I release a deep sigh.
At last, the dust has settled.
But this is only the beginning.
I have severely beaten Fáfnir, but all I’ve done is immobilize him; nothing has been truly resolved.
The matter of prolonging the vessel, and Fáfnir’s life, remains.
Unless I find a solution, the problem persists.
Looking over, I see Pathless had been keeping close to Fafnir.
Fáfnir… he’s completely unconscious.
There are no signs of movement.
I need to discuss with Elibel… but wait, what’s that?
I sense something from the hole Elibel and the others had opened.
―――Magic Sense Engaged.
I identify three powerful monsters descending.
Gently, the three touch down in the great hall.
A skeleton-like monster similar to Elibel, a slime several times larger than Pururu, and an old man resembling a butler with a monocle.
Each one radiates magic power equivalent to Heleb or Gwyve.
Yet, they exhibit no hostility.
Who on earth are these creatures…?
「…It appears to be over.」
One of them, the skeletal creature, speaks.
「Yes, we managed to stop Fafnir’s rampage.」
『Elibel, do you know them?』
I look towards Elibel.
She seems to know who they are.
「These are Fafnir’s familiars. In terms of position, they’re similar to Ann and me. They are the masters of various floors, and we’ve battled them.」
Upon hearing that, my sense of caution intensifies.
『…Are we safe?』
「No worries. I’ve only spoken directly with the skeletal one in the middle, but it seems the other two have been communicating through Tres and Pururu.」
The two slimes playfully pile upon each other.
So soothing. It helps heal my mind, battered from the battles.
Do I need to stay on guard?
They’re just so cute…
「It says, “Fáfnir is grateful for your help.”」
Tres translates for me.
Wait, Tres, can you understand not just Pururu, but the language of all slimes?
「Fofofo. But the problem has not been solved, has it, Miss Elibel?」
The gentlemanly old man at the rear looks at Elibel.
「You proposed a possibility to us. Therefore, we decided to observe this battle, including Fal’s injury. So… isn’t it time you tell us? How do you plan to save him from the brink of death and prevent the dungeon from collapsing?」
With that, all eyes turn to Elibel.
Well, I’ve been curious about it too.
When she first arrived, she said she would at least make Fáfnir unconscious to halt the rampage, but that’s all I’ve heard so far.
Everyone’s gaze, and their “expectations,” are on Elibel.
Frankly, I’m curious about what Elibel is thinking too.
Fáfnir’s lifespan has reached its limit. If he dies, the dungeon will collapse.
But I don’t plan on becoming a substitute.
While that would prevent the collapse, Fáfnir would still die. And Pathless would grieve.
If left alone, Fafnir will surely die.
The situation is nearly hopeless.
―――Is there even a solution?
But, perhaps Elibel could do it?
That’s what I think.
The other familiars probably think so too, as do Fafnir’s subordinates.
Elibel, now the center of attention, scratches her bony skull and begins to speak.
「―――There is no way.」
We all say in unison.
「Did you not hear me?」
Elibel scans the room, ready to repeat herself.
「There’s no way to save Fafnir here and now. Or rather, it’s impossible. Absolutely hopeless.」
Elibel, the sage, declares this.
Undeterred by the chilling silence that fills the room, Elibel continues.
「Usually, there are hardly any cases where a dungeon core and a dungeon master fuse. I’ve only seen it in records. Moreover, this dragon seems to have fused with the dungeon core at the soul level, so we can’t even stimulate it carelessly. Even I, a genius, can’t fix this on the spot. It also seems unlikely that we can substitute it with a pseudo-dungeon core or something else.」
「Wha… what…? You…!」
Shocked, murderous intent and magic power spill from the skeletal man.
「Foh-foh-foh… well, well, well…!」
Furthermore, the magic power is also unleashed from the slime behind him, as well as from the old gentleman.
Well, of course…
After raising hopes that Fáfnir could be saved, she had declared there was no such way.
Of course, they were angry.
Ann and Tres also brandish their weapons.
The tension in the room escalates instantly.
