Inside the third grand hall in the middle layer of the dungeon―――
Holy Dragon Elja can’t believe what she’s witnessing.
Monsters are appearing one after another.
Their magical power, it’s in an entirely different league from before.
On the other hand, she can’t muster any strength.
No, she even feels as if her physical abilities are gradually declining.
「W-What is this? Who are you?」
A question slips through her barely open lips.
『I introduced myself earlier, didn’t I? My name is Ann. I serve under Lord Earth.』
Hearing the name, Elja finally remembers.
She recalls the feminine voice that had spoken to her through thought transmission.
「So you’re the one! The insolent one who spoke rudely to me earlier! What have you done to my body! Explain yourself!」
Elja tries her best to intimidate Ann with a fierce glare.
But such a display is of no use to Ann.
Ann points the tip of her greatsword toward Elja, causing her to recoil in fear.
『You’re brave, speaking such words in this situation… It’s utterly distasteful.』
「W-what…? Do you realize what you’re doing? Threatening me, a Holy Dragon, with a blade… It’s disrespectful!」
Ann lets out a deep sigh.
Does this Holy Dragon understand the situation she’s in?
Standing smack in the middle of enemy lines and yet still capable of such bravado…
『Do you understand your situation? How meaningless it is to pretend to be brave right now.』
Elja falls silent at Ann’s retort.
『You have two choices: either die at our hands, or go back to your nest peacefully.』
That Ann presents a choice other than death is perhaps a token of mercy.
Truthfully, she’d prefer to behead Elja right away, but it would be troublesome later.
More than anything else, she doesn’t want to upset Earth.
「What!? Stop this at once! I came here to meet Master Earth!」
『Is that so? Then, prepare to die.』
Ann raises her greatsword.
Elja shudders in fear.
「Ar-are you going to cut me down? Me?! I’m a Holy Dragon! A special, chosen existence like me, there’s no way you, a mere insect, could even touch, let alone hurt me! Th-that’s right! Th-this… this can’t be happening! Being a Holy Dragon, being of the chosen race, there’s no way I’d be in such a disgraceful state, this… this must be a dream! It can’t be real!!」
Elja screams like a terrified dog.
Ann watches with chillingly cold eyes.
This girl is just too small and unsightly, even compared to Dragon Kings or Holy Dragons.
The sight of her has even become bothersome.
The other monsters react similarly.
But Elja, the person in question, is oblivious to this.
「Master Earth! You must be watching, right!? What are these barbaric subordinates!? If you’re watching, then please call off these barbaric followers at once! As a Dragon King, the same race as me, you understand, right? This disrespect to me, a chosen race, it shows your level of—―Gah!」
Her words are cut short.
Before she could finish, Ann’s fist, not her sword, strikes Elja’s cheek.
Unable to properly brace herself, Elja tumbles across the ground.
For a moment, Elja doesn’t understand what happened to her. Feeling the pain on her cheek, she finally realizes that she was punched.
She’s severely weakened now.
Even a punch without any magical power hits her like a heavy blow.
「Yo-you…you hit me, you…Gah! Cough! Argh!」
Gush. Crunch. Smash.
Before Elja can say anything more, Ann’s fist slams into her face again and again.
Over and over.
Ann continues to punch Elja in silence.
Her beautiful face swells and several bruises appear from internal bleeding.
Around the twentieth punch, Elja pleads in a slurred voice.
She’s not used to pain.
In fact, she’s hardly ever been “attacked” at all.
As a supposed overwhelmingly strong existence, pain was something she was entirely unacquainted with.
Therefore, she has absolutely no resistance to the pain of being punched, and her spirit breaks quickly.
『―――Take back your words.』
『What did you just say? Equals? Same? You and our lord, Earth, are the same…!?』
Struggling to stand, Elja’s collar is forcefully grasped, elevating her to the same eye level.
Startled, Elja shivers.
Fear for Ann is plain in her eyes.
『…Even if we set aside the offensive remarks you made about us, disrespecting him, Lord Earth, is absolutely unforgivable!』
As if in agreement, magical power and killing intent overflow from the monsters and golems around them.
Elja’s body trembles.
Her limbs won’t move.
Intense pain courses through her.
Her spirit has long since been broken.
Her face crumples in distress, her nose drips, and she emits a cry interspersed with sobbing.
Upon closer inspection, there even appears to be a puddle at her feet.
It seems she has lost control of her bladder.
There’s no trace left of her dignified image as the Holy Dragon.
『Lastly, I’ll ask you one more time. Would you rather die here now or return to your nest? Choose.』
「A… ah… ah…」
Flooded by terror, Elja desperately tries to think.
How did it come to this?
As the Holy Dragon, Elja always believed the world revolved around her.
From the beginning, she had everything.
A blessed appearance.
A vast amount of magical power.
Everything was within her reach; everything was permitted.
