At first, I didn’t know where I was.
Just a sensation of sinking into deep, deep water.
That water entangled with me, gradually dissolving my body.
――――Where am I?
I don’t know.
A sensation of mingling, melting together, becoming a part of the water itself.
Amidst it all, “she” emitted a unique color.
Like a drop of paint mixing and coloring in transparent water.
The human soul was too vivid for a being that was dilute to begin with.
Especially for a skilled magician.
Slowly, yet surely, that color changed the water.
And yet, “her” conciousness never surfaced to the top.
Gradually, that presence was supposed to become faint.
The soul would be reduced to magical power and used as a power source.
In a few more days, that soul would have been completely converted into magic, and “she” would be there no more.
―――――I don’t want to die.
That is until she hear… and saw her.
That’s right, unless, for example, the owner of the incorporated soul come across a scene where someone deeply connected from their past life, is about to be killed.
In an instant, that color dominated the water.
No, to be precise, for that instant alone, that color dominated everything.
That soul, the will of Lele, the female mage of the 『Silver Crow,』 twisted the free will of the golem, Senju.
And simultaneously, a dull sound, like a crack, ran through that vessel.
On the middle floor of the dungeon―――――
「No… Fa-chan… Don’t kill.」
Tres, witnessing that scene, was shaken.
Why was Senju, her friend, pointing the blade at her?
She couldn’t understand it.
An attack is an act of hostility. It’s done against enemies, not allies.
Tres was not good at thinking.
Among the three golem homunculus, her thought process was exceptionally childish.
She didn’t know what had happened to Senju.
So, she reached this conclusion.
Senju’s hand slipped.
It was a coincidence that the blade was directed towards her.
After all, they are family.
Family should never be attacked or betrayed.
It shouldn’t be possible.
So, Tres laughed and said,
「Oh, Senju, you shouldn’t let your hand slip like that. The enemy is over there!」
Tres continued to point towards Farley.
However, Senju continued to attack Tres.
Tres evaded the attack.
「I-I’m telling you, it’s not this way! What’s wrong, Senju!?」
Tres began to panic, finally realizing that something was off about Senju.
Seeing this, Berg, unable to speak aloud, initiated telepathy.
『Tres, take a good look at that one!』
Not speaking out loud was to prevent revealing Tres’ true nature.
Of course, they will kill everyone present here.
However, they couldn’t afford any leaks, even if it was a remote possibility.
Therefore, Berg decided to communicate with Tres through telepathy.
『Within that one, a strange soul has mixed in. Did that golem consume something weird?』
Upon hearing that, Tres remembered.
Indeed, Ann and big sister Una had mentioned feeding adventurer souls to Senju.
Thanks to that, Senju’s performance had improved significantly.
When Tres explained this to Berg, he held his head in his hands.
『What on earth… Soul is indeed the most efficient source of magical power, but I never expected it to turn out like this…』
Berg wore an expression of astonishment.
『Tres, that golem, though it takes on an unusual form, seems to be in a state similar to mine! A golem with its own will!』
『What do you mean?』
『In the past, there were magical experiments to imbue human souls into humanoid golems and give them self-awareness. I am one such result. I succeeded, but what do you think happened to the other souls?』
Tres remained silent.
It was difficult. She didn’t understand.
『None of those souls absorbed into golems gained self-awareness. In the first place, it was impossible to artificially implant a soul other than human flesh. They were meant to be gradually converted into magical energy if they didn’t establish themselves as consciousness. 』
『Then how are you still alive?』
『In my case, my original body was almost entirely used as the material for the golem. It’s more accurate to say that my physical body was directly transformed into a golem. That’s why I was the only one who succeeded. And normally, the assimilated souls would be slowly converted into magical energy and serve as the golem’s power source.』
Berg continued the telepathic conversation while fending off the attacking knight.
『However, there are rare cases where such rejection reactions occur. Perhaps the original owners of the absorbed souls had incredibly strong self-identities. The self-identities of the souls and the inherent functions of the golem are clashing without fusion… Guh!』
The knight’s attack reached Berg.
Berg let out a groan.
It was difficult to handle the situation without being in perfect condition.
However, Tres quickly stepped in to support.
『Miss Elibel once destroyed the magical research institute that conducted those experiments, considering the risks involved and the ethical concerns. She sealed away all the research contents.』
『But wasn’t it Miss Elibel who created you, Uncle?』
Tres manipulated sphere of light and annihilated the knights in front of her.
However, more knights continued to appear from the passage.
『After that, I was modified by Miss Elibel! But enough about that, focus on the golem in front of us! The risk I mentioned earlier refers to its current state! We don’t know the exact cause, but the will of the soul is forcefully interfering with the golem’s actions!』
At that moment, Berg pointed at the nearby Senju.