Yet, Elibel calmly withstands the hostility.
Why is she so calm?
「Now, calm down. I only said there’s no immediate solution.」
The skeletal man, scythe in hand, questions her.
『…What do you mean, Elibel? Stop beating around the bush and tell us.』
The atmosphere was too heavy to bear any longer.
Elibel, perhaps realizing she might have been too abrupt, scratches her head looking somewhat guilty.
「Fine, I get it. My words were harsh. We can’t solve the problem right away. But―――we can put it off for a while.」
『Postpone the problem?』
I echo her words, dumbfounded.
「Yes, it’s not a fundamental solution, it’s merely a delay tactic. In other words, we’re buying time.」
And then Elibel continues.
「During that time, we find a real solution.」
Saying so, Elibel pulls out a communication magic stone.
「Berg, are you ready」
『―――Yes, but are we really going to do this?』
「We have no choice. Well, it will be what it will be.」
Saying so, Elibel gives Berg rapid-fire instructions.
『Will you finally tell us? What exactly are we doing?』
「Yes, of course.」
After a brief pause, Elibel speaks.
It’s a shocking revelation.
「Well, I’ll get to the point. We’re going to ‘merge’ our dungeon, Fafnir’s Dungeon, and the Sage’s Dungeon I created.」
As if it’s nothing unusual, Elibel states.
But, I couldn’t believe my ears.
Regardless of their initial reactions, everyone else had similar expressions of disbelief.
「Is… such a thing even possible?」
Half-doubtful, the skeletal man asks. Elibel, with confidence, nods.
「Yes, it’s possible. There’s a stage in a dungeon’s lifecycle called a ‘transition phase.’ We’ll intentionally trigger that. And we’ll use the ability of a Pathless.」
Transition phase―――right, it refers to when a dungeon changes in nature.
I knew the term thanks to Elibel’s knowledge, but I wasn’t clear on the specifics.
「Well, this idea only came about because of the Pathless. We use its Dungeon-Altering Ability to intentionally trigger the ‘transition phase.’ Then, aligning that, we’ll merge the three dungeons to build a magical power circulation route. It should act as a kind of life-prolonging measure.」
「Merging dungeons will prolong Fáfnir’s life?」
Again, the skeletal man questions in parrot-like repetition.
「Yes, doing so should reduce the burden on Fáfnir from the dungeon core. Fáfnir’s life expectancy is nearing its limit not just because of its lifespan as a creature, but also the significant strain from the computations and magical power demand from the dungeon core. Reducing that strain alone could significantly extend its life.」
「Well… I can’t say for sure, but I guess it would be around two to three years.」
Two to three years.
Even so, considering the lifespan was only a few days or months more, it’s quite an extension.
「During that time, we’ll have to develop a way to replace the vessel while keeping Fáfnir alive. If we can completely separate Fáfnir from the dungeon core, it should be able to live another ten years. Of course, that’s assuming certain conditions, like prohibiting combat.」
From a dragon’s perspective, it may be short.
From a human’s perspective, it’s quite long.
「However, implementing this effectively means incorporating Fáfnir into our dungeon. Is that acceptable? Moreover, this isn’t salvation. It may end in utter failure after all our desperate efforts, leading to a conclusion where no one is saved. It could be a path where no one ends up happy, where everyone could end up in misery.」
Elibel gazes at Fáfnir’s loyal subjects.
「I’ll ask once more. Is that acceptable?」
Elibel’s way of salvation.
Desperately struggling, yet it might still be futile.
But there might be a chance of salvation.
A delaying tactic, to explore that possibility.
Moreover, this would mean Fáfnir’s dungeon becoming subordinate to ours.
However, the skeletal man nods without hesitation.
「We don’t mind. If it will save Fal, we’ll gladly come under your control.」
Judging by the silence from the remaining two, they seem to agree.
「So, where is this Pathless you mentioned? We can’t proceed without their ‘Dungeon Altering Ability―――」
Unexpectedly, a sob interrupts Elibel’s explanation.
