The Second Area – Ford Desert―――
Ann and Spenta were engaged in a fierce battle, neither giving an inch.
「To think there would be such a skilled wielder here! Most impressive!」
With each clash of their swords, the sand swirled violently around them and the pressure from their blades shook the surrounding air.
In terms of pure skill, Spenta had the upper hand – in power, speed, experience. He was a consummately polished warrior, not showing a single opening.
A melee specialist.
In exchange for lacking wide-scale annihilation-type magic, his melee skills, particularly swordsmanship, far surpassed Ann’s.
With the sharpness of his blade enhanced by magical power, its slashes boasted enough force to cleave through even Earth’s fortified armor.
Yet Ann was holding her own.
Ann’s armaments were the magic nullification Magic Sword Ridill and her Blue Armor.
By partially manifesting these, she managed to fend off Spenta’s fierce onslaught.
Fully armoring her whole body would greatly drain her mental strength. In contrast, partial manifestation was far less consuming. And doing so only in critical spots, manifesting momentarily, improved efficiency even more.
Though it had required much practice, Rasetsu’s combat training had proven useful here.
At the instant their swords connected, the instant her opponent’s sword grazed her body, Ann manifested her armor in those fleeting fractions of a second. The death matches with past mighty foes and battles alongside her comrades had imparted in Ann an almost prescient foresight.
「Truly astounding reflexes… To be able to match me sword-to-sword so…」
Even Spenta could not help but admire her reaction speed.
Ann meanwhile coolly analyzed her opponent’s abilities.
（A melee specialist… The magical power I sense is disaster-class… No, could he actually be calamity-class…? Troubling…）
As expected for someone of captain-grade.
Were she not holding him off, he might well have forcibly broken through the swarm of ants to clear this area single-handedly.
―――But there was no cause to hold anything back now.
『―――It’s your turn.』
At Ann’s prompting, the sand seemed to pulsate in response.
Spenta voiced puzzlement.
Sections of sand swelled up, transformed into a towering golem.
「A sand golem is it…」
『No one said anything about a one-on-one fight!』
Though outside the dungeon itself, residual magic still seeped out here.
Using that power, Gijie had remotely constructed the golem.
Over ten meters tall, the sandy colossus swung its arm at Spenta.
With a casual sword swing, Spenta effortlessly sheared through its limb, dissolving the sand construct back into shapeless grains.
Unperturbed at the loss of an arm, the golem continued its charge against Spenta.
Likely it felt no real pain, being made of sand.
「Calling this level of golem a challenge? It’s not even worth talking about.」
Another flash of his sword completely sliced apart the sand golem, turning it back into a pile of sand.
Compared to earlier thrilling duel, I felt deeply disappointed. What a pointless little ploy that was.
「Buying time perhaps? No number of such golems could ever―――?!」
Spenta’s expression changed the instant he glanced behind himself.
There stood dozens, no hundreds, of sand golems.
But the sheer number alone would not have disturbed his countenance so.
The true issue lay elsewhere.
「C-Captain!」「Damn it all!」「Gaahh!」
「The sand, it’s-! Crap! Get away-」「Can’t…move…」「Gwaaahhhhhhh!!!」
The forms of his men and the Black Ants were visibly immersed inside the sand golems!
The golems had incorporated the surrounding monsters and ants in forming their bodies.
Certainly Spenta’s forces were not so weak as to be devoured by mere golems.
But swarmed by great numbers of Black Ants as they resisted, his men gradually, helplessly got absorbed into the sandy bodies. Attempts to flee were foiled by clinging sand and ants dragging them deeper inside.
And once they were fully integrated into the golems, the ants alone nonchalantly crawled back out from the sand. Plop, plop, they escaped the golems like drops of water rolling off, leaving the men trapped within. Being allies there was no issue naturally. The ants swarm back to the Demon King’s army.
「Don’t let up your attacks! They’ll dive in heedless of casualties!」
「Damn bastards, using their own comrades’ corpses as shields!」
「How many are there…?! We kill and kill but their numbers barely drop!」
As the ants swarmed forth, dozens, hundreds were sacrificed, but they charged on heedlessly.
Because they were a “swarm,” not “individuals.” As replaceable cogs in a merciless system, their personal losses meant nothing. Victory for the swarm was their sole purpose.
The sand golems, with living Demon King forces thrashing within them, assaulted Spenta and his surviving troops.
