The flesh of the death dragon begins to transform with a grotesque sound.
With an unsettling noise, it soon takes the shape of a dragon.
The transformation eventually comes to an end.
What stands there is a black dragon, about the same size as me.
However, his appearance is too distorted to be called a dragon.
It has a face like that of a pteranodon, elongated and thin, with eight pairs of reddish-black eyes.
Membrane-like wings have faint, bizarre patterns on them. Its body is structured for quadrupedal movement like mine, but its arms are unnaturally long. Black stake-like protrusions jut out from various parts of its arms, and from its fingers grow even longer black claws.
On its back are countless bony plates like those of a stegosaurus, extending all the way to its tail. From the tail grow countless inorganic legs resembling those of a centipede.
This… is the awakened form of the Death Dragon Ouronus.
Its hideous form exudes malevolence.
「『A【FtEr A MiLlEnNiUm, 「It’S」 bEeN a WhIlE sInCe I’vE tAkEn ThIs FoRm…】』」
Ouronus’s voice echoes in a strange, multi-layered way. How does he produce such a sound?
「『Is My VoIcE ≪hArD tO』 uNdErStAnD?』 i HaVeN’t BeEn In ThIs BoDy FoR a WhIlE.」」 dOn’T 《tHiNk「YoU cAn JuSt」》】 SuFfEr 「AnD dIe.―――I’lL kIlL yOu In ThE mOsT bRuTaL wAy.】』」
Ouronus takes a deep breath…
That should have been all.
But then, a terrifying phenomenon occurs.
To put it simply, space trembles.
It’s not just the air; the very space warps.
The landscape distorts, creating the illusion of a violent dizziness.
As it happens, my body sways and contorts…
「―――TH! …EARTH! GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF!」
At that voice, I snap back to reality.
What…? What was I just…?
「That was just a ‘roar.’ But because of the disgusting magical power it carries, it seems to cause hallucinations.」
That was just a hallucination?
It even affects me through this vessel…?
Oioi, what kind of power is that?
「Always be mindful of the flow of magical energy. If you’re not, you’ll be caught in a hallucination in a heartbeat, just like earlier.」
While saying this, Elibel swings her staff, activating her magic.
Thousand Ice Pillars.
They rush towards Ouronus.
With just a glance from Ouronus, all the ice shatters instantly.
「Hmm… so this is the Death Dragon’s unique spell, ‘Annihilation’. Our magic disappears the moment it enters his vicinity. What a novel phenomenon. I wonder what the underlying magical theory is? How is it structured? How is it manifested? How much magic does it consume? Is he using negative magical elements? Hehe… this is getting exciting.」
Elibel observes the situation calmly, yet she’s smiling.
Her curiosity for the unknown, a true seeker at heart.
Seriously, what kind of mental strength does she possess?
『Can you really laugh in a situation like this?』
『Of course. The pursuit of the unknown, the chain of thoughts; isn’t that the greatest joy for us?』
Elibel responds, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
『Well, it might be hard for someone as lazy as you to understand』
Ah, I agree. I don’t want to work.
I hate pain and putting in effort.
We’re polar opposites.
Wait, why do we talk so much then?
What’s the reason?
Well, now’s not the time to ponder that.
『So, Elibel, we’re finally facing Ouronus himself. What’s our strategy?』
『For now, I’m going to try every idea that comes to mind… even if it means sacrificing your body.』
『I’m kidding! More importantly, it’s dangerous to stay in one place. Keep moving』
With a swift flap of my wings, we moves at high speed.
『Earth, just to confirm, the Celestial Dragon’s crystal is shattered, right?』
『Yeah, if these wings get hit, it’s over. I can’t fly anymore.』
The Celestial Dragon’s crystal might be shattered, but the maintenance of these wings relies on my magical energy.
Unless I willingly deactivate them or they get destroyed, these wings will remain.
『Got it. For now, let’s use Breath.』
Following Elibel’s signal, I unleash my breath attack toward Ouronus.
A massive clump of magical energy heads straight for him.
Now, what will he do?
Dodge? Or deploy a defensive spell?
But Ouronus’s choice isn’t either of those.
No, to be precise, he does… “nothing.”
The moment my breath gets close to Ouronus, it dissipates like mist.
Slowly, Ouronus flaps his wings.
The patterns on his membranous wings glow eerily.
―――This is bad!!!
Even before Elibel’s command, I’m already moving on instinct.
The next moment, a black beam of light strikes where we were.
A strange sound of something passing was heard.
Looking over, it appears as though a chunk of space has been carved out.
