In the Second Area, Ford Desert, first division leader Spenta still has not set foot into the dungeon.
And for good reason.
What looms before him are innumerable ants, seeming to blanket the entire desert. Their numbers surely reach tens of thousands.
Born from Imperial Ants of the highest order, they demonstrate unparalleled might in group combat. And unlike the lower Killer Ants, each one wields power comparable to intermediate-class monsters – a nightmarish army.
There is even an anecdote stating that witnessing the coordination of the Imperial Ant legions inspired the creation of a formidable new battle formation. Their unity is tremendous. There is nothing more terrifying than perfectly controlled masses of violence.
「Do not falter!!」
The Demon King’s first division is no pushover either.
Spenta’s sword rends one of the Killer Ants.
In that instant, the movements of the surrounding ants dull.
Pushing through them, Spenta presses onward.
「Look! Roughly one in every ten serves as a command tower directing the others. Discern the differences in their behavior! Crushing them takes top priority! That will throw their ranks into disarray! Do not be cowed by their numbers!」
The ants do not simply swarm the Demon King’s forces indiscriminately. Yet at the same time, not all the ants act according to the Queen Ant’s lead either.
There is order to their assault – patterns – and command towers relaying instructions. With the Queen Ant at the apex, and command towers in between, they achieve flawless group action.
（With this many… there must also be ants directing even the command towers. If I follow the chain of command I find, victory may lie at the end!）
That’s it – locate and crush them.
Thinking this, he charges across the battlefield.
But his prediction is readily betrayed.
『―――You are the squad captain, yes?』
A stern yet clear woman’s voice echoes in his mind.
At the same time, an enormous sword lunges toward him.
A shrill chime rings out.
Reeling back several steps from the tremendous impact,
Both arms tingle and numb. What a heavy, sharp blow.
There before him stands an ant clearly unlike the other Killer Ants.
―――A Queen breed. One grasping a greatsword in hand, draped in a cloak of earth dragon hide.
Matching the reported characteristics exactly.
Which means this monster is―――
「I see… so our thoughts walk the same path…」
Fellow leaders of our legions.
Our thinking comes to resemble each other’s.
Crushing the head is fundamental tactics.
「I presume you are the Imperial Ant Queen breed, Ann. I am Spenta, First Division Leader of the Demon King’s Army, known as the Sword Saint Beast.」
Thus Spenta gives his name.
The least courtesy to a proud foe who did not conceal herself behind the ranks, but instead went straight to the front lines.
「―――Now, I come for you!!」
In the next moment, tremendous clouds of sand dance through the air.
Around that time, in the Fourth Area―――
The invading Demon King Army Third Divison steadily descends through the floors.
Captained by the succubus Harlot, the Third Division consists of humanoid demons. Concealing their horns and tails while fully armed, they can easily pass for human adventurers. Specializing in intelligence, scheming, and assassination, they are a squad suited for espionage and intrigue.
Yet on their faces right now run apprehension and bewilderment.
Why is that?
Because so far, nothing has happened.
No golems, no traps. No forks, just a monotonously straight single path.
Progress far too smooth.
But that very smoothness only heightens their wariness.
「Will this be okay?」,「Why is no one here?」,「Where did the golems go?」they voice their anxieties to each other in turn. And though she does not show it on her face, Division Leader Harlot feels the same.
（What is going on here? We’ve descended three floors already without encountering anything…）
Suspicion of some trap is unavoidable.
While advancing with meticulous caution to handle anything that may occur, such utter lack of incidents is simply too eerie.
Before long, the scenery brightens.
「Is this…a forest?」
Spreading out before them is a forest.
Trees as far as the eye can see. Lush grasses and flowers. Chirping birds and babbling streams even reach their ears.
They cannot help doubting whether this truly is part of the dungeon, so splendid is the forest unfolding before them.
（Some dungeons have specialized environments internally, but this level of intricacy is a first for me…）
Harlot unconsciously murmurs in awe at the sight.
Just how much time and effort went into this? Rather than any defensive mechanism, might this extravagant detail not lie firmly in the realm of personal enthusiasm?
Without a doubt, the creator was quite the perfectionist.
Even tiny touches betraying their fastidious commitment.