Looking over, the Pathless is crumpling her face and crying.
「Oh my, a little girl…?」
Elibel locks her gaze onto her.
「So, Fal… Fal can still live? Can we still talk?」
The Pathless girl asks Elibel with tears streaming down her face.
「Yes, of course. I am a sage after all. Just think of it as being in good hands.」
Elibel confidently thumps her chest. Since she’s a skeleton, there’s a distinct cracking sound.
Hearing this, the her face brightens instantly.
Elibel can see her?
「But, Earth? Who is this girl――――Ah!!!!??」
And then, the Pathless girl, still with a tear-streaked face, throws herself into Elibel’s arms.
Yes, “throws herself”.
It seems the Pathless girl, flustered, has forgotten that Elibel can see and touch her.
「Hic, thank you… Thank you! Ms Skeleton!」
Switching between crying and laughing, the girl clings to Elibel.
In contrast, Elibel freezes like a Noh mask, her face devoid of any expression.
『Are you okay?』
「Earth, this is bad… I’m so excited my soul might ascend to heaven, I’m being hugged by a little girl. I’ll say it again, hugged by a little girl. Yeah. Who this girl is, is a trivial problem…! I’m being hugged by a little girl, that’s the problem. Haah, haah, haah…!」
Ah, I see.
On closer inspection, her hands are shaking.
She must be compelled by the desire to pat her.
However, the fact that she doesn’t act upon it is likely because her rational mind is barely managing to read the room and control her actions.
Good job, Sage (the skeleton).
「…I must have lived for this moment.」
Elibel says in a deeply moved tone.
Well, but that’s not it.
I thought so, but I didn’t argue.
As long as she’s not doing anything perverted, I thought it was fine, but then something came pouring into my head.
『―――Haa… haa… This little girl is so cute… This sensation I can feel even through this fabric is so good, this undeveloped body is amazing, I feel like I’m about to burst, haa, haa, if possible I want to take her to the bath, no, my love bedroom right now and caress and admire her all night, no, for about a week, oh no, she’s super cute, why don’t I have a tongue right now, I want to lick, I want to nibble on her flat chest, oh, those tears are so cute, this little girl is so white and cute, hehehe, I want to enjoy this with Tres too, haa, haa, haa, haa, it’s dangerous, my groin area is dangerous, it’s good that I’m a skeleton, otherwise it would be overflowing right now, for sure, oh no, it was good that I became an undead, I’m being hugged by such a cute little girl, right now I must be in my prime, no, it’s peak luck for me because I’m at the height of pleasure right now――』
A very disturbing thought transmission seeps in.
It’s too nauseating, so I cut it off midway.
What is this? It’s scary.
A new kind of sonic weapon?
Strange sound waves?
No, a bio-weapon?
Ugh, I feel like vomiting.
The dignified image from before is completely ruined now.
Anyway, please hurry and proceed with the fusion of my dungeon, Fafnir’s dungeon, and Sage’s Dungeon.
The skeleton (lol) in front of me seems unusable for a while, so through the communication magic stone, I contact Berg.
『Ah, is that you, Berg?』
『Ooh, if it isn’t Earth. What happened to Miss Elibel? We’re progressing with the work here with Gijie, why can’t we contact her?』
『Ah… well, Elibel is kind of disoriented. Can you continue with the work there?』
『…? Well, it doesn’t matter, but when Miss Elibel’s recovers, can you get her to contact us here?』
Even when hearing about the confusion, Berg, who calmly continues the work without showing any surprise, for the first time earned my respect.
He’s not Elibel’s follower for nothing.
『Ah, got it..』
I cut off the communication magic stone.
Looking at Elibel… it seems she’ll be incapacitated for a while.
I look at the Fáfnir’s followers.
Now, what should I say to them?
As I’m thinking, the skeletal man approaches me.
Ann steps in between us, but I stop her with a gesture.
And the one who came up to me―――bows his head.
「I’m sorry. I apologize for involving you in our circumstances.」
『You―――! After all this time――!』
Ann is furious.
