In the 80th floor of Fáfnir, 『The Blue Knight’s Hall』―――
The sound of clashing swords reverberates across the hall.
The one standing to face the onslaught is Ragin, the master of the 80th floor and a follower of Fáfnir.
His opponent is Earth’s foremost vassal, Ann.
They are engaged in an intense battle, neither willing to give an inch.
「Fuhahahahaha!! Excellent! Truly excellent, Ann! You are indeed a great swordsman!」
As Ragin cheerfully swings his greatsword around with both hands, his voice rings out.
However, contrary to his talkative nature, there’s not a hint of falter in his swordsmanship.
With each clash of their swords, intense sparks fly.
「I’ve been entrusted with this floor for four hundred years. You’re the first to be such a match!」
『…But, to begin with, have there been any intruders in these deep?』
Despite Ragin’s jovial tone, Ann coldly retorts.
As far as she recalls, even the renowned Elibel only managed to reach the 53rd floor.
Even though two hundred years have passed, would invaders so easily appear this deep of such a large dungeon?
「…Ah, come to think of it, there weren’t any…」
He is an idiot.
On reflection, his fight with the Earth Dragon had indeed been his first encounter.
As Ragin tilts his head, wondering if his record before becoming a floor master counts―――
Ann takes advantage of a momentary lapse, aiming a thrust at his neck.
However, Ragin narrowly avoids the attack.
Despite the clatter of his armor, he moves with agility, taking a backstep to gain distance from Ann.
「That was close! But I won’t go down so easily! Hahaha—WHOOAAA!!」
His complacent posture is short-lived as Ann quickly closes the gap, charging directly towards Ragin.
At such close range, Ragin’s large sword is at a disadvantage, unable to maneuver quickly.
Ann’s Earth Dragon Sword is faster!
But Ragin isn’t an ordinary opponent.
Once again, he narrowly twists his body to dodge the attack.
His movements are remarkably nimble, belying his armor.
But in the next moment, Ann closes the gap again, her sword grazing him.
After a few iterations of this pattern, Ragin cries out.
「Hold on a… let’s have a… we’re in a fight here… wh-whoa! Wait, you, st-stop! Whoa!」
His sword CLANGS against Ann’s as he defends against her relentless attacks.
There’s no mercy.
As if to say there’s no need for conversation, she continues to hammer her blade against his.
If there’s an opening, she strikes.
Even when there isn’t, she strikes.
Anyone watching would be terrified by Ann’s present state.
『…Conversation? With someone who insulted Lord Earth, even wounded him? What do you expect me to say? Please, die quietly. You’re an eyesore.』
From Ann, a massive surge of magic and murderous intent bursts forth.
The overflowing magic is absorbed by her sword and cloak.
Both her sword and cloak, made from the scales and hide of the Earth Dragon, are dramatically enhanced by this magic infusion — in both offensive and defensive capabilities.
Ann has been slowly pouring magic into her sword even while fighting.
Now, she releases that power all at once.
With a battle cry, she unleashes a flash of enhanced power onto Ragin.
Yet, he effortlessly parries the enhanced slash.
（―――What!? He easily blocked the enhanced slash!?）
Then, Ann notices something off.
『―――The power of my slash… is decreasing?』
Locked in a standoff, blades close to clashing, Ann instantly recognizes what’s happening.
The Earth Dragon’s sword gripped tightly in her hand.
With each slash she makes, the magic within the sword is depleting.
『No, could it be… My magic is disappearing!?』
From the knowledge and experiences she’s accumulated thus far, Ann derives an answer.
Ragin roars in confirmation, as if to say, ‘Correct!’
「Exactly! This sword, and my armor, they absorb and nullify magic! I can even reflect attacks of magic up to a General-class! Your sword may be a fine weapon, but the enhancement by magic is meaningless before me! Only your own strength can cut me down!」
He casually reveals his secret.
Is this overwhelming confidence in his power, or merely stupidity?
Probably the latter.
He doesn’t seem like one who would understand the art of conversation and strategy.
With a swift move, Ragin deflects Ann’s sword, and swings his great sword.
―――Not so fast!
With a keening noise, Ann parries Ragin’s sword using the degraded Sacred Sword Leviathan held in her left hand.
As a swift countermeasure, she fires off an “Acid Bullet.”
The high-speed globule of acid grazes Ragin’s helmet, exploding against the ceiling.
「Whooa! Was that acid!? My helmet sizzled! Hahaha! That gave me quite a surprise!」
Ragin appears flustered, but that likely isn’t his true feeling.