「Incredible… big sis is honestly moved…」
Impressive work, foe or not.
Which leaves but one thing to do.
Nodding, Harlot issues orders to her squad.
―――Burn it down.
A perfectly natural decision.
The subordinates comply without hesitation.
And just as the attack is unleashed—right at that moment.
「You can’t burn it!」
Voices ring out from…somewhere.
Glancing over reveals a girl looking about grade school age and a small slime.
「This place is a playground for Taran and Gonzo! You can’t burn it!」
A perfect fit for the phrase “popping up.”
「Oh my, what adorable children have appeared.」
Even Harlot can’t help cracking a smile at the endearing sight.
Yet in an instant her expression vanishes, voice cold as she commands her squad.
「―――Do not be fooled by appearances. Especially the slime—Lord Agil’s report named it a definite kill target.」
At those words, the demons’ faces change.
Transforming their view of the two before them from children and slime into clear “enemies.”
They ready their weapons and unleash their magic.
Gradually encroaching on the pair.
Casually Harlot raises a hand.
And speaks a single sentence.
Immediately following, a deafening blast resounds through the forest zone.
Trees topple and craters open up here and there.
「Oh my, that was some nimble evasion. Or should I say…nothing less than expected?」
Harlot licks her lips bewitchingly.
Where they attacked is now empty.
Somehow, their quarry escaped.
「Keep magic sense open at full strength. Expect ambushes from any direction at any time.」
The subordinates uniformly nod and immediately begin searching the vicinity without gaps.
Needless to say, Harlot also focuses all her senses to track the duo’s whereabouts.
（They’ve got good presence concealment… But then again, this is enemy territory. Only natural…）
From that earlier attack, she felt magical power from those two—especially that slime.
There’s no way she can let her guard down after sensing that.
「Let’s see… The Gluttony Hell Slime, Pururu. And the golem homunculus, Tres. Both present and accounted for in the reports. Don’t let their appearances fool you one bit. I’ll be sure to dispose of them at full power.」
And a short ways off, nestled in the shade of trees, Tres and Pururu were wiping sweat.
「Phew… that surprised me, Pururu…」
A pretty close call.
Thanks to her reflexes honed through daily games of tag with that pervert Othel, Tres barely managed to dodge in time.
「They all looked so strong… but especially that bouncy lady’s magic.」
Recalling part of that woman’s body, Tres shudders. Truly a threat—no, a busty threat.
What does someone have to eat to grow melons that big? While Tres still doesn’t even need a bra…
Pururu gazes at the trembling Tres with concern. Luv~.
「I-I’m fine! Don’t worry, Pururu. I’ll have knockers that big before long too!」
「Puh?! Puru, puru?!」
No no no, Pururu shakes her body.
「Plus we’re way stronger than jerks like them! Everyone seems ready too.」
Looks like the enemy still hasn’t noticed their side already prepared traps.
「Okay, let’s start, Pururu. It’s goblin extermination time~」
Meanwhile, in the Fifth Area―――
Robun and Fáfnir’s followers battle the Demon King Army’s Fourth Divison.
Commanding from the front is Robun.
With superb teamwork and leveraging dungeon traps alongside the golems, he swiftly presses the Demon King Army into a corner.
「Behold, Lady Elibel! I dedicate this victory to yo―――」
Nothing especially notable, so we’ll leave Robun to try his best on his own.
In the Sixth Area―――
Elja and the other Holy Dragons lie in wait at the dungeon’s midpoint.
「They are quite late…」
A considerable time has passed since the surface caved in.
They should have reached the fourth or even the fifth underground level by now.
In fact, she hears the Fourth and Fifth Area units have already engaged the enemy.
Yet the invaders’ presence remains far above.
Halted around the first or maybe second level.
Just what are they doing?
「Elja, shall we take a look with the visual magic stone?」
「Good idea. And please don’t address me so familiarly.」
「Oh, uh…sorry about that…」
Dejectedly lowering his shoulders, Pororo manipulates the image gem.
Projected onscreen are demons milling about on the first level.
Among them, a high-strung seeming demon man with glasses shouts orders.