That’s the only way to describe it.
A strange cross-section streaks across the air.
What is that? How does that even work?
There are odd fractures in space, blocking the view of the scenery beyond.
『The disappearance of space. I see, so the ‘Annihilation’ not only targets physical matter.』
It might sound simple the way she says it, but isn’t that ridiculous?
She’s really amazing,
『But its range is shorter than I thought… Given that Jibru is his sister, I wonder if the Death Dragon’s main body is a close-combat type… or perhaps―――』
She’s not her usual self.
Incredibly calm and reliable.
「「yOu DoDgEd 【WeLl. yOu AnNoYiNg FlIeS.」」
Ouronus’s voice sounds clearer than before.
Have my ears grown accustomed to it?
『Elibel, what’s the plan?』
『Well… Earth, I hate to ask this, but can you charge directly at him?』
Wait a minute! After witnessing that, you’re asking me to do this?
『It’s fine, isn’t it? You’re just a vessel anyway. Plus, try using… ‘that’.』
At her words, I react instantly.
Might be worth a shot.
I flap my wings, hovering in place, and focus, activating another trump card.
Magical power surges throughout my body.
There’s a creaking sound as the armor across my entire body begins to transform.
I envision a fighter jet, an image more specialized for flight.
『―――’Armamentization: Specialized Form’』
Another ace up my sleeve.
It allows me to allocate the abilities of the armamentization to either offense, defense, or speed.
This time, I’m focusing on speed.
Transformed into a form resembling a jet, I charge at Ouronus at a speed surpassing sound.
Yet, he effortlessly keeps his gaze fixed on me.
He can keep up with this speed?
Then let’s crank it up! I infuse more magical power and push my speed even further.
The impact of surpassing the speed of sound causes a sonic boom.
But even with this level of armamentization, there’s hardly any strain on my body.
This body might be a vessel, but it’s based on the image of a fully-grown Earth Dragon.
Just how high-spec is an adult Earth Dragon?
I push my speed even further, and Ouronus struggles to keep up.
Seizing the moment, I get behind Ouronus!
While my speed has increased, I focus all my magical power on my horn that’s now in its armed form.
With a series of creaking sounds, I transform into a spear.
『HERE, TAKE THIS!!』
I thrust directly towards Ouronus.
―――Can I make it?
However, as I approach Ouronus, something feels off.
My surface begins to disappear. It’s corroding, crumbling like rusting metal, as my transformation starts to unravel.
Have I entered the range of his annihilation ability?!
My speed is already at its peak.
There’s no point in increasing it further now.
I immediately thicken my armor and shift to a defensive form.
But Ouronus’s ability is faster than I anticipated.
From the tip of my armor, I start to disintegrate.
I have to make it!
By the skin of my teeth, my armor manages to resist the annihilation.
Carrying the momentum, I slam into Ouronus with full force.
Ouronus groans in pain.
There seems to be a hint of surprise in his voice.
He probably never expected me to charge at him recklessly like this.
This is my chance. I’ll slam him into that black altar and――――――
A chilling sensation rushes through me.
Every fiber of my being screams a warning. Trusting my instincts, I immediately pull away, putting distance between Ouronus and me.
《『wElL「「, yOu’Ve GoT qUiTe ThE iNtUiTiOn ThErE.』」
Slowly, Ouronus turns to face me.
That was close.
If I’d been a split second slower in pulling away, I would’ve been annihilated for sure.
「…It seems the speed of the annihilation depends on the amount of magical power one is wielding,」
The moment I charged at him, did he reflexively amplify his magical power?
Thanks to that, my armor is now a mess.
「「「nOw」《It’S mY tUrN.」」
With that, he pulls out a stake that was embedded in his hand.
「「―――’bLaCk AnNiHiLaTiOn StAkE’」」
From Ouronus’s hand, the stake enlarges and multiplies into hundreds, no, thousands, and they all come rushing towards us.
Wait a minute! If each of those has the power of Annhilation―――
『Earth! Dodge with everything you’ve got!』
Elibel’s voice, urgent and desperate, rings loudly in my head.
She wouldn’t sound like that unless she felt the stakes posed a real threat.
Dodge, dodge, dodge!
In my current state, if even one of those stakes hits me, it’s game over.
I flap my wings, darting around in wild, unpredictable patterns, reminiscent of those bullet-hell video games from back in the day.
「’Grand Ice Barrier’!」
Elibel quickly casts, forming a barrier of ice around us.
It’s probably a Pope-class barrier made of ice magic.
But Ouronus’s black stakes easily pierce through it.
