the SATs!
"Oh, poor Brightman."
"Thunder Knight is quite handsome, and he's young!"
I didn't know why they were laughing. Even though I changed my hair to platinum blonde and had red eyes, since I didn't change my skin-color, they should have realized I wasn't Caucasian. Even so, they treated me favorably. I was glad.
Hwaya shook her hands as if to shoo away their useless talk, then introduced them to me. They were S-rank ability users. Mike Dellon, a man in his 30's, was a magician who could command over ten different kinds of water magic, and Paul Bacchus, a man in his 40's, was a dual shield wielder. There was apparently nothing he could not block.
However, I was surprised when I heard he could only strengthen shields with his mana. Since I couldn't imbue mana into my crossbow either, I imagined it was similar to that. That said, as long as he could wield mana, he should be able to wield other weapons if he practiced... Well, it wasn't something I should be concerned about.
The last member was Emily Brown, a woman in her early 50's with well-aged blonde hair. She was the owner of the precious healing ability.
"Amazing, right? There are only ten S-rank healers in the world and Madam Brown is one of them!"
"It's nice to meet you, Thunder Knight."
"... Nice to meet you too, Madam Brown."
I wanted to stop them from calling me Thunder Knight. What could I do? After thinking about it for a bit, I came up with a plan.
"You can call me John Smith..."
"How about we call you T.K., short for Thunder Knight?"
"Please don't, Hwaya."
[Then hurry up and say your real name.]
[Like I can say it here.]
"Alright then, T.K."
This girl, she really was angry...! In the end, because of Hwaya, my nickname became T.K. In any case, I couldn't help but look at them curiously after being introduced to the three ability users.
"I didn't think everyone would come to receive me, but I'm surprised how distinguished everyone here is. Wasn't there another S-ranker? Why isn't that person here?"
"That person's with the other SS-ranker who's not here."
"Wow... But it's not even dinner time yet..."
At my words, Hwaya's face reddened slightly and she lightly kicked my shin. Then, as a result of kicking my leg that was stronger than steel, she held her foot and jumped in place.
"No, stupid! That S-ranker is a man! He's just following Joshua Brightman around!"
"Uek, he's into men? That's even worse..."
"I'm kidding, kidding."
There couldn't be that many ability users here, but it seemed factions had already developed. I was happy that Hwaya's side had more S-rankers, but the member composition was rather strange. There were two long-ranged magicians, one person to block monsters' attacks up close, and one healer to heal them. It wasn't bad, but there was one thing missing.
"There's no one to kill monsters in melee range. Is that why you called me, Hwaya?"
In gaming terms, they were missing a close-range damage dealer. At my question, the three S-rankers wore bitter expressions, while Hwaya let out a sigh. It seemed there was a reason behind it.
"Other than you, other countries sent their S-rankers to help."
"Yeah, I know."
"Because I was annoyed with Brightman, I suggested that with the added people, we split our forces into two and explore the dungeon in separate ships. After all, that should be faster."
"Yeah, that makes sense. It's a good idea."
"When we were discussing it, Brightman agreed to it wholeheartedly, but when the other countries' S-rankers came, they all said they would only join Brightman's group. They said he was more trustworthy than me."
"I wonder how much that trust cost...?"
Shoot, so Hwaya's side actually had less people.
As expected of a chaebol. His scale really was different. To think he could make S-rankers, who generally did not lack anything, come to his side. It probably wasn't just money that did it. Adults were scary!
While I was wearing an amazed look, Hwaya's complaints continued.
"As a result, for the past few days, we couldn't even delve that deeply into the dungeon. With only Paul in the front, we shot out our magic attacks... and today, Brightman said, 'Wouldn't it be bad to continue like this, Miss Mastiford? How about we change our strategy?' Argh! So annoying! I want to burn him up!"
As Hwaya complained, little balls of flame sparked around her. Paul, Mike, and Madam Brown, who could be considered her party members, nodded their heads as if they were also thinking about what happened. I asked.
"But not all of the S-rankers went to his side, right? After all, they're S-rankers. They shouldn't be lacking anything."
