In the final floor of Fáfnir, 『The Golden Chamber』――― several months ago.
The Pathless girl is being told about his impending death by Fáfnir himself.
It has been just over a year since they first met.
『Fal…is going to…die?』
『Yes. My time is near. That’s why I ask you, Pathless girl. I want you to bring me a monster capable of becoming the vessel of this dungeon, to replace me.』
『No! I won’t accept Fal’s death! Isn’t there another way? A way for Fal to live?』
The girl resists with all her might.
But Fáfnir only shakes his head.
『…There isn’t. If there was, I would have acted on it already. Moreover, this is a conclusion drawn by me and the leading four of my followers, the Four Minerals. Everyone has already accepted it.』
She bites her lips tightly.
Her hands clutch at her white dress.
Her long bangs hide her expression, but he can guess her face must be a miserable sight.
Fáfnir feels a sting in his heart, yet he bows his head to the girl.
『Please. Kill me and save this dungeon.』
In front of Fal, who desperately yearns for death, she is left speechless.
She can’t do anything to help.
In the end, she accepts Fáfnir’s wish.
She brings her own father ――― Earth, to this dungeon.
To kill Fal.
To save everyone, to save this dungeon.
For the past year, she has learned from Fáfnir how to use magical power and abilities.
She exhausts herself, using her abilities to the fullest, ignoring the screams of her body and soul, all to fulfill Fáfnir’s wish.
She leaves the dungeon, heading for the Eld Desert, constantly teleporting, desperately searching for the faint magical corridor.
She knows it’s the right thing to do.
If she doesn’t, everyone will die.
Not just Fáfnir. His followers, the dungeon, even the humans living above it, will all be swept away.
So, she can’t prioritize her own circumstances.
It’s her newly made friend’s final request.
She must listen to it.
She must fulfill it.
That’s what she tells herself.
But… is that really the right choice?
In the final floor of Fáfnir, 『The Golden Chamber』――― Current
Two dragons let out deafening roars.
One is the Earth Dragon, Earth. The other, the Mineral Dragon, Fáfnir.
The Earth Dragon, a king among dragons, locks eyes with Fáfnir, a species of dragon second only to the king.
They gaze at each other, neither giving way.
It’s Earth who moves first.
Using his weaponized limbs, he swiftly closes the distance.
Fáfnir’s size is roughly three times that of Earth’s.
Hence, the plan is to infiltrate Fáfnir’s vulnerable zone, using the difference in their size to his advantage.
But Fáfnir allows Earth’s approach, showing little to no reaction.
Sharp claws, weaponized for this very purpose, are plunged into his body.
Earth gasps in astonishment.
Fáfnir’s flesh remains undamaged.
His claws, weaponized for this battle, are fended off by Fáfnir without any apparent defensive stance.
――――Damn, just as hard as the rumors suggested.
Internally, Earth grinds his teeth.
From Elibel’s records, he had knowledge about the Mineral Dragons, but experiencing it firsthand is entirely different.
The records of Elibel stated:
――――The “hardiest” among dragon-kind.
Essentially, the hardest dragon.
Even though they are of the same earth element as Earth, unlike the Earth Dragons, the Mineral Dragons are pure defense-specialized dragons.
That’s what Fáfnir is.
Most Mineral Dragons have skin and scales composed of minerals, which results in high physical defense.
Moreover, those scales and skin vary between individuals – some made of copper, some of iron or even gems. Hence, even within the same species, there’s a significant variation in strength.
For adventurers, like the Earth Dragons, they’re a profitable monster because they can be turned into gold.
That’s a point that earned a bit of his sympathy, but now is not the time for such thoughts.
The instant Earth’s claws are deflected, Fáfnir counters.
He brings his massive arm down on Earth, taking advantage of his gigantic physique.
Just barely, Earth manages to dodge.
The powerful arm that misses him slams into the floor, creating a huge fissure.
Scales and claws, the hardest of them all.
They become an invincible spear when used for an attack.
(If they’re that hard, even just swinging them down would be a formidable attack…)）
So, what should he do? Earth ponders.
If a close-range attack leaves Fáfnir unscathed, a long-range claw strike probably won’t do much either.
That means he needs a powerful long-range attack.
For now, Earth decides to create some distance from Fáfnir.
Fáfnir seems to be observing and waiting for his move.
Drawing in a deep breath, he then exhales with all his might.
With his roar, an immense amount of magical power is unleashed towards Fáfnir.
Fafnir doesn’t evade.
It’s a direct hit.
The floor tiles peel off, gold and jewels scatter.
Cracks spread across the ceiling, causing it to partially collapse in places.
Well, it’s not like the entire dungeon would collapse…
Incidentally, the girl who was caught up in the blast is safe.
She had moved out of the firing line just in time through a teleportation gate.
『Phew, I hope that at least left some minor scratches…』
Fáfnir bursts through the dust cloud, undeterred.