Of course. Even I am angry.
『Hold on, Ann.』
But first, there was something I wanted to confirm.
『I just want to ask one thing. Can you guys see that kid?』
I look at the Pathless embraced by Elibel.
The skeletal man shakes his head.
「No, only Fal―――Fáfnir, can see her. We, the followers, were only informed about her by Fal.」
I fall into a brief silence.
And then, I bow my head to the skeletal man in front of me.
『I apologize too. And, thank you.』
『Wha-!? Lord Earth, what are you—!?』
Ann is surprised.
I can sense the shock from the man in front of me too.
「…Why are you apologizing? We are the ones who involved you. You have the right to punish us. Yet, why do you utter words of apology, words of thanks?」
『Part of the cause of this incident lies with me. Initially, she was born in the dungeon, but I didn’t notice it. I don’t know how lonely that must’ve made her feel…』
The memory of the Pathless that flowed in.
How much she had suffered, how lonely it had been.
If I had noticed it from the start, it might not have had to experience such feelings.
It might be a futile regret.
But even so, I have to apologize to it.
As her parents, as her family.
『Thank you for becoming her ‘friend’. I should be saying this to Fáfnir, really, but he’s unconscious, and since you seem like the representative of the followers, I’m saying it to you for now.』
Later, I also need to apologize to her too.
Well, it seems quite confused now, so I’ll do it when it calms down.
『And well, it seems like we’ll be dealing with each other for a long time from now on, so I thought it wouldn’t be good to leave any hard feelings…』
Once the dungeons merge, we’ll probably be seeing each other quite frequently.
So, for the future, I want to avoid any grudges as much as possible.
「I see… indeed. You truly are Miss Elibel’s master. I’m reminded of the difference in our caliber.」
The skeletal man speaks with a sense of relief, as if he had been drained of poison.
Is it just me, or has his tone changed? No, is this his true nature? And why does he call Elibel by name?
『Well, whatever it is, the immediate problem takes precedence.』
「That’s true. We will cooperate as much as we can. Please, let us know what we can do.」
As I nod, Ann reluctantly sheathes her sword.
Looking at Elibel, it seems her confusion has finally ended.
She’s issuing instructions to Berg, a communication magic stone in hand.
「―――Understood. Leave the rest to Gijie. Berg, please get into position. I’m on my way.」
Elibel turns towards us after finishing her communication.
「Well, for now, Earth, let’s rest for the day.」
An unexpected suggestion comes from Elibel.
I had assumed that we would start work immediately.
Reading my confusion, Elibel shrugs.
「It’s going to be difficult if we start right away. Fortunately, Fáfnirr’s rampage doesn’t seem to be a concern, and we’re both battered. We need to prepare and analyze, and we want to organize the information.」
『Well, that’s certainly true.』
Fáfnir also seems to be planning to talk to the dungeon core about what we just discussed, so the real work starts tomorrow.
Let’s just rest for today.
Honestly, I’m almost at my limit to stay conscious.
But I can’t even turn over in my current state.
On top of that, the effect of the medicine will wear off soon.
All I feel is anxiety.
But on the bright side, I guess I’ll be okay? Considering how optimistically I’m thinking, it’s a wonder the effect hasn’t worn off yet…
What should I do?
「I’ll return to the laboratory first. You should come back slowly. We can’t afford to have the dungeon destroyed by your reckless movements.」
「Well then―――I’ll leave the rest to you, Earth.」
With that, Elibel opens a teleportation gate and returns home.
The turning point, the merging of the dungeons…
Somehow, I always get wrapped up in unimaginable situations…
But at this moment, I still don’t realize what’s coming.
The merging of my dungeon, the sage’s dungeon, and Fafnir’s dungeon.
What this union of three dungeons truly means…
My dungeon extends to the east, west, south, and north of the Faudo Continentt, while Fáfnir’s dungeon is located almost in the center.
What this means…
In other words, at this very moment…
A massive dungeon has been born that stretches across the entire continent.
Just how absurd this is…
I won’t realize it until a bit later.
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