In the final floor of Fáfnir, 『The Golden Chamber』―――
I am murmuring, pondering the strange words spoken by the white girl, my kin.
She nods, then looks at the golden dragon, Fáfnir.
Fáfnir returns the nod.
「Fáfnir, you see…has reached his limit.」
「Un, his lifespan.」
She sweeps her bangs back into place, hiding her caramel eyes as she gazes back at me.
「Fal is going to die soon. So…he wants to be killed before that happens.」
Her voice falters, almost a whisper by the end.
The words puzzle me.
Kill him before his impending death from old age?
What does that even mean?
「Sigh…You’re not giving enough explanation,」
Fafnir interjects with an exasperated sigh.
「Master of Pathless, allow me to take it from here.」
Fafnir looks at me with eyes gleaming like gemstones, powerful and intimidating.
I can feel the pulsating waves of his magical power.
So this is the master of one of the Eight Great Dungeons…
If I weren’t drugged up, I’d probably be scared out of my wits.
Or maybe I’d have fled.
「The reason I summoned you here is because, as the girl said earlier, my lifespan is nearing its end.」
「Indeed. I am close to the end of my life. Or, more precisely, my personality, my ‘self,’ will be consumed by the dungeon core」
『What does that mean?』
His explanation only adds to my confusion.
「…By the way, I haven’t asked your name yet. What should I call you?」
「I see, then Earth, do you know that there are several types of dungeons? Not in terms of the creatures that live within or the styles, but fundamentally different.」
He changes the topic abruptly.
Why we are discussing dungeons all of a sudden, I have no idea. But, let’s go with it.
The fundamental difference in dungeons… It reminds me of something Elibel once said.
『Are you talking about the difference like the dungeons formed as a result of monsters settling in them, or dungeons created by the dungeon core for its self-defense?』
At my response, Fáfnir nods approvingly.
「That’s correct. Dungeons created by monsters—especially those resembling caves—don’t collapse even when the life of the monster ends. Dungeons with a dungeon core exist as long as the core is not destroyed, meaning as long as it has magical power. But, if the core is destroyed, the dungeon collapses.」
He then continues,
「There is another type, a precise third kind. Dungeons born from the fusion of a monster and a dungeon core.」
『A monster and dungeon core fusion…?』
「Yes. In this case, the dungeon’s lifespan depends on the lifespan of the dungeon master. When the master, who is the vessel, dies, the dungeon core inside also disappears.」
With that, Fafnir stands and stabs his claw into his own body.
What are you doing all of a sudden!
Between the fleshy rift, a small golden orb pulsates, hidden, then revealed, again and again.
Its surface throbs like a heart.
This orb feels…alive.
I can sense the dense waves of magical power.
This golden orb must hold tremendous magical energy.
「This is the core of this dungeon. Four hundred years ago, I consumed this dungeon core and created this dungeon. Since then, I have maintained the dungeon as the vessel for this core.」
The wound closes within seconds, and his golden skin restores itself, unblemished.
「But…that time is nearing its end. My lifespan, as a dragon, as a living being, is about to run out. The Mineral Dragon, which I am, is a short-lived species. Currently, the core’s magic is barely keeping me alive.」
With a sigh, Fáfnir slouches slightly.
His gesture seems weary, like an exhausted old man.
Even after four hundred years, a dragon is still short-lived…?
Well, my own species takes a century just to reach adulthood, so we’re pretty slow-paced ourselves.
But, wait a second.
『So, you’re using the dungeon core’s magic to artificially extend your life. Why then, are we talking about you wanting to be killed?』
Fafnir responds with a tone that suggests I’ve hit the mark.
His smugness is somehow irksome.
「There’s no issue with me dying alone. The problem lies with…my followers and the dungeon.」
『Followers and the dungeon?』
「If I die from old age after integrating the dungeon core, my followers — and the dungeon — will be dragged down with me.」
「Didn’t I mention earlier? If the dungeon core is destroyed, the dungeon collapses as well. The core, having lost its ‘vessel’ in me, will cease to function and the dungeon will collapse along with it. The same goes for the monsters produced and controlled by the dungeon core. Once their pillar is lost, a chain reaction of collapses begins. That’s why the dungeon coreis desperately trying to keep me alive, healing my wounds and constantly supplying me with magical power.」
However, Fafnir adds.