Spenta precisely cleaved away only the sand, managing to save some comrades. But others could not emulate his feat. Some steeled themselves to destroy the golems at the cost their friends’ lives. Some hesitated, conflicted, and got absorbed into the sandy bodies. Reactions differed, but their numbers steadily dwindled.
『Surely you can’t call this underhanded? Would you even have the right?』
A sneak attack aimed at Spenta’s back while he focused on the golems.
Still, Spenta reacted in time to defend.
「As if such a half-baked ambush could―――!」
『And what makes you say it’s over with just that?』
Something burst forth vigorously from within the sand.
The next generation of Queen Ants.
『『『Maximum Strength Slash Extension!』』』
Birthed by Ann, equipped with Earth’s degraded Sacred Sword Leviathan and Dragon Sword Ascalon, cloak and scalemail crafted from earth dragon materials.
Each likely rivaled high King-class in might.
Three of them rocketed out from the sand in concert to surround Spenta.
「Queen Ants?! And so many…!」
Assaulted from all sides with Ann’s greatsword still touching him, sealing off magic.
An inescapable predicament.
「Don’t mess with meeeeee!!」
But through sheer physical ability, Spenta strongly parried Ann’s huge sword and simultaenously deflected the Queen Ant’s blade with his arm. Redirecting that momentum, he countered with a palm strike, pivoting into a sweeping kick that caught another incoming Queen from the opposite side.
Finally, he unleashed a slicing attack at the last Queen together with her equipment.
Likely not expecting her sword and armor to be bisected outright, the Queen hesitated briefly but quickly retreated, somehow avoiding a mortal wound.
『To actually block all that…』
Having not predicted he could fend that off, even Ann voiced surprise.
「Haah…hah…I told you didn’t I? Don’t go thinking such half-assed ambushes can finish me off!」
Blazing fighting spirit raging, Spenta glared down the four Imperial Ants.
The other Queens cowered but not Ann.
『Is that so… Then by all means, resist with everything you have as the last one standing.』
For an instant, Spenta did not grasp her meaning.
But he soon understood.
The presence of his comrades…his brethren…was gone.
Scanning his surroundings, he saw only a gruesome carpet of black ant corpses and the remains of his kinsmen scattered about.
Yes. Somehow without him noticing, all except Spenta himself had been slain or absorbed into the sand golems.
The unbelievable scene left him stunned.
When had this―――
『It seems you were too focused on fighting us. But that figures. After all, you are the elites of the Demon King’s Army. There is no falsehood in that reputation.』
What had been a 250-strong first division force was now just this one man.
Ann informed him with genuine respect for his valiant struggle.
『―――Twenty-two thousand, twelve.』
Just what was that number she gave?
『That’s how many of my young have died. I too underestimated your might. You all are strong. And so I was forced to pay this steep price…』
They were strong.
One could accurately call them worth a hundred men each.
To eliminate those two hundred soldiers, Ann’s side paid the price of nearly a hundredfold casualties.
She could not help the ache in her chest.
After all, they were all her children.
「And? …You thought if I was the last one standing I might surrender? …No chance of that. Even alone, I will fight on and exterminate you all.」
For Spenta, the shock at his forces’ annihilation lasted only an instant.
Admittedly, the situation was disadvantageous perhaps.
But ample chances for victory remained.
Though the sand golems still stood, to Spenta they were merely oversized targets.
The numbers of Black Ants had been reduced, most now corpse fodder.
Ann and the Queens’ movements and patterns he had already deciphered.
In that case―――
『―――Then we shall also match you without restraint to the very end.』
Just as Spenta moved to attack, another eruption of black muck burst forth from the large holes.
He instantly grasped what it meant of course.
―――Yet his mind rebelled against that understanding.
Because those black geysers burst not from only one location.
Two places, three, even outside the massive pits they had excavated, more and more spurts of black slurry overflowed.
In but a moment, his entire field of vision drowned beneath the tide and―――
『Remaining troops―――three hundred eighty thousand strong. With our full numbers, we shall crush you.』
Spenta found himself unable to speak.
Yet his spirit would never break.
He battled on relentlessly until, quite literally, his last breath.
The outcome was decided an hour later.
The Second Area – Concluded
Demon King Army, Spenta and First Division – Total Annihilation
Ann and Queens – Light injuries
Black Ant deaths―――Seventy-five thousand, two hundred thirty-nine
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