After all, he easily evades Ann’s Acid Bullet, an attack he should be seeing for the first time.
On the other hand, Ann might seem outwardly calm, but inside, she’s anything but.
―――To nullify magic… such a troublesome ability…
And his reflexes are so quick he can defend against a high-speed Acid Bullet at close range.
He is… a formidable opponent.
Out of the corner of her eye, Ann glances at Earth, lying battered and bruised in a corner of the room.
Anger bubbles up within her.
If things had gone as planned, the moment she found Earth, her mission would be complete.
She wants to return home immediately using the teleportation gate, but she can’t.
She looks at the bracelet on her arm.
A magic tool given to her by Elibel before the raid.
It’s filled with a predetermined teleportation magic formula, and when magical power is poured into it, a teleportation gate appears—an extraordinary tool.
By the way, this bracelet, too, is an ultra-rare item made from Earth’s blood and fangs.
Elibel, Tres, and Ann are all equipped with this bracelet.
Unfortunately, Pururu, being a slime, cannot equip it.
Originally, as soon as she found Earth, she would have used the bracelet to return to the depth of the dungeon—home.
In fact, even though they were separated, Ann was ready to use the bracelet immediately for the original purpose of recapturing Earth.
But she couldn’t.
The bracelet didn’t activate at all.
It’s not due to Ragin’s armor, his sword, or the magic nullifying properties of this floor.
If that were the cause, she could have just escaped the room with Earth, gone out into the corridor, and used the magical tool there.
Moreover, as she learned from the fight, this room and the armor cannot nullify the activation of magic.
They only nullify the magic when it comes into contact with the sword, armor, or walls.
Based on this theory, even if the teleportation gate was blocked, the activation itself should be possible.
But in reality, the bracelet didn’t activate.
―――There must be someone’s interference. Are they trying to prevent Earth from escaping the dungeon at all costs?
Ann grits her teeth at the thought of the monster that has yet to show itself.
That’s why she is indulging in a fight with the floor boss.
After definitively defeating the enemy, she plans to find a safe way to return home with Earth.
Of course, she doesn’t know when monsters other than the floor boss might appear.
Even in the midst of battle, Ann remains constantly vigilant.
「Distracted while fighting me? You’re really quite at ease, aren’t you!」
She barely manages to deflect his sword.
She counters fluidly, but Ragin easily evades her move.
Then, he lands a strike with his free hand on Ann.
A heavy blow that reverberates through her body.
She had been on guard against his sword attacks, her judgement was a split second too slow.
『Guh… a direct… Gah… impact…?』
「Ho, so you saw through my technique with just that blow? Splendid! You really are incredible, Ann!」
The voice of Ragin is full of delight.
It’s a voice of praise for a worthy opponent.
『Haa… Haa… Haa…』
Meanwhile, Ann grinds her teeth in frustration.
As much as she hates to admit it, this Floor Master ――― Ragin, is strong.
The pressure she feels from him is probably at Disaster-class.
Accurate Crow. The power of its leader, Heleb, is equivalent or even surpasses this.
Ann remembers the battle from that time.
That deadly fight where she was on the verge of death, vomiting blood.
At that time, it ended in a draw, but it was only because of Heleb’s negligence, a series of coincidences, and clever tactics that led to that miraculous result.
But this time, it’s different. Too different.
This monster is not like Heleb, it’s a monster that specializes in close combat.
Ann herself may be designated as a disaster-designated species, but without a long-range attack, she’s merely a General-class against close-combat monsters.
Because her abilities are so far apart from her antlings, it’s easy to forget that Ann isn’t a single entity, she’s a swarm of monsters.
Her strength lies in the violence of numbers, enough to overturn the overwhelming power difference, but without them, she can’t utilize that strength.
She doesn’t have time to create more.
To begin with, she doesn’t think this monster would give her such a chance.
――――The difference in fundamental power is too great.
In the exchanges of these past moments, Ann has become certain.
If things continue as they are, there’s no doubt she’ll lose.
―――But, that’s only if things stay the same.。
From their past exchanges, she’s gathered information.
And now, the cards she holds.
The amount of magical power left, the state of her weapons.
Taking these into account, Ann begins to think.
She has to think.
Of a way to win.
And then―――deduce it.
An equation for victory.
A hope to overturn this overwhelmingly disadvantageous situation.
However slight, however fragile the possibility.
『Please watch over me, Lord Earth…』
With her sword at the ready, Ann stares down the enemy before her.
『I will certainly show you a victory!』
For the sake of not losing anyone important to her again.
―――This time, I will protect you to the end!
July 2023 Patron: GoatBeards