One of them grazes my wing.
I let out a dumbfounded sound as the erosion starts from where the stake touched, and in an instant, my wing starts to disappear.
This is bad; without a wing, I’ll plummet straight down due to gravity.
While I’m off-balance, Ouronus launches another attack, shooting beams from his wings.
Elibel is trying to cast another spell.
But――—she won’t make it in time.
This… this might be really bad.
A shout from the side.
It’s Heleb’s voice.
Responding to his call, the flames of Accurate Crow, along with the breath of the white wyvern, are unleashed towards the beams and stakes.
The beams and stakes, after taking the onslaught of this King-class barrage, greatly diminish in strength.
Thanks to that, I manage to evade them in the nick of time.
『Thanks for the save―――』
『Save the thanks! Here he comes!』
I look up in surprise, only to see Ouronus diving straight at us.
Oh, come on! That speed, with that massive body? That’s gotta be cheating!
I barely dodge in time, but it seems Heleb entered the range of his Annihilation effect, as some of his feathers vanish.
『’Black Bird Flame’!』
Unfazed by his minor injuries, Heleb releases a blast of fire from his mouth.
Ouronus roars, clearly annoyed by the interference.
He pulls out more stakes from his arms and launches them.
Several Accurate Crows, enveloped in the Flame Armor, try to counter, but the moment they get close, they start to disintegrate.
「―――’Sanctuary Breach’… COUGH COUGH!」
Elibel intervenes, stopping the stakes.
She also manages to heal the almost vanished Accurate Crows, as well as my wings and Heleb.
Seriously, her abilities is too OP.
「Huff… Huff… You won’t… take us down that easily…」
But Elibel looks drained.
Even if she’s using my magical power as a substitute, there must be a limit.
「「《Ugh!「EnOUgh! enouGh wIth」》YOU aNNoyIng pEstS!!」」』
Ouronus, unable to hide his frustration, starts scratching at his own body.
Blood drips down.
New aberrations emerge.
They appear to be of the flying type.
All the newly-born aberrations have wings.
Without giving Elibel or me a second glance, these creatures dive straight for the Accurate Crows and the swarm of white wyverns.
『KiLL「「THem, 」」mY mInions!」』
『―――Tch! To arms!』
Under Heleb’s direction, Accurate Crow and the white wyverns engage in battle.
Once again, it’s a tense standoff with Ouronus.
『You okay, Elibel?』
She looks pretty rough, clutching her chest and panting.
Could it be the risks associated with that “Sanctuary Breach” move?
『Cough… I’m fine, Earth… But thanks to that… Huff… I can see it now.』
With a sweat-drenched face, Elibel grins slyly.
『A way to beat Ouronus.』
『―――! What?! You’ve got a plan?』
『Yes, I’ll fill you in, Earth. And make sure you relay this to all our ‘family’…』
As instructed, I connect to our lines.
Through our thought transmission, Elibel’s strategy is shared with everyone.
And her plan is―――
At the site of Fafnir’s lid―――
A young girl dances, holding a parasol.
It’s almost as if she’s at a ballroom dance.
It’s Holy Dragon Elja Lude.
While she appears human now, she’s indeed one of the dragon kings.
As she dances, a beautiful jade-colored flame emanates from her body.
Originally, it’s a special flame meant for healing wounds and restoring stamina. But now, it’s transformed into a blazing fire for offense.
The aberrations scream as they’re scorched by the fire.
As they slow down, Ann’s great sword and Beldi’s spear strike them down.
「Ufufu, as I thought, my ‘flames’ can mitigate the aberrations’ resistances to some extent」
Elja remarks with a satisfied grin.
「Flames of healing… It seems these creatures haven’t acquired much resistance to ‘healing’. In fact, it can dull any ‘resistances’ they’ve built up… My abilities seem to be a perfect match against these monsters♪」
『Indeed, it’s an impressive power. But don’t let your guard down, Elja.』
「Lady Ann, your praise is truly an honor~」
Elja is in high spirits after being praised by Ann.
The fact that she’s breezing through the warning given earlier proves that she truly lives up to the title of the “Sweets Holy Dragon.”
「But eventually, the aberrations will become stronger… Elibel sure is asking a lot, expecting us to keep fighting them. What’s her plan?」
『I’m not sure… All she relayed through Lord Earth’s channel was to ‘keep killing as many aberrations as possible’—that’s it』
Thanks to Elja’s “Purification,” Ann and Beldi are somewhat rejuvenated.
That’s why they can somewhat follow Elibel’s instructions, but they do have their doubts.
