Chapter 63 : The Sign of Growth
The group journeyed through the forest in the earliest hours of the day.
Upon treading into the forest area, Tama noticed some signs that indicated that no one had entered that place yet.
(Fumu, I don’t see any sign of humans around the labyrinth area yet. This is good news for us, master.）
He knew that fact from their venture into the forested area. They were seemingly going around in circles around a place with overgrown vegetation, with only one place serving as the entrance and the exit.
So far, no human footsteps were found at the entrance of the place. That gave him enough evidence to conclude that no one had entered this place yet.
Not only that, but Tama’s sixth sense could feel the killing intent around them.
(That aside, this… It feels like a monster’s killing intent. It seems like this place is truly a labyrinth.）
「Humph. They’re nothing but small fry.」
「Yeah… I feel their presence, too. I know that you’re strong, Stella-chan. But be on your guard, okay? 」
Stella, the former dragon and child of nature, could sense some monster presences inside the forest too. She let out a ferocious smile, which prompted Aria to pat her arms to try and relieve some tension pre-battle.
Tama popped up from Aria’s cleavage and rubbed his head on her cheeks.
Aria’s tension loosened when she realized what Tama was trying to do.
「Oh my, Tama… Did you just try to cheer me up? 」
「Gunununu… Aria’s cheating! 」
Stella was looking at them with a vexed look on her face.
「Stella-chan, since Vulcan isn’t with us now you need to cooperate more than before.」
「Fun! If you want to fight like that, it’s you who needs to match my pace.」
Stella didn’t seem to want to heed even a bit of simple advice from Aria.
After she discovered that Aria was weaker than her, Stella’s haughty attitude toward Aria didn’t change even after a few days had passed.
(That’s going to be a problem… Even though we finally got the chance to venture into a virgin labyrinth, we might need to withdraw right away. What should I do to bait her… ―― THAT’S IT!）
Aria suddenly got a flash of inspiration about how to deal with Stella’s uncooperative attitude.
「Tama? Which one do you prefer? A woman who cooperates with everyone or a hot-blooded woman who charges ahead recklessly? You’d rather have someone cooperative, right? 」
Aria flashed a sunny smile at Tama.
Stella stared at Aria, speechless.
(So that’s your plan, master… Using me to control Stella and force her to behave, huh? Although I’d rather not use such a method, we don’t have much of a choice at the moment…）
Tama was a smart Behemoth, so he easily caught up to his master’s intentions.
He let out an incredibly adorable cry as he nodded.
「Nya~n! (Leave it to me, master!) 」
It took only an instant for Aria’s words, coupled with Tama’s agreement, to take effect.
Stella had rushed ahead during the conversation. After that threat, she made a U-turn, walked back toward the duo in a hurry and set her shield in front of Aria, as if to protect her.
「GUNUNUNUNU! I-I CHANGED MY MIND! I’ll fight with you, Aria! I am a woman who can cooperate with her comrade! 」
「Fufufu….. Look, Tama. It seems that Stella finally wants to cooperate! Isn’t that great? 」
「N-Nya~n… (My master has that kind of cunning side too, huh…)」
「Well, let’s head toward the middle layer. But first, can I receive a blessing, Tama? Aside from boosting our combat power, it’ll also protect us from abnormal statuses. After all, this is a forest labyrinth. There’s bound to be insect-type monsters in here.」
(Hou… Master has finally noticed such details… As expected, her training with Vulcan sharpened her skills even further.）
Tama was impressed by Aria’s analysis.
So far, she had only trained by herself. However, after forming a party with Vulcan and challenging labyrinths and monsters, Aria learned the value of information.
Before, she didn’t even know the difference between a goblin mage and a common goblin. But now, thanks to the expansion of her knowledge, she could advance smoothly even though it was the first time she entered the new labyrinth.
And it seemed that knowledge wasn’t the only ability she had learned from Vulcan.
Aria also absorbed her commanding skills. The results were noticeable in how, despite encountering many difficulties during the nominated commission, she was able to overcome those hurdles and even learned how to manage Stella.
Aria grew not only in strength but as a person as well.
That knowledge gave Tama a deep sense of accomplishment, like when a father was proud of how his daughter became a fine adult.
「Nya~n!（Here we go, 《Divine Protection of Lion King》!) 」
Tama purred lightly and a golden aura spread through their bodies. With their abilities boosted, they could fight without having to worry about the monsters that inflicted abnormal statuses.
Aside from that, the boost also granted them night vision. It was necessary for their progress since their field of vision was reduced from the poor illumination in the labyrinth. There was too little light making it through the gaps between the overgrown trees.
A while later, two Giant Apes appeared before them.
「Finally you show up, monkey bastard! Now you’re dead mea―― No, I mean, COME AT ME! 」
Stella prepared to jump into the fray but at the last second, she remembered Aria’s words. She quickly reined herself and set the Mega Shield in a defensive stance, waiting for the incoming attack.
Tama admired her restraint. He had worried whether she could truly be relied upon once push came to shove.
The depths of Stella’s love for Tama were not as shallow as they thought.
She even threw out her pride as a dragon to cooperate with Aria, just to make Tama notice her a little.
「Tama, let’s see how much I can do when I’m fighting alongside Stella-chan! Please cover our backs with your cover fire! 」
「Nyaaa~! (Roger, master!) 」
Tama purred in reply and jumped down from his throne, between Aria’s breasts, landing smoothly on the ground.
Almost at the same time, the Giant Apes made their way straight toward them.
One headed toward Aria while the other one went toward Stella.
「You came… So I’ll have to do it like… THIS! 」
Against the approaching foe, Stella changed into her Dragonewt form and used a charging strike with her Mega Shield, blowing back the Giant Apes.
The other Giant Ape, when it saw what happened to its comrade, got stunned and stopped moving for a moment.
「Nice assist, Stella-chan! 」
Not missing that momentary gap, Aria activated her 《Acceleration》 to hasten her movement. She leaped at the Giant Ape and stabbed her knife into its heart.
The Giant Ape howled in pain.
It tried to use the last of its strength to move its arms, attempting to strangle Aria before it died. However, the Giant Ape’s intentions were seen through by Tama.
「NYAANN!!!（OVER MY DEAD BODY!!） 」
The Behemoth restrained the Giant Ape with the skill《Summon Tentacle》, preventing the monster’s arms from touch his beautiful master.
The Giant Ape never stood a chance against Tama. Unable to resist, it died.
「T-Tama! Use your tentacles over here too! 」
―― Leave it to me, Stella!
Tama replied to Stella via telepathy.
He activated his tentacles again to restrain the other Giant Ape, the one who got blown back by Stella’s shield. It had already recovered and tried to stand up, but Tama’s tentacles were faster.
「This. Is. THE EEEEEND! 」
Letting out a loud war cry, Stella drove her greatsword into the head of the bound Giant Ape, killing it.
It was awkward to admit but, judging by the result of the battle, Stella’s cooperation skills got a passing grade.