『A-alright everyone! We’ve no idea what traps could be here! Yes, advance carefully! Carefully!』
『Roger that, Captain!』
They seem intent on scouring every inch of the first level.
A rather cautious bunch, by the looks of it. Correct dungeon strategy, perhaps, but really – what point is there in counting even the number of loose pebbles on the ground?
Not only that—
『Captain Mulder! There’s a treasure chest here! Should we open it? Can we?!』
『No! Could be a trap! Leave it alone!』
『Captain, there are stairs down over here! Shall we descend?』
『Absolutely not! Could be a trap! We map this entire floor first!』
『Captain, this wall here has a mysterious switch labeled ‘Do Not Push’!』
『It’s definitely a trap! No doubt about it! Don’t touch that switch!』
『Got it—』slip (Click)
『Waaah it’s a pitfall traaaaaaap!』
『That’s what I told you!』
What is this nonsense?
The thought crossed everyone’s minds watching.
「I suppose…this will take quite some time yet…」
Having to sit through what looked like an awful comedy routine, Elja’s group simply continued their vigil.
And in the surveillance room―――
Every area seems embroiled in struggle against the Demon King’s forces.
While observing each zone, I continue my own preparations.
「The Eighth Area also looks clear so far. Everyone’s working hard from the looks of it.」
Glancing over, the skeletal legions zealously charge into action.
The enemy – the Demon King Army’s Seventh Division led by Almaty… A tough opponent.
Yet through cooperation with the golems and effective use of traps, the skeletons match their elite foe blow for blow, prior experience clearly serving them well.
Especially, the movements of those five vanguard skeletons look great.
A sturdy shieldbearer skeleton enables disruption from a ranger-style skeleton while two warrior types strike the enemy. Rear support comes from a skeleton mage.
Only combo timing with the skeleton mage is a bit stiff, but still within acceptable limits.
They act as though they partied together while alive.
「Oh, those are pretty senior skeletons. Good materials and experience, so stronger than the rest.」
Noticing my gaze, Elibel adds some insight. I see – with the Lizard-type and Rasetsu backing them from the inner Eighth Area too, it should be fine.
Now then… I’ll leave this place to Elibel for a bit.
Stepping through the teleportation gate, I shift to another location.
A certain room deep within the dungeon.
Noticing my arrival, the two stationed there glance up from their waiting and meet my gaze.
「Oh, Dad! We were waiting!」
The one bounding onto my back is Tsumugi.
Evolved from Pathless to Dream Mist, her appearance has changed a little.
Formerly a pure white, the color of her hair now mixes black and white.
『How’s it feel, Tsumugi? Any discomfort anywhere?』
「Nope, all good! Feels so natural it’s like I’ve always been this way.」
I see – that’s reassuring.
The Evolution Magic Stones used this time were a new model Elibel improved.
Lower burden on the body and drastically reduced mortality rate. Above all, she removed the restriction limiting use only to those who have undergone evolution before, allowing anyone to use them now.
Though the magical energy consumption did shoot up a fair bit in exchange…
Evolving these two used up most of the stockpiled stones after all.
『What about you, Gonzo?』
Gonzo barks vigorously as well.
No issues there either.
Gonzo’s appearance underwent even greater change than Tsumugi.
His body enlarged to around truck-size, horns twisting to resemble a Hercules beetle. Less a boar and more a dinosaur now. But I’m glad the evolution succeeded.
『Looks like you two are fine. Sorry for the rush, but mind joining the dungeon defense?』
「Of course! I want to help everyone too. And protect Fal!」
Both seem eager and raring to go.
That’s reassuring. With Tsumugi reaching Evil God-class and Gonzo Calamity-class, adding them in should make the dungeon defenses even more secure.
My only worry still lies with Agil himself having shown no movement yet…
Hope the worst case scenario doesn’t come to pass.
Anyway, first we have to deal with the invading Demon King’s Army somehow.
Seeing Tsumugi’s group off, I return to the surveillance room.
「Now then, shall we get going, Yamu?」
「Just to confirm, we aren’t heading for the dungeon itself yet, correct?」
「Yeah, some prep to do first.」
「Very well. First to that place then?」
「Right. First, the mountain range neighboring Eld Desert―――Eld Mines.」
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