「There is one way to avoid this.」
With these words, Fáfnir once again turns his gaze to me.
「That’s why I summoned you here, Earth, master of the Pathless girl. I intend to entrust everything to you.」
I see, so that’s it.
His objective is…
「Kill me, Earth. Then, you’ll take everything that was Fáfnir’s.」
In the 90th floor of Fáfnir, 『The Death Lord’s Chamber』―――
「The transference of the ‘vessel’. In other words, you mean to transplant Fáfnir’s dungeon core into another monster while he’s still alive, thereby saving the dungeon from collapsing. Is that what you’re suggesting?」
Elibel asserts, her deduction drawn from their current situation and her accumulated knowledge.
Honestly, it was the prediction she’d least like to be accurate, but life often proves the least pleasant predictions true.
In response, Fáfnir’s follower, Robun, slowly nods.
「Yes…Fal’s time is near. Before that…haa…haa…by switching the vessel of the dungeon core, we—the dungeon can avoid destruction.」
Elibel watches him with a cold gaze.
「So the fact you’ve brought in outsiders means your followers can’t be the ‘vessel’, right? Adventurers won’t work either. The fact you’ve brought him here suggests that it has to be a similar species to Fáfnir, or at least something close?」
「Yes…haa…haa…I apologize for the deceit…but for us, there was no other way―――」
「Shut up, you fool!」
Before Robun can finish, Elibel swings her staff with full force, striking Robun and sending him tumbling across the ground.
「―――Geez. So, it’s a grand suicide plan. How troublesome. You’ve split us up and forced us to battle the floor bosses in order to smoothly circulate ‘other dungeon’s magical power’ to Fáfnir, making it easier for him to transfer. For that, you’d risk your lives…what a farce.」
Robun says nothing.
The flame in his eyes flickers, revealing a glimpse of his conflict and resolution.
Even this skeleton must have had his thoughts and feelings.
Knowing this, he assisted in Fáfnir’s suicide as a follower.
He weighed various factors: his master, sacrifice, and many others.
But for Elibel, these were worth less than dog droppings.
They’re pointless, worthless, meaningless… Just garbage.
「I despise those with a death wish. I can’t understand why anyone would want to die. It’s not fun, not exciting, not interesting. Life should be lived to the fullest. Even if you die, striving to survive is what happiness is all about.」
「A dead person like you would say that?」
Robun’s jest is far from funny.
「Aren’t you stupid? I became undead because I want to live, even in death.」
Annoyed, Elibel murmurs and channels magic into her staff.
A complex, crimson magic circle unfolds at her feet.
「――――I’ll show you.」
Elibel pulls a magic stone from her pocket and bites it down to shards.
Replenishing her magical power, she again pours her magic into the magic circle beneath her.
「I’m going to blast a hole in your foolish notions, and in this dungeon. I’m sure that idiot would do the same.」
The magic circle shines brightly, enveloping Elibel in countless rays of light.
It was a magic formula unlike any other.
Even for Robun, who had mastered the arcane arts, it was an incomprehensible, intricate magic formula.
But, in spite of all that, one thought prevailed in his mind.
Even for him, who believed he had mastered magic, the magic formula was something he could not help but gaze at in awe.
For a moment, he thought he saw a beautiful woman amidst the radiance.
A woman as beautiful as a silver-haired goddess from a myth.
Robun, forgetting his duty as a servant, was captivated by the sight.
「And don’t think I’ll always be on the defensive.」
In the final floor of Fáfnir, 『The Golden Chamber』―――
I rejected Fáfnir’s proposal flatly.
「…What did you say?」
With a look of surprise, Fáfnir stared back at me.