"Ah, of course, there were people who wanted to join my party too, but they were all schemers who were trying to do something with my fame, and the way they were looking at me... Uuu. I refused them all, saying I didn't need them."
"You really are a cool woman."
"Paul and Mike here don't have any ulterior motives. Unlike Brightman whose head is only filled with money and women, they know what's important, and that's thinking of our country first! Ah, it's the same for Madam Brown, of course! With her on our side, Brightman's side only has an A+-rank healer."
With Hwaya laughing as if to say 'it serves you right,' I also responded with a laugh.
"I thought something was weird when you sent a plane so hastily. Then are we going there right now? I haven't fought any fish monsters before, so I'm pretty excited."
In truth, my body was itching for a fight. After sleeping on the plane, I wanted to get some exercise. I mean, just look at that tuna-shaped monster! It was undoubtedly delicious. I was sure of it, 100 percent! Come to think of it, I hadn't eaten that boar in the dungeon's Residential Area either. I needed to drain the blood and dismantle it soon...
However, after hearing what I said, Hwaya tilted her head rather cutely with a 'huh?' Then, she spoke as she blinked at me slowly.
"What are you talking about? The boat's not going anywhere today. We were already on it for nine hours today, and it's almost time for evening tea. Work hour is clearly over."
"Yeah, I was kidding."
"But it's true that we aren't hunting any more monsters today. You only just came. There's jet leg to worry about, so you should rest."
I was dumbfounded at Hwaya's words that seemed to say, 'don't overwork yourself and rest.' I was thankful she was worrying about me, but did she really think that way?
"Are you treating me like a normal person after acknowledging me as an S-ranker...?"
"He's right, Mastiford. The bodies of us melee type ability users aren't weak like yours, who, as an SS-ranker, faints often from anemia."
Paul, who was a melee ability user like me, assisted me. Hwaya then retorted.
"I don't faint from anemia! I just get dizzy from using up my mana!"
"You should watch how much mana you have left."
"You think that's easy?"
Was it because Hwaya's mana was too strong? It seemed she had a tendency to use it unsparingly. Because of it, she was getting anemia from mana exhaustion. As I felt the same way the last time I partied with her for the Event Dungeon, I decided to warn her about it this time.
"If you faint, your party members will be in danger. No matter how much mana you have, you need to practice controlling how much you spend."
[But I can't see my MP on Earth.]
[Don't rely on the gauge, rely on the feeling.]
[You think that's easy!? Can you do it?]
[Isn't that obvious?]
[Obvious...!? You, can you really do it?]
As we started talking in private messages in the middle, we must have looked like we were having a glaring contest to the others. Paul and Mike thought we were fighting and stepped in.
"I think you guys need to calm down."
"It's thanks to Mastiford's magic that we're able to do so much with just the four of us. T.K., as her acquaintance, you should know how amazing she is."
"Of course I do, but she could be even more amazing if she tried."
At my words, Hwaya shrunk back. With how prideful she was, she should dislike others pointing out her flaws. The air heated up quickly. I was prepared for a ball of flame to fly my way. When I prepared myself for it, Hwaya unclenched her fists. Then, with her eyes burning like flames, she glared at me and spoke.
"If you can do it, there's no way I can't."
"Ha, that's more like it."
This is what I liked about her. Someone who was proud but could understand her flaws could always increase her self-worth.
"So teach me. Don't tell me you can't?"
"No, I can do at least that much."
"Good, then after dinner, come to my place. I can at least offer you milk tea."
"Got it... Hm?"
Eh? Did I hear what I think I just heard? While I was standing there just blinking blankly, Paul, who had walked past me before I noticed, spoke while grinning.
"Wow, I knew something was up when she kept bragging that Thunder Knight was her acquaintance, but I didn't think THE Mastiford would invite a man to her room... If Brightman found out, he would lose it."
Mike, who was younger compared to Paul, placed his hand on my shoulder and advised.
"Be careful of Brightman, my friend. I don't know what that man would do out of jealousy."
"Um... Thanks for the advice..."
I retorted while taking Mike's hand off of me.
Also, Madam Brown! Don't give me a thumbs up with that radiant smile. It's annoying!