『But… there’s no way she would give pointless orders.』
They might have their questions, but their trust in Elibel outweighs those doubts.
More than anything, she had clearly asked for their help.
And that’s what comrades do; they answer the call.
「Hey, what have you two been chatting about? Explain it to me!」
Beldi, feeling left out, shouts at the two of them, who share a knowing smile.
「Um, spear woman! We don’t have time for explanations! Just focus on defeating as many aberrations as you can! Otherwise, we’re all going to die.」
「Fine! Got it! Let’s do this!」
The trio charge at the aberrations, determined to strike down as many as possible.
They’re committed to replying to Elibel’s trust.
At the imperial castle courtyard―――
Here, too, there’s someone determined to answer that trust.
Robun’s magic conjures a giant made of rock and flame, the Pope-class spell “Muspelheim,” which mows down the Aberrations.
Dos and Una are also perched on the giant’s shoulders.
It’s much safer up here than on the ground.
『Keep defeating the Aberrations, huh? Elibel always has some audacious requests. But this must be the key to defeating the death dragon.』
He mutters to himself, expecting no reply.
『if that’s what it takes, I’ll give it my all! Yes, I’ll bury dozens of these monsters! It’s the first time she’s ever truly relied on me! I’ll answer her feelings, her ‘love’!』
Robun, now fired up and ready to act, is coolly observed by Dos.
Just to clarify, the instructions given earlier weren’t exclusively for Robun; they were relayed to everyone.
Definitely, it wasn’t a command directed solely at him.
Dos remarks, likely referring to Robun’s likely unrewarded efforts. Even so, Dos sends a silent salute to the lone man who continues to strive against the odds.
Contrary to the seemingly thankless task, Robun manages to dispose of more aberrations than anyone else.
High above the imperial capital―――
『Keep defeating the aberrations… That’s the key to defeating Ouronus?』
『Yes, that’s right』
The continuous defeat of the aberrations, allowing them to keep acquiring resistances, was Elibel’s conclusion.
『It was strange from the beginning. Even if we’ve powered up, we’re up against an awakened dragon king — a death dragon on par with Jibru. How did we survived this long?』
So, what’s the reason?
Elibel continues her explanation,
『Sure, if Ouronus keeps spawning aberrations and we keep battling them, he’ll keep evolving and getting stronger. But there’s a price to ‘resistance acquisition.’』
The cost———specifically, magical power.
Hearing this, I had an aha moment.
We had been so focused on the threat of the enemy’s abilities that we overlooked a fundamental fact: “resistance acquisition” or, in other words, “evolution” requires a significant amount of energy.
Like when Ann and Elibel used the “evolution magic stone” to evolve.
They had to consume a large number of these stones and additionally get a magical power boost from me via a bypass to successfully evolve.
These abberations’ “resistance acquisition” should also consume a significant amount of magical power.
But where is it coming from?
The answer is clear.
It’s coming from their source―――the “Death Dragon Ouronus.”
『But then, why does Ouronus keep producing more abberations?』
Given the huge consumption of magical power, Ouronus should be wary of producing more.
『He probably hasn’t realized it. Remember, he’s only been using this ability for about an hour. And, like Jibru, Yamu, and even you, dragon kings tend to be unaware of their own magical power levels. They’re not a species that typically runs out of magic.』
Right, that’s what was said.
It’s an ability that’s only been used once.
So, what if the Death Dragon himself hasn’t yet realized its risks?
What if, despite consuming a significant amount of magical power, he’s too agitated to notice?
『―――Annoying, so annoying, so damn ANNOYING!』
『―――You got in the way of my time with my sister. I hope you suffer, suffer more, and die in despair.』
『―――Your very existence is an insult to the Earth Dragon and my sister! I’ll kill you! I’ll definitely kill you!』
Reflecting on his behavior so far…
Upon thinking, Ouronus has always been emotionally volatile from the start.
If his intense emotions are preventing him from realizing his situation, then―――
It might sound silly, but it could be possible.
Especially if his mentality is even more “childish” than his appearance suggests.
『If he doesn’t realize it and the aberrations continue to evolve, the Death Dragon’s power will keep diminishing as it weakens…』
『Exactly. Ouronus’s aberrations are not invincible… On the contrary. The more he creates, the more he weakens himself – a double-edged sword.』
What’s truly fearsome is the sage’s intellect and observational skills.
Her mind had discerned the aberrations’ characteristics, their weaknesses, and their relationship with Ouronus in their entirety.
The pinnacle of human intelligence.
And its reach, it turns out, extends even to an awakened dragon king.
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