A deafening roar echoed.
The location was a large hall situated between the middle and surface layers of the dungeon.
There, a fierce battle was taking place.
After an explosion that seemed to have occurred countless times, a person and a creature emerged from the midst of the dust and smoke.
「Waaah! I lost again!」
In tattered condition, Tres and Pururu appeared.
Both of them were covered in wounds.
Emerging from the smoke afterward was Imperial Ant, wielding two swords and wearing the Earth Dragon Cloak.
It was Ann.
Although she had some wounds, they weren’t as severe as the other two.
『That attack just now was dangerous… However, due to Pururu’s characteristic of absorbing attacks once and then releasing them, there exists a ‘limit of absorption.’ If you exploit the opening during the absorption and deliver a high-output strike all at once, it will easily be countered.』
「But… Only someone like Ann can do something like that!」
It seems the two of them were engaged in a simulated battle with Ann to test out a new combination technique.
However, they were overwhelmingly defeated.
Tres stomped her feet in frustration.
『Don’t be so frustrated… I too had to give my all to defeat you.』
「It didn’t look like that at all!」
It seems they were greatly disappointed that their special technique didn’t work.
『In that case, how about using the 『Extreme Sunbeam』that Tres used earlier, piercing the enemy’s body and allowing Pururu to enter the hole to inflict damage from the inside? This way, you can deal damage from both the inside and outside, and the possibility of absorption being obstructed will significantly decrease, right?』
Ann made a rather brutal suggestion.
「Oh, yeah!… Hmm, but losing is so frustrating!」
The two nodded as if understanding Ann’s suggestion.
However, they soon started grumbling about their defeat.
It seems they couldn’t hide their dissatisfaction.
Seeing them like that, Ann couldn’t help but smile wryly.
『But even so, if I hadn’t obtained this sword before, I would have probably lost. Your combination was truly amazing.』
Saying that, Ann raised the sword in her hand.
It was the “Earth Dragon Sword” they obtained when they dealt with the adventurers who entered the dungeon the other day.
The more magical power it is infused with, the greater the power of its slashes, making it Ann’s main weapon at the moment.
Moreover, even though it’s made with a different Earth Dragon material, it’s still made from the same material as that person.
If she were to suffer a defeat with it, she wouldn’t be able to face him as his first subordinate.
『So in that sense, you could say that this match is also a difference in equipment, and in terms of power…』
「But a loss is still a loss!」
The two of them continued to protest.
As Ann was contemplating what to do, a voice came from behind.
「Hey! You two shouldn’t trouble her like that!」
Entering the floor were Una, the leader of the Golem Homunculi, and Senju, the Senju Kannon Golem.
Senju’s arms were carrying earthworms that they seemed to have just captured.
Saying so, Tres and Pururu headed towards Senju.
It seems she were finally freed from being the center of attention.
「Oh, it’s a big earthworm. Did you capture it, Senju?」
In response to Tres’s question, Senju nodded.
Senju, along with some other golems, not only defended the dungeon but also actively hunted earthworms and such.
And when Tres previously insisted that meals taste better when eaten with family, Senju stubbornly followed that instruction and always brought the prey to someone like this whenever they made a kill.
Of course, Senju itself mainly consumed magical power and souls as their primary sustenance, so it couldn’t actually eat the meat.
「Ittadakimaaasu! Nom nom nom! It’s delicious!」
The two of them eagerly gnawed at the meat of the earthworms.
The sight of a small girl covered in blood, devouring the meat, was quite shocking.
「Phew, I’ve eaten enough! Alright, Pururu, let’s go hunting too! Let’s try what Ann mentioned earlier!」
「Senju, wait for me! I’ll bring back a really big earthworm too!」
Saying so, Tres and Pururu dashed out of the large hall.
As the Earth Dragon’s dungeon continued to expand, the number of earthworms infiltrating the dungeon had significantly decreased due to the immense magical power and the presence of Jiryuu. However, occasionally, some would still wander in.
However, without exception, the earthworms that stumbled into the dungeon became the food for Ann and the others.
Attracted by the scent of the earthworms’ blood, other antlings also gathered.
『Senju, well done. Shall we all partake?』
When Ann said that, Senju trembled and moved away from Ann.
Not again, Ann thought.
Since disposing of those adventurers, for some reason, whenever Senju was in front of Ann or the antlings, it would distance itself like this.
Perhaps feeding it the soul of that adventurer had become a factor influencing this behavior, Ann speculated.
But she had already reported it to Jiryuu.
For now, there was no problem, but if this continued, Ann planned to take Senju to Jiryuu if needed.
Suddenly, Ann looked at Una.
Una seemed to be staring at the meat of the earthworms.
『What’s wrong, Una?』
Startled by the question, Una replied,
「Ah, sorry. I was lost in thought. While eating the meat, I remembered something from the records of the brave hero, something called ‘grilled meat’…」
「Oh, it’s nothing. Anyway, Ann, may I talk to you for a moment?」
While gnawing on the meat of the earthworm, Una spoke to Ann.
『What’s the matter?』
「I have a suggestion… How about going outside?」
「Yes. It’s been a while since we disposed of those goblins. If their companions are still out there, they might be suspicious about their comrades not returning.」
『Indeed… you’re right. Killing them all too quickly might have been hasty… I should have left one or two alive to gather information from outside.』
Hearing that, Una shook her head.
「No, it was the first time those filthy goblins had come, so I think it couldn’t be helped. Besides, there was also the attack by Accurate Crow.」
Ann then looked at Una as if she suddenly remembered something.
