Afterwards, with the help of Pathless, I finally manage to return to my dungeon.
Using Pathless’ teleportation ability, the same one she used to transport me to Fafnir’s dungeon, I am brought back to this dungeon.
…Given my current state, I’d break the magic circle before I could dive into the teleportation gate.
In fact, if I move carelessly, I might even collapse the dungeon.
Stand, and there is a claw strike. Sit, and the ground splits. Walk, and it’s like a biological weapon. Even speaking seems to add breath attacks.
It’s too much…
Just like before, it’s really hard to control my power in this state.
It’s like trying to pick up an ant with a large crane without crushing it… That’s how hard it is to control my power…
Well, it’s no problem when I’m rampaging.
Hmm, maybe I should ask Elibel to bind my body.
…I have a feeling she’d be more than happy to do it. That’s a little scary…
During that time, I could just use my Vessel Golem. Even though I’m a Lizardman, I don’t really like turning into a human, but I guess there’s no helping it in this situation.
Above all, the effects of the drug are about to wear off soon.
When that happens, I might lose my reason and start rampaging.
In a way, that might be even worse than Fáfnir’s rampage.
But all things considered, it’s good to be back.
Even though it’s only been a few hours by my estimation, I feel like I’ve been gone for over a month. I’m tired…
『Ah… There’s no place like home…』
By the way, Ann and the others have already returned here.
As soon as Elibel arrived, she shut herself in the laboratory.
I can hear her screaming… I’ll just ignore it.
Tres, Pururu, and for some reason, Ljung who tagged along, have all headed to their own rooms.
They’re quite adaptable.
Speaking of which, why did the slime from the other side come with us?
Well, I can ask later.
It seems like Una and Dos haven’t returned yet, so I’ll contact them later.
However, when Ann was about to return to her room, she seemed a bit restless. She seemed to be particularly concerned about the sword on her hip.
Well, I can ask her about that later too.
Sigh, everything can wait for later.
Right now, I just need to rest.
『Thanks for your help, Pathless.し』
I slowly turn around and thank the girl, Pathless, standing beside the teleportation gate.
Her face is obscured by her long white bangs, but she nods in acknowledgment.
「Well, Dad. I’m going back to Fal.」
『…You’re going back there?』
Pathless nods again.
「Yeah. I want to be by Fal’s side. Oh, it’s not like I dislike you or anything―――」
『That’s fine. Stay with him.』
She must have expected me to say something.
Pathless looks surprised.
『You’ve been fighting for him up until now, yes?』
『Then, when he wakes up, tell him, ‘I won’t allow you to die! If you’re my friend, then stay with me more!’ You won’t be punished for wishing that much, I think?』
Pathless breaks into a bright smile, like a flower in full bloom.
I can’t understand the feelings of someone who wants to die.
No matter how much suffering led to that conclusion, I believe that death is an escape.
The essence of life, or a dragon’s life, lies solely in the act of living.
But at least, he has a friend who’s willing to risk her life for him.
Encourage him to put up a stronger fight. Make Fáfnir experience as much hardship as possible.
Live properly, suffer properly, face it properly, and apologize properly to this girl.
After taking a moment to gather herself, Pathless opens her mouth, finally ready to say the words she’s always wanted to say.
「―――’I’m going out!’」
『Alright, take care.』
Immediately, she tries to open the teleportation gate.
In that moment, something comes to me.
『Ah, wait a moment.』
「Hm? What is it, Dad?」
It’s something I’ve been thinking since the battle ended
I share my thoughts with her.
In the final floor of Fáfnir, 『The Golden Chamber』―――
Fáfnir’s consciousness slowly awakens.
A sharp pain pulses through his body.
「…Where am I? Why is my consciousness surfacing?」
He should have been swallowed by the dungeon core while speaking to the Earth Dragon.
However, his consciousness has surfaced again.
This indicates that the rampage has subsided
Did the young Earth Dragon manage to stop him?
He had significant potential, but Fáfnir didn’t expect him to halt his own rampage…
「Fal, are you awake?」
He hears a voice. It’s Pathless.