『Let me cut to the chase! Due to the overload of the soul inside it, that golem’s body will eventually collapse! It will result in a massive explosion! If that happens, this dungeon will suffer catastrophic damage! We must destroy it before that!』
The dungeon was already in a fragile and unstable state.
If an explosion were to occur, it would surely spell the end for the dungeon.
Berg concluded that they needed to shatter the “magic core” within Senju and disable its functions before that happened.
However, Tres vehemently opposed the idea.
「N-No! Senju is a golem created by Dad and our family! We can’t destroy it, absolutely not!」
「Is this the time to argue? Look at it!」
Berg pointed at Senju.
Senju was thrashing about, attacking the knights who were in close proximity after Tres and the others had distanced themselves.
The knights’ numbers were rapidly decreasing under Senju’s assault.
Tres felt relieved when she saw that.
「See? Senju isn’t acting strangely after all! It’s defeating the enemies!」
「Look closer. It’s simply rampaging indiscriminately. Perhaps only the emotional aspect of the soul is running wild. The human soul inside and the golem’s inherent defense mechanism are conflicting and causing this rampage! The golems in the experiment went through the same behavior before going berserk and eventually exploding.」
Meanwhile, Senju continued to bury the knights one by one.
Finally, the last knight was defeated.
『Dungeon… eliminate enemies… protect Faa-chan.』
Farley, the female adventurer, witnessed Senju’s actions.
「Why… why is that golem… has Lele’s voice…」
She couldn’t understand it.
But this was her chance.
Thanks to that golem, the situation in the area was chaotic.
Dragging her injured leg pierced by a laser, Farley attempted to leave the scene.
However, another monster appeared from the corridor.
It was a large black golem in the shape of a rhinoceros.
Farley had no way of knowing that besides the regular golems, various animal-type golems called Homunculi created by Jiryuu roamed the middle floors of the dungeon.
The creature that appeared before her was Gonzo, the largest and most powerful of the rhinoceros-like Homunculi golems.
The intelligence of animal-type golems was akin to that of wild beasts, simple and instinct-driven.
Gonzo moved to eliminate the intruder before it.
With a roar, the rhinoceros-like creature charged towards Farley.
It was over. It was finally over this time.
Farley thought so, but once again, she was hindered.
「No… can’t let Faa-chan die… protect… the dungeon… eliminate intruders… different… Gonzo… allies… dungeon… Faa-chan… allies…」
Once again, the multi-armed golem protected Farley.
Using its massive body, it intercepted the charge of the rhinoceros creature.
However, it was undoubtedly a difficult task to stop the onslaught of Gonzo, the heaviest of the golems.
Numerous cracks appeared, and several arms were severed.
Even Gonzo seemed surprised. Why did it stop?
「Why… why did you… no, even before… no, why can I hear Lele’s voice?」
Farley collapsed on the spot, questioning everything.
Upon seeing her, Senju spoke.
「..Fa-chan… ally, that’s why… I… this time, I’ll protect allies.」
Saying that, Senju extended two arms towards Farley.
「Wait, isn’t this the one Lele used…?」
In one of the arms, Farley noticed a magical staff she used to wield.
Using this staff would enhance the power and effects of her magic, a remarkable magical tool.
「You… could it be… are you Lele? How…?」
Seeing Farley accept the staff, Senju grabs Farley with its other hand.
And then, using it all might.
Threw her towards the opening leading to the topmost floor of the dungeon.
Farley’s cries grew fainter as she moved further away.
Senju watched, satisfied. Or rather, Lele watched with satisfaction.
If possible, I wanted to take you all the way to the exit, but this was as far as I could go.
I have―――――reached my limit.
「Fa-chan… please… live on…」
That was her final act.
At that moment, the consciousness of the female magician, Lele, completely vanished.
And then… a full-scale rampage began.
Senju indiscriminately attacked Gonzo, the rhinoceros golem it had been restraining.
Even while holding it down, Senju had more arms to spare.
With all its might, it attacked Gonzo using every single one of its arms.
Overwhelmed by the sheer number of Senju’s strikes, Gonzo let out a cry of agony.
「GU….. GUOOOOOOOOOO! SENJUUUUUU!」
Tres unleashed her signature magic, 『Extreme Sunbeam,』 towards Senju.
However, it was ineffective.
She knew that well.
The attack she just made wasn’t meant to cause damage.
It was to draw Senju’s attention towards her.
And as planned, Senju ceased its attacks on Gonzo and turned towards her.
In the first place, Tres’ fire attribute was not well-suited against Senju which was made out of stone.
Moreover, Senju was a masterpiece crafted by his father, Jiryuu, pouring all his fiery passion into its creation. It was abundant in magic stones and had high resistance to magic.
In terms of overall combat ability, it was ranked as General-class.
Which is among the top class within the dungeon.
Furthermore, it specialized in close-quarters combat.
On the other hand, Tres was more of a long-range artillery type.