There isn’t a single scratch on his scales.
Upon closer look, it seems he’s just covered in soot.
It’s not just physical defense.
Fáfnir also seems to have an exceptionally high resistance to magic.
This isn’t some small trick like Ragin’s magic nullification that he faced before.
This is the sheer power of a true dragon’s body.
And it’s being displayed right in front of him.
『Damn! I had a hunch, but is it really this bad?!』
Once again, Earth is taken aback by the toughness of the Mineral Dragon.
But there’s no time for surprise.
Fafnir is already closing in.
A swipe of the claw.
Unable to dodge in time, Earth guards with his weaponized arms.
Cracks spread through his weaponized arms, unable to fully withstand the blow.
Even though they are weaponized, they are still a part of his flesh and blood.
An intense, unbearable pain assails Earth.
But there’s no time to endure the pain.
The other hand reaches out.
He pours all of his magical power into it, to guard against the next attack.
Thanks to the immense magic he funnels in, the damage he receives is somewhat less than before.
But it doesn’t end there.
Claws slashing, teeth biting, tail lashing, a storm of physical attacks leveraging the full might of the dragon’s body, all assault Earth.
Each punch, each scratch, each body slam…
Each one carries the power of a lethal blow.
The superior physicality of the dragon seems to say that no special power is needed as he unleashes a flurry of attacks on Earth.
Earth tries to counter with claw strikes and tail lashes, but they seem to have no effect.
Fáfnir, the Mineral Dragon, has already noticed this, and he ignores Earth’s attacks, launching his own assaults without a care.
In the face of such an onslaught, Earth can do nothing but retreat from Fáfnir.
No counterattacks come.
Fafnir merely watches Earth intently.
『Haa… Haa… Haa…』
「…Do you feel like surrendering to me now?」
『…You must be joking.』
He pours magical power into both hands and feet.
The more magic he pours into his weaponized limbs, the greater their capabilities skyrocket.
Of course, the parts of his body that aren’t weaponized scream in agony, but thanks to his experience from his battle with Wald, Earth knows the limit before physical side effects manifest, and pours in magical power just up to that line.
He forcefully pushes off the ground.
Swiftly, he attempts to get behind Fáfnir.
But―――Fáfnir spins around to face him.
――You’ve got to be kidding, he can keep up with this speed?!
His face contorts in disbelief.
But the surprise doesn’t end there.
Bam! A shock runs through his back.
Even though he thought he was behind Fáfnir, he is ambushed from the rear.
Intense pain courses through him.
『Gah… What… is this?』
He turns around.
There, through the broken wall, a horde of monsters appear.
Earth’s eyes widen in shock.
Fáfnir’s minions, each one possessing enormous power.
They’ve been hiding in the walls, killing their presence.
Coincidentally, it’s the same strategy Earth used against Wald before.
All of them focus their red eyes on him, brimming with hostility.
Fire, tentacles, rocks, ice, lightning, a barrage of attacks are launched at Earth.
『Oioi, aren’t you guys concerned about hitting your master?!』
But soon, he realizes his mistake.
Despite the incoming storm of attacks, Fáfnir lunges to bite Earth.
To the most resilient dragon, those attacks are merely a distraction.
Simultaneously, the attack lands.
The crunching sound of something being crushed is drowned out by the explosion.
Fáfnir, amidst the storm of attacks from his minions, has bitten into Earth’s right arm.
Earth’s scream echoes.
Desperately, he tears his arm free from Fáfnir, creating some distance between him and the minions.
『Haa… Haa… Haa…』
It’s not just his personal strength that makes him formidable, there’s more to it than that.
He doesn’t rely solely on his own power, he’s not arrogant, he’s capable of playing all the cards he holds. He uses everything—his allies, the dungeon’s traps, all of it—to try to bring me down.
Monsters emerge from the walls and move to Fáfnir’s side.
There are easily dozens of them.
Among them are monstrous chimeras, similar to the giant creature I encountered when I first entered this dungeon.
With the merciless order from Fáfnir, the monsters attack.
In desperation, Earth releases his breath attack.
A dull thud resonates.
Engulfed by the waves of magical power, the monsters are blown away.
The aftershock once again destroys the walls and ceiling, causing a collapse.
『Haa… Haa… Gah!』
Spitting blood from his mouth, with hollow eyes, he triggers his magic sense.
This is bad…
Despite having blown away quite a number of monsters, more and more keep appearing.
And, Fafnir himself is still unscathed.
This is the situation even with the use of white powder and armamentization.
『…Things are looking really bad.』
A dry laugh escapes my lips.
The sight of him fighting while battered and bruised is being watched intently by the Pathless girl.
She can’t comprehend the scene before her.
Why has it come to this?
Why are they fighting?
Questions swirl around in her head.
I didn’t want this.
I didn’t work hard for this to happen.