「…Yes, my body aches, but my mind is clear.」
He vaguely remembers his rampage.
Among those memories, he distinctly recalls the sound of someone crying out in grief over his death.
It was her voice―――
Caught in his thoughts, he had forgotten to respond.
Fafnir looks at Pathless.
「Ah, sorry. I was a bit disoriented. How are my followers?」
「Everyone’s resting now. Ljung… said he’s going to a friend’s house.」
That “friend’s house” must be a dungeon.
As a floor master, Ljung shouldn’t abandon his floor, but Fáfnir doesn’t voice this thought.
Pathless tells him everything that has happened, including his defeat, the possibility of life extension, and his absorption into the Earth Dragon’s dungeon.
After hearing everything, the only word that escapes Fafnir is, “I see.”
「What is it?」
「Do you… still want to die?」
Pathless stares at Fáfnir, waiting for his response.
His golden reflection appears in her faint eyes, visible through gaps in her long bangs.
「…To be honest, I’m not sure. But at that time, I definitely desired death.」
His life was reaching its limit, and the defensive instincts of the dungeon core were growing stronger.
He was terrified of being consumed by them and of the destruction that his death would bring to his followers, and to the dungeon.
To prevent this, he had convinced himself that his only option was death.
He would entrust his dungeon and followers to a worthy monster and die.
This, he forced himself to believe, was the best and most desirable outcome.
He had definitely heard it at that moment.
He had heard Pathless’ cry.
Her wish for him to continue living.
The moment his faint rationality within the chaos of his rampage registered her voice, something deep within his chest dropped.
Oh, I see.
Fafnir finally comprehends.
As he assesses his injured body, he mutters.
「…I wanted to live.」
Yes, he didn’t want to die.
He had forced himself to accept his fate.
But in truth, he wanted to live longer with his followers and this girl.
He had been convinced of this by the young Earth Dragon, who bravely stood against him despite being clearly outmatched, pulled out Pathless’ true feelings, and defeated him.
「Your ‘parents’ is quite something, isn’t he…」
Pathless nods in agreement.
Even Fáfnir could not hide his surprise.
It was indeed astonishing. After all, he was still only two years old, just like Pathless.
Fáfnir had once encountered a member of the Celestial Dragon race, one of the Dragon Kings. Yet even they were not such an anomaly.
Perhaps it’s because the Earth Dragons, being the king among the kings, are of a different caliber. Or maybe this young one is something special. He doesn’t know for sure.
But at the very least, it’s a fact that he is being kept alive by that dragon, right here, right now.
「However, this sensation… it feels rather odd.」
A sense of something missing, a loss.
Could this be the feeling of “defeat”?
And yet, he doesn’t feel bad.
The ‘core of the dungeon’ also appears to have calmed down, perhaps due to the shock of the recent defeat.
He thinks about having another conversation with it later.
He feels like he might be able to choose a different path now.
「By the way, Pathless―――what?」
As he tries to reach out to Pathless, Fáfnir realizes his arm isn’t moving freely.
Looking down, he sees colorful tubes running through various places such as his arms, stomach, and legs, all connected to a magical device that looks like a drum canister placed next to him.
This must be one of the “life-sustaining measures” Elibel had mentioned.
Even though his body hardly moves, it’s enough for now.
「Fal! Don’t force yourself to move!」
Dragging the cord along, Fafnir forces his golden hand to reach Pathless’ head.
With a light pat on her head, Pathless looks up at him, a question mark floating above her head.
「I’m sorry, Pathless.」
Before he knows it, Fafnir finds himself saying words of apology.
And surprisingly enough, they come out rather honestly.
「I didn’t realize I was causing you pain… No, that’s a lie. I knew you were suffering, and yet I prioritized my own convenience. I won’t ask for your forgiveness. However―――」
「I forgive you!」
「I forgive Fal!」
She felt it was important, so she said it twice.
Fáfnir is left speechless, mouth hanging open in surprise.
He had expected some form of reproach.
「Are you… are you sure? I… I exploited you, you know? I tried to use your ability as ‘Pathless’ to kill myself, and I did it knowing that it would cause you to suffer―――」
As he puts it into words, it really does sound awful, but Fáfnir’s confession doesn’t stop.