『Oh, by the way, I forgot to thank you, Una. Thank you for taking care of everyone in the dungeon in my place after the battle with Accurate Crow.』
After the fight with Accurate Crow, Ann had been caught up in the excitement of being touched by Jiryuu and completely forgot to express her gratitude to Una and the others.
But Una vigorously shook her head.
「N-No! That’s not true! I’m nothing compared to you, Ann! To think you fought and won against Accurate Crow!」
Una approached Ann excitedly, but Ann could only smile wryly.
『That’s why I’ve said it before, we didn’t really win, it was just a temporary ceasefire. Besides, if he… Heleb, had fought the way he normally does, I probably wouldn’t have been able to win…』
Now Ann understood.
At that time, until he used 『Kagura,』 Heleb was clearly holding back.
According to the knowledge obtained from Jiryuu, Accurate Crow’s true strength lay in long-range attacks using fire and wind magic.
Yet Heleb hardly used any of it.
Even when he did, most of the attacks were at close or medium range, within direct striking distance.
That’s why Ann was able to fight back.
「It’s impossible for Ann to lose! Although I haven’t witnessed it firsthand, even if I were in the same situation, I don’t think I could do the same as you!」
Una clenched her fist firmly as she spoke.
Ann was slightly taken aback by her strong assertion.
How much has Ann’s presence grown within her?
Ann recalled that Una started using polite language after their first mock battle.
It was because Ann, who had evolved into an Imperial Ant with no combat experience at the time, easily defeated her.
Since then, Una had started using polite language towards Ann.
『But, as I’ve said before, it’s all thanks to Jiryuu that I was able to become stronger.』
「Umm… Is it because of that magic stone? Pururu also evolved because of it, right?」
『Yes, that’s right.』
Upon hearing that, Una made a troubled expression.
「…But I can’t believe it. No matter how much it was meant to make you stronger, I can’t accept that Father would feed you such a highly lethal magic stone…」
『No, Una. It’s not like that.』
『I’m sure that he knew I would never fail. That’s why he gave me the magic stone, because he believe in me.』
「Why do you think that?」
Una didn’t doubt Jiryuu, who’s her father and creator.
But she couldn’t help but ask.
『To tell you the truth, on that day, I knew that among the magic stones brought by Jiryuu-sama, there was an ‘evolution magic stone’ mixed in. When I received the knowledge of the ruins from him, there was also information about it. So I knew its color and shape.』
Knowing that, Ann still joyfully ate the stone.
But Una couldn’t believe it.
「W-Was it not scary?」
『Of course, it was scary.』
Ann said casually.
「But― Then, why――――」
『Because if I died here, I wouldn’t be able to serve Jiryuu-sama anymore… That thought alone terrified me. Not being able to meet that person again. Just thinking about it filled me with intense fear. But at the same time, there was another thought that scared me even more.』
『Yes. ‘Continuing to serve Jiryuu-sama in my weak state.’ That was a fear far more terrifying than death for me.』
Una understood that if she remained weak, she wouldn’t be able to protect that person.
Because Jiryuu is her creator and father.
Una had gained confidence through her battles with Ann and the other golems. She was undoubtedly getting stronger.
But did she have the “resolve” to overcome death for the sake of that strength?
『The path to becoming stronger has been shown to me. Moreover, Jiryuu-sama himself has reached out to help me. In that case, where is the reason to refuse? Once I decided to serve that person, I abandoned the fear of ‘death’ long ago.』
And with that, Ann jokingly said, “Besides, the magic stone was incredibly delicious.”
At that moment, Una deeply admired Ann from the bottom of her heart.
She decided to follow her.
To protect her great father, Jiryuu, alongside her.
「What should I do… to become strong like you, Ann?」
『To become like me… that’s a bit awkward to say. But, well… to become stronger, the secret lies in the ‘power of will,’ I believe.』
「The power of will…?」
『Yes, the power of will.』
Una pondered, scratching her head.
What could the power of will be?
The same can be said for Tres. The will of Una and the other golems, the Homunculus, is none other than the will of their father and creator, Jiryuu.
As a newly born being, Una couldn’t fully grasp the intricacies of the heart.
But she believed that she would understand it eventually.
Together with this person, with Ann.
「Ann, I… I want to become strong too! Together with you, no matter how far!」
Upon hearing that, Ann smiled warmly.
『Understood! In that case, shall we begin our training?』
Having finished eating the earthworm’s meat, the two of them trained until late at night.
However, they became exhausted from the intense training, and Una’s request to “go outside” to Jiryuu was delayed by a day. But that can be forgiven with a smile.
And while Ann and Una were training, Tres was riding on the back of Gonzo, a rhinocerous-shaped golem Homunculus, with Pururu. They were speeding through the middle layer.
「Wow, so fast! You’re so fast, Gonzo! Faster, faster!」
Tres, along with Pururu, had successfully taken down a large earthworm.
She placed it on its back and dashed around the middle layer.
「All right! Let’s take this to Senju’s place!」
Tress thought, “This is fun.”
She wished for these days to continue forever.
With Jiryuu and her family, living leisurely together.
Tres didn’t know a greater happiness than this.
「Oh, that’s right! Let’s have Senju give you a piggyback ride next time!」
That’s why Tres always thought of trivial things.
Trivial things like how to play together with Pururu and the golems.
After all, they are family.
They would be together “forever.”
That’s why Tres always thought of nothing but trivial and selfish things.
「All right! Gonzo, let’s go to Senju’s place! After that, it’s nap time with dad.」
The three of them raced through the middle layer.
Believing that these days would continue forever…
Two days later, Una, Dos, and Tres would set off for the human town.
And it wasn’t long after that that she saw Senju’s final moments.
By the way, it seems Dos had been diligently practicing the “Wind Palm” technique alone.
「…………I’ll do my best.」