Her voice spills out softly.
『Haa… Haa… Hm?』
Earth looks down at his feet.
The Pathless girl is there.
She must have used teleportation to infiltrate his surroundings.
Fáfnir and the monsters are still motionless.
They’re likely waiting to see how he responds.
『What is it?』
「Why does Father have to go so far to fight with Fal? If he had just accepted the dungeon core as Fal wished… as a vessel, he wouldn’t have had to suffer this much…」
「Why won’t you listen to Fáfnir’s wish! Fal put his life on the line… it was his last request! Why! Why won’t you grant it! Please, grant Fal’s wish!」
Her voice, coming straight from the bottom of her heart, is filled with desperation.
『…If that’s the case, why are you crying?』
When told this, she notices for the first time the tear streaks running down her cheeks.
Seeing this, Earth squints his eyes.
『You don’t want this, do you?』
『You don’t want him to die, right? You want to save Fáfnir.』
Gently, so as not to hurt her, with his armed hand, he strokes her head.
The soft texture of her hair is felt clearly even through his armed hand.
『Don’t try to deceive. Through the magical corridor, your feelings are flowing into me. Thoughts of not wanting him to die, not wanting this to happen, are coming through.』
At this point, Earth raises his voice slightly.
So that it properly reaches the Pathless girl.
『If that’s the case, you can’t compromise. You have to struggle, struggle until the very end. Only then can you obtain what you seek. That’s why you called us here. You didn’t call us here to kill him. Your intention was for us to somehow salvage Fáfnir from the brink. That’s the real reason you brought us here!』
「But… I… I wanted to kill Fal… because… everyone’s, Fal’s wish was to…」
With a voice choked by sobs, the Pathless girl cries out desperately.
「I…I…hic…because…Fal said…to kill him…so I…!」
Tightly, the Pathless girl grips Earth’s arm.
「I don’t want…I don’t want Fal to die. We’re friends. Finally, we’ve become friends! He listens to my voice, speaks to me, stays with me…we’re friends!」
And then, she says it.
Her tears and snot stick her bangs to her face, but still, she clearly voices her true desire.
「Save Fal…Save Fal! Please, Dad! I absolutely don’t want Fal to die!」
I hear it.
Her true feelings.
So, Earth nods.
He’s heard the true wish of the girl, his own kin.
And then, he reassesses the situation.
The almost unharmed Fáfnir.
The monsters of the dungeon appearing one after another.
His beaten-up self.
A desperate situation.
This is the worst possible scenario.
I have to admit it.
Reluctantly, Fáfnir is strong.
Even if he’s weakened, even if his lifespan is running out, he’s still many times stronger than me.
If only we were both in our adult forms, things might have been different.
But, there’s no point in thinking about what could have been.
If that’s the case――――I’ll use my last “trump card”.
I activate “alchemy”.
My body creaks and reforms.
Earth remembers what Elibel had told him.
―――Listen, Earth. Even if you have to use ‘Armamentization’ from now on, do not arm more than your limbs.
―――Otherwise, you will become ‘irreversible’. ‘Return X!’ works by drawing a clear line between your physical body and the body transformed by magic.
―――In other words, the more you progress with ‘Armamentization’, the less effective it becomes. The distinction between your original body and the armed body becomes ambiguous.
―――If, for instance, you were to arm your whole body, there’s no turning back. Your combat power would increase dramatically, but even I wouldn’t know if you could be reverted. If you encounter an enemy you can’t handle with just your armed limbs, don’t hesitate to run.
―――Promise me, okay?
…I’m sorry, Elibel.
It seems I can’t keep that promise…
『――――’Full Body Armamentization’!』
I harness alchemy across my entire body.
My flesh undergoes a transformation.
From corner to corner.
From the top of my head to the tip of my tail, my entire being changes.
In less than a second, my flesh is coated in an inorganic shell.
I’ve become a dragon in an armor more metallic than Fáfnir.
The smoke clears.
Fáfnir and the monster’s form become clearly visible.
Fáfnir freezes in surprise at my transformation.
But I won’t miss this opening.
I leap, employing my explosively enhanced physical prowess.
In an instant, I close the distance and strike Fáfnir.
Fafnir’s scales crack noticeably.
For the first time, visible, tangible damage.
Fáfnir, no, even the dungeon core is stunned.
A look that says ‘why?’ is plastered across his face.
Why won’t I accept my fate in this situation?
Why don’t I run?
Why don’t I give up, succumb to despair?
『―――Why would I ever?』
I’m no hero.
I can’t be a hero.
But I am a “master”.
I can’t afford to run.
I can’t afford to give up.
I can’t afford to despair.
Sure, I might be a hopeless, foolish, slovenly guy most of the time.
But if my daughter are brought to tears, isn’t it the father’s duty to knock some sense into the one responsible?
So, let me pose a bit, if only for a little while.
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