「I don’t care about any of that!」
With a shout that practically conjures giant letters in the air, Pathless cries out.
「More than that… More than… Hic…」
Tears stream down the face of the young girl known as Pathless.
Large, heavy drops wet her long bangs, sticking them to her face.
「Fal… Fal, you can’t… can’t die…」
Fafnir silently watches her.
It’s not guaranteed that he has been saved yet.
He’s only been given time to search for a possibility.
He’s well aware there’s still a chance everything might fail, resulting in losing everything, just like he initially feared.
But even Fafnir is not so insensitive as to say that here and now.
With a soft whisper, “I’m sorry,” Fafnir leans into her.
Moreover, Fafnir no longer harbors intentions to bring about such a tragedy.
Because he has thought about it.
“I want to live.”
If so, let’s resist, let’s struggle, let’s move forward.
With his followers and this girl.
After a while, Pathless finally stops crying.
The girl pauses her words there.
「From now on, call me… ‘Tsumugi.’」
「Yes, my name. Dad gave it to me.」
After taking Earth back to the dungeon, it was suggested.
If she needed a name, he could give her one.
And Pathless accepted it.
「It means to connect people, to link dungeons.」
It’s a name that could be considered the complete opposite for a monster known as Pathless.
But Tsumugi was pleased with the name and its meaning.
She, who can only lead people astray, mislead, and lead people off the path, can connect and weave together others. She felt as if she had been told that she could create such ties.
「I see… it’s a good name.」
「Yes. I like it, too.」
Pathless, now Tsumugi, settles down on Fáfnir’s abdomen.
She can feel the chilly inorganic nature of the metal and the warmth inherent to living creatures.
It’s a contradictory sensation, but it feels good.
「Then, Tsumugi. I have a present for you, too.」
With a peel, Fafnir sheds one of his scales and carves it with his claws.
What he creates is a golden hairpin.
And with that finished, he places it on Tsumugi.
Her long bangs are gathered to the side, revealing Tsumugi’s face.
Her caramel-colored eyes are wide open.
「Fal… this is…?」
「You have such a refined appearance now. It would be better if you start paying attention to your appearance, wouldn’t it?」
With a grin, Fafnir laughs.
「―――After all, you will be spending more time with your family and friends from now on.」
And so, there’s no need to hide, no need to run.
Those are the words imbued within this hairpin.
In a sense, it could be the very opposite of what one might expect from a monster known as “Pathless.” But that’s fine, thinks Fáfnir.
Tsumugi, touching the golden hairpin in a fluttering manner, revealed her unhidden face,
And she gave a broad smile.
It was a lovely smile, befitting a girl her age.
「What is it?」
While fiddling with the hairpin she received, she starts to speak,
「…Mmm, never mind!」
「Is that so?」
With a yawn, Tsumugi stretches widely.
And slowly, her eyelids begin to droop.
As if the exhaustion from before has finally caught up to her, sleep starts to take over.
「Hey now, you can’t sleep here.」
But Tsumugi does not move.
She has fully committed to sleeping right there.
While muttering ‘good grief…’,” Fáfnir reluctantly pulls a ragged cloth that was nearby and lays it over Tsumugi.
It’s better than nothing, he thought.
Surprisingly, Tsumugi seems pleased with the ragged blanket.
「Mmm… Goodnight, Fal…」
In an instant, Tsumugi starts to snore lightly.
Her sleeping face looks content and happy.
Seeing her, the corners of Fafnir’s mouth involuntarily soften.
「Yes… Goodnight, Tsumugi.」
Gently, Fáfnir strokes Tsumugi’s head with his injured hand.
Feeling the definite warmth there, he also falls into a quiet sleep.
It’s a peaceful sleep that he hasn’t experienced in a long time.
Dungeons and dungeons.
Pathless and the Dungeon Master.
Existences that should never intersect, yet there is indeed a bond spun between them.
Connecting, weaving, overlapping, the story of the girl and the dragon continues from here.
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