Even the degraded version of the Sacred Sword Leviathan, which she possessed, was more geared towards supporting ranged attacks rather than close-quarters combat.
In close combat, Tres was at a disadvantage.
Nevertheless, Tres shouted,
「No, Senju! We are your family! You can’t harm Gonzo! Please… come to your senses!」
With all her remaining strength, Tres shouted.
And then, she charged towards Senju.
「Eliminate… enemies… defend… dungeon…」
Senju began its attack against Tres, utilizing the weapon in its hand.
The assault unleashed from the hundreds of arms was a rain of physical attacks, distinct from Tres’ 『Extreme Sunbeam.』
Of course, Tres dodged them.
However, she couldn’t keep up with the onslaught.
As she got closer, her body gradually covered in wounds.
But Tres didn’t stop her advance. She couldn’t afford to stop.
And eventually, after dodging the onslaught of a thousand hands, Tres embraced Senju.
Witnessing this, Berg was astonished.
「W-What are you doing?! Don’t you realize how dangerous that guy is right now?」
But Tres didn’t listen.
「No, it’s not right! Because… because no matter how messed up things are, Senju is our family! Everyone, everyone is precious to me! That’s why I won’t kill it! Please, Senju, return to your senses! We are your family!」
What a surprise.
Berg had misjudged the girl named Tres.
During their battle, he perceived her as a young and cruel girl.
In fact, just a while ago, she had mercilessly slaughtered knights and adventurers without any hesitation.
However, that was just one side of her, nothing more.
She is a child, and therefore, she can be both childish and cruel.
But more than anything, she is incredibly kind.
She has no hesitation when it comes to enemies.
In other words, she draws a clear line between allies and enemies.
That’s why she is endlessly gentle and kind to her loved ones, her family.
She acts recklessly and selfishly, expressing her whims.
However, that is the flip side of her absolute trust in her family.
Those she believes in, she believes in completely. And she never gives up.
That may be the “bond” she shares with her comrades.
Tightly, Tres strengthens her embrace around Senju.
「…Please… come back… Senju…」
「Dungeon… protect… comrades… enemies… eliminate… Tres… family… enemies… eliminate…!」
Senju swings its sword.
Tres doesn’t evade.
Berg rush toward her, but he’s too late!
And then, Senju’s strike… pierces its own heart.
Tres lets out a dumbfounded voice.
Senju’s sword accurately shatters its own “magic core.”
With the loss of magical power, Senju gradually begins to crumble.
In its final moments, the golem known as Senju Kannon, having lost the personality of Lele, fulfilled its original mission.
The elimination of the dungeon’s threat.
In other words, the elimination of oneself, which has harmed Tres and her loved ones.
「Senju….. SENJUUU! WHY?! HOW CAN THIS BE?!」
Tres looks at Senju, which slowly collapses.
As it crumbles, Senju gently extends its hand towards Tres.
A cool and cold sensation of stone.
And slowly, Senju’s mouth moves.
I’m… sor… ry.
That’s what it felt like it said.
With those words, Senju Kannon Golem completely ceased to function.
The silent golem transformed into a mere stone.
Tres collapses in tears as she looks at the silent stone that was once Senju.
Berg silently watches from the side.
His hand touches what used to be Senju.
「There doesn’t seem to be any concern of going berserk anymore. The function has completely stopped. There should be no self-destruction now.」
Berg calmly speaks while Tres is in tears.
Gonzo, the rhinoceros at his side, also watched in silence.
「..Uncle, Tres doesn’t understand…」
「――――――――’Human’, what are they? To even force Senju to become like this… What is a ‘human’?”」
Perhaps this was the first time that Torres became truly interested in “human beings”.
Berg puts his hand on his chin and contemplates.
Then, in a small voice, he answers.
「…A ‘troublesome creature’… Probably the most troublesome one in this world.」
It’s unclear whether those words reached Tres’ ears.
Nevertheless, amidst the stone and pools of blood, she continues to cry.
「I don’t mean to sound harsh, but we have to hurry. We need to head to the depths as soon as possible.」
Sniffling and wiping her swollen eyes.
Tres places Senju’s shattered core in her pocket.
She whispers in her heart.
And then, Tres and Berg start running towards the depths once again.
Meanwhile, in the depths of the dungeon…
『Haa… Haa… Haa…』
There stand a man and a beast.
The beast is the dungeon master, Jiryuu.
And the man is Wald Nored, the Dragon Slayer who’s also known as the great hero.
Both of them are in a sorry state.
Jiryuu’s scales are peeling off in various places, and he’s bleeding from multiple wounds.
On the other hand, Wald is equally exhausted.
He’s breathing heavily, and his face has turned pale.
「Phew… It’s truly… a monster!」Wald exclaims.
『Haa… Haa… One more time…』Jiryuu responds.
With its claws raised high, Jiryuu kicks the ground.
His claws head straight towards Wald.
The battle in the dungeon is reaching its climax.