She firmly believed that she was an absolute being.
Simply put, she was a sheltered young lady, naive to the world.
As a result, she was lonely and didn’t understand the world.
The place known as the Holy Land, where the Holy Dragon and its followers live in the Holy Kingdom.
She had never left there.
She had no dragon peers to call friends; everyone around her was either a follower attending to her needs or human believers.
She was bored, she was lonely.
The stories from Gwyve, who occasionally came from outside, were always interesting to her.
And then, one day, when Gwyve showed her “that image” via memory transmission, she was captivated by what she saw.
In the image, she saw a young male dragon known as an Earth Dragon.
Elja was stunned.
By his dignified appearance, the density of his magical power, the color of his soul.
Simply put, it was love at first sight.
Dignified yet beautiful, yet somehow suggesting ruggedness.
She didn’t know his exact age, but she thought he must have lived at least a hundred years, like her.
His name, apparently, was Earth.
From that day on, Elja could only think about Earth.
An Earth Dragon, the same royal lineage as her, a Dragon King.
Wouldn’t he treat her as an equal?
Could he fill this indescribable loneliness of hers?
She wanted to meet him.
She wanted to meet that dragon, Earth.
She wanted to talk to him.
She wanted to walk with him.
With those thoughts, she decided to step out of the Holy Land for the first time, into the outside world.
『What was that? I can’t hear you.』
Her body is trembling uncontrollably.
Her head is spinning.
It hurts, it hurts a lot.
Abruptly, Elja raises her head.
「I said no! I came all this way to meet Master Earth! I absolutely… absolutely won’t give up!」
With a clenched fist, Elja forces her broken spirit to rally.
Tear-streaked, bruised, her face a mess of snot and pain, but still, she declares:
「I am the Holy Dragon Elja Lude! I am not so cheap as to take back my words! I’ll say it again! Let me meet Master Earth!」
Even the most sheltered of young ladies has a stubborn streak.
There are some things that she simply cannot concede.
Elja’s expression tells that story.
『…Is that so?』
In response, Ann slowly raises her greatsword.
「Can you give us a minute?」
Suddenly, a voice rings out. Ann’s hand halts mid-swing.
She turns towards the source of the voice.
Standing there is Elibel.
『Elibel, why are you here? Weren’t you supposed to be in the lab?』
「Ah… well, something came up…」
With a nonchalant air, Elibel sends a thought transmission to Ann.
Of course, she does so through a private channel that no one else can hear.
『――――I see… so that’s the case…』
「So, could you please hold off on killing her for now?」
『I suppose I don’t have a choice…』
The hostility that had filled the air moments ago vanishes as if it was never there to begin with, and Ann sheathes her greatsword.
Elibel lightly steps towards Elja.
Elja, not understanding the situation, can only stare blankly.
Elibel crouches down to meet the gaze of Elja, who’s slumped on the ground.
「Hey, you’re Elja, aren’t you?」
「W… who are you…?」
Shivering violently, Elja looks at the skeletal figure before her.
Probably an Arc Skeleton, but the pressure she feels is incomparable to any regular monster.
「I am Elibel. I serve Earth.」
The moment Elibel mentions the name ‘Earth’, Elja reacts noticeably.
Elibel doesn’t miss her reaction.
「How about making a deal with us? If you accept our terms, I can arrange a meeting with Earth.」
Those words grip Elja’s heart tightly.
「―――You mean… I can meet Master Earth!?」
「Yes, of course. I’ve already received his permission. The rest is up to you. Will you help me?」
「I will…! If I can meet Master Earth, I will accept any conditions!」
She responds without any hesitation.
To Elja, who was subjected to pain and fear of violence, the sudden appearance of the skeleton seemed like a saving grace.
Even though it looks like a Grim Reaper, it seems to glow like an angel.
In the midst of overwhelming fear and violence, she clings to this single thread of hope.
That’s how Elja sees Elibel.
Of course, the reality is that she is literally the Grim Reaper.
And also, an ultra-class pervert.
「Fufufu… Thank you. This makes things much easier for me… I prefer living test subjects rather than corpses, after all.」
「What? Did you say something?」
「N-nothing. Don’t worry about it. Just trust me, and leave everything to me.」
「Yes, I understand.」
With a rapturous expression as if looking at a deity, Elja gazes at Elibel.
「Now, let’s heal your injuries. You can’t meet Earth looking like that, can you?」
「Yes! I can’t possibly show Master Earth my battered appearance…」
「Right, right, right. So, let’s quickly head to my lab. After we treat your wounds, you can meet Earth. How’s that sound?」
「That sounds great! Elibel, was it? Thank you for helping this one.」
「It’s nothing… Freshness is the life of the material, after all.」
With a soft mutter at the end, unheard by anyone else.
Fufufu. Elibel chuckles and opens a teleportation gate.
Her laughter is undoubtedly that of a Grim Reaper.
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