18 – The Flame Hero Goes First

「Welcome to the Demon King Castle. The Flame Hero Fenix and party, yes?」

In a hall just as you enter, at the Demon King Castle reception.

「Yes.」

I nod once and hand over my Registration Card. The receptionist is a female cat demi-human, the upper part of her face was hidden by a mask.

The other four do the same and hand over their Registration Card.

She proceeds with verifying our identities.

「Hero Fenix, Warrior Alba, Paladin Lark, Hunter Lily, and…oh, this one is different from the previous times. Hero Bella. No less than five names confirmed.」

For a moment, I thought I saw the receptionists mouth curl into an unnatural smile. It must be my imagination.

「Thank you.」

After returning all of our Registration Cards, she asked.

「Whatever happened to the Black Sorcerer Lem?」

「Hah! Probably left to die on a field somewhere. Or maybe hes begging in an alley or better yet, maybe hes out there committing crimes. A Black Sorcerers gotta eat, right?」

The receptionist was asking me, but Alba was the one who answered.

「…What a boorish man you are, Alba.」

Whispered Lily while staring scornfully at Alba.

「Look here missy, you dont get to keep treating me like the bad guy here. If you really felt sorry for Lem, then why the hell didnt you stick up for him? When I asked ya to hide those damn ears of yours, he had your back, didnt he? I dont owe that bastard anything so I can say whatever I want, but you? Youre the one whos way more cold-hearted by just letting it all happen! So dont you look down on me.」

The Hunter Elf Lily furrowed her beautiful brows.

Certainly, on the occasion where we were discussing whether or not to modify her Avatar in order to hide her elf ears, Lem and I both said that it would be best not to hide it.

「Did you expect me to support him simply out of thanks? If he were a teammate I could rely on, I would certainly do all within my power to aid him. But the main point of our discussion in the tavern – by the way, did you really have to put on such a vulgar show? – was about whether or not Lems abilities were suitable for this party. For arguments sake, even if I owed my life to him, I would not have lied when it relates to my job.」

「Tch, stop acting like such a goody-two-shoes.」

「…Scoundrel.」

「What was that?!」

「Please dont shout, youre hurting my ears.」

「You bitch…」

「Uh, uhm, I dont, think we should fight…were about to do a Dungeon Clear together…so…」

The Frost Hero Bella humbly intervenes.

A small-framed young lady with hair and eyes the same color as ice. Its rare for a hero to have such low self-esteem and stand with a hunch. Its even rarer for a hero to not form her own party and instead choose to join one.

「…I showed you an embarrassing sight, Bella. I apologize, It is difficult to talk to a monkey such as him. I realized a long time ago that it was impossible to have conversations with him, and yet…」

「Youre so full of it, you damn elf」

「…man, how tiresome…Getting kinda irritated here.」

Even the Paladin Lark has joined the conversation.

「Hey, no one was talkin to you, moody. But since I am now, look alive during Dungeon Clears. Youve been making more and more mistakes because you just stand there!」

「…How about you? Your precision with that magic sword you keep boasting about has been shaky. Arent you losing your edge by spending all your time womanizing?」

「Virgins should shut up.」

「Sorry but I think I might have more experience than you. Have you looked in a mirror, lately?」

「…youre dead.」

If theres a camera in this room, its probably not for taking souvenir photos to sell later.

Once you control your Avatars and enter the dungeon, you put on a performance.

Be that as it may, to already start fighting during preparation time…

Until now, the target of the partys complaints was Lem.

Well, I say party, but its just those three.

With Lem as the common problem, those three were united.

Knowing full well of this, Lem said that as long as we functioned well as a party, its fine. I chuckled.

Its thanks to Lem that they can go from first-class adventurers to super first-class adventurers in terms of their performance, and those three are naturally none the wiser.

Missing that crucial point, all three of them are noticing each others weaknesses now that hes gone. That weakness being the lack of Lems unlimited and invisible support.

Theyre probably asking themselves why their performance seems to have gotten worse lately.

They didnt get worse.

They simply went back from super first-class adventurers to first-class adventurers.

The fact that they can feel the difference is a testament to Lems abilities but I bet that possibility has never crossed their minds.

「Uhm, I, I said please stop fighting.」

Surprisingly, it was Bella who stopped them.

The soles of their feet were fixed to the floor.

They were frozen.

「Its just as Bella said. What does it say about you when the most decent person here is the newcomer.」

I say while hiding my amazement as well as being careful not to get too cold.

Realizing that they were being punished for their mistakes, they make uncharacteristically hurt faces.

「…Fenix, why didnt you stop them.」

Essentially, 「Youre the leader and you should have taken the initiative and intervened.」is what she is implying with that.

She normally seems quite hesitant but she seems to say what she thinks must be said.

「I just thought it was a good opportunity to reflect.」

「Reflect…? On what?」

「On what weve done.」

「Uhm…I dont, really understand.」

「No, its fine. I expect great things from you.」

Without answering her question, I end the conversation.

After canceling the freeze effect on those three, we headed towards the room that allows us to connect our minds to our Avatars.

「Man…this is seriously annoying. What is happening? Its so weird… We just made the party stronger yet were not getting enough bang for our buck…」

「Youve done a lot for us, Bella. At first, you were confused but you soon became a splendid Hero. 」

「Youre just happy that we have another girl in the party. Well, she does boost our combat strength and crowd control capabilities. And yet, how should I say this…I feel as good as ever, yet the results say otherwise, or something…」

At that moment, Alba realizes something and laughs out loud.

「Aha! Could it be that? An unemployed Lem cursed us with his salty Black Magic! Hah, that jerk would definitely do something like tha-grk?!」

My patience was at an end.

I grip Alba by the collar and hold him up.

His body hangs there while his legs squirm and struggle to reach the ground.

Everyone was taken aback.

「Alba, Alba. How many times do I have to say it, Alba? Do not talk bad about him. Not him or any of our teammates. Why cant you do that? I bet its to do with your personality, definitely.」

「Ghk, ah, cant, brea-」

「The reason I havent punished you at all up till now was that you were Lems ally and Lem pardoned your behavior. But now I want you to think about it. Lem was kicked out of the party by you. Everyone else was thinking the same thing, so I didnt blame myself. I believed that you were only thinking about the party. Then why, I ask you, do you think Im angry?」

Albas face turns blue.

Lily tries to get me to lower my arm, while Lark stands there with a panicked look on his face.

Bella is speechless.

「I know all of you werent comfortable with Lem in the party. With him gone, you all should feel relieved. So then why couldnt it end there? Is there a reason that you have to look down on an ex-ally who was already kicked out of the party? Lets make one thing clear. It is fine to point out your allies weak points. You dont have to hold back. But you should not speak ill of them. And Alba, I dont think you and Lem are allies anymore, right?」

Alba tries to pry my fingers open, but even using both arms cant rival my strength.

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