『I said I refuse. I won’t become your replacement, or your ‘vessel.’ I’m not killing you either.』
「Why? If you’re a dragon, a monster, then you should understand the value of this dungeon core, shouldn’t you? Unrivaled power and magic, a formidable dungeon, immense strength, all of it could be yours. And yet, why do you reject it? If you need time to think―――」
『No, I don’t need that. There’s no need to think.』
「…What did you say? ―――Ugh…」
『I have my own dungeon. Plus, I don’t want such power. I don’t need your charity.』
A clear rejection.
No matter whether my mind was reversed or not, I would have refused regardless.
I couldn’t care less about what happened to this dungeon.
And above all, I was angry.
I glanced at the Pathless girl.
As usual, her face was hidden behind her long hair, unreadable.
But now, I understand.
I distinctly recognized her thoughts, her feelings.
Those memories and thoughts were flowing into me.
So, I knew.
――――Just how much pain she was in.
I looked back at Fáfnir.
Fáfnir stayed silent, head bowed.
But, his aura seemed different from before.
What on earth was happening?
The Pathless girl raised her voice.
「No, it’s dangerous! Fal! You can’t get swallowed up! Come back!」
Her voice echoed in the air, marked by a distinct tone of panic.
What does she mean―――?!
A chill ran down my spine, freezing me to the core.
The source of this creeping fear was right before my eyes.
It was the overwhelming bloodlust emanating from Fáfnir.
「….Earth, was it? I’m sorry.」
『What are you talking about…..?』
「…It seems like I’ve reached my limit.」
In the next moment, the color of Fáfnir’s eyes changed.
They shifted from the clear, deep sapphire blue to a blazing red, reminiscent of a ruby.
Then, a roar.
A deafening roar that seemed to shake the entire dungeon reverberated across the floor.
『What… is this?!』
The immense magical power it unleashed sent tingling sensations across my skin.
「…Fal has… Fal has been swallowed up.」
The Pathless girl muttered quietly.
The answer to my question was apparent from the voice that resonated from right before me.
「Accepting me… a new vessel… Intruder… Foolish one who is not a vessel… Eradicate, eradicate, eradicate! Eliminate all intruders in the dungeon.」
As Fáfnir muttered these words, he turned toward me.
The robotic nature of his voice somehow reminded me of my dungeon core, Gijie.
Ah, I see. So that’s what’s going on.
『This is the will of the dungeon core within Fafnir…』
As I looked at the Pathless girl, she gave a slight nod.
Fáfnir had said that his life was unnaturally prolonged by the magical power of the dungeon core.
And Elibel’s records stated that the dungeon core itself possessed something akin to a “will.”
The defensive instincts of the dungeon, the dungeon core within Fáfnir.
As I rejected him, considering Fáfnir a vessel, the dungeon core within him probably recognized me as a clear “enemy.”
Fáfnir’s defensive instincts as a dungeon.
That’s what must have overwritten his rationality.
His bloodthirsty eyes were fixated on me, never looking away.
I let out a sigh.
Really, what a troublesome situation.
If you want to die, do it on your own.
Truth be told, I am quite displeased.
Surely, Fáfnir was suffering.
His death would mean the demise of hundreds of dungeon monsters. Moreover, the collapse of the dungeon would bring an unprecedented disaster to the people of the Hà Giang Empire built atop it.
But, what of it?
That’s not my problem.
Where is the justification for dragging me and my kin into this?
I admit, I share some blame.
I didn’t notice the Pathless being born. Worse still, I walked straight into the trap she had set, making myself at home in this dungeon.
But listen, Fáfnir.
Are you aware?
Do you realize how much of a burden your actions have imposed on her―――my kin?
Do you understand the weight of asking your newly made friends to kill you?
Do you get it?
Your actions betray her trust who opened her heart to you—it’s the worst kind of deception.
He probably can’t hear anything over the roar of his defensive instincts.
They’ve completely overridden his reason.
Alright, Fáfnir, I understand.
As you wish, I will kill you.
But your wish won’t come true.
I absolutely won’t let it.
I activate my alchemy.
My body undergoes a transformation, creaking and groaning, as I transmute my limbs into inorganic weapons.
You exploited me and my family.
And you will bear that responsibility.
Let’s start the final battle.
The battle to sever the wish of a dragon longing for death.
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