Chronologically, this side story took place during the construction of the second dungeon.
Side Story 16
It all started with a casual remark from Earth.
『By the way, where is your hometown, Ann?』
Ann tilts her head, momentarily puzzled by the question.
『No, I mean your hometown. You and Elibel come from outside the dungeon, unlike Pururu and Tsumugi. So, I was wondering where you were born.』
It felt like just a conversation starter, nothing serious.
After a moment of thought, Ann answered.
『Well… Elibel aside, we Killer Ants don’t really have a ‘hometown’ concept. The worker ants born from the queen spend their whole lives in the nest. And the next generation of queens leave the nest once they grow to a certain extent to establish new communities and never return to the original place…』
That’s why I, when I was forcibly ousted by my mother, didn’t consider returning to my old nest but instead searched for a potential new one.
This could be said to be a Killer Ant’s instinct.
Of course, the embarrassing details of being kicked out are something I would never mention to Lord Earth.
『However, the community I was in before… I remember it was a small forest in the northeast of the Eld Desert.』
Ann communicates the location to Earth through memory transmission.
The place was several tens of kilometers from the Eld Desert.
『Huh, that’s quite a distance away.』
『But why do you ask?』
『Well, the dungeon has grown and stabilized, so I thought if you ever wanted to see your family…』
『I’ve never even thought about that.』
For me, my ‘hometown’ is this dungeon, and my place is by Lord Earth’s side.
I may occasionally think of my mother, but I never desired to return.
After all, to me, my family means Lord Earth, and my interest in my previous community has faded.
In fact, I’d rather not dwell on the past.
The Ann of the past led an unimaginably slothful life, staying within the nest well into maturity, idly consuming the food brought by other soldier ants—a truly wasted existence.
It was only after my exasperated mother cast me out that I endured a near-death experience to find my way to Lord Earth, a tale I’ve never shared with him.
But when Lord Earth mentions it, I can’t help but wonder.
―――What would my mother think of me now?
Evolved and vastly more powerful, commanding tens of thousands, and above all, the subordinate of the legendary Earth Dragon.
What would her former peers, who scorned her as a good-for-nothing, think if they saw her now?
…She admits, she’s a little curious.
She’d like to show those who cast her out as a no-hoper and shut-in what she’s become.
But she quickly corrects such base thoughts.
『Lord Earth, I am your subordinate. It’s my duty to protect you and serve you. I can’t leave here.』
『Hmm, is that so? Well, keep up the good work, okay?』
『Yes! Of course!』
And so I declined Lord Earth’s offer.
But a few days later, things took a sudden turn.
Unexpectedly, Ann’s chance to return home would come to fruition.
『Negotiations with the local monsters…?』
Elibel nods, her skull rattling, as the flames flicker below, gazing at Ann.
「For now, I want you to see this.」
Still seated, Elibel manipulates a terminal extending from a brilliantly colored sphere, projecting an image into the air.
It shows a cave large enough for a person to enter, located in a forest northeast of the Eld Desert.
「There’s a teleportation gate set up deep inside this cave, but it seems like the local monsters have taken up residence.」
The underground caverns and caves in the dungeon’s middle layer were marked by Elibel during her lifetime as potential dungeon sites.
This place was one of them.
But that was over two hundred years ago.
Naturally, it wouldn’t be odd if local monsters had settled there over time.
According to Elibel, the teleportation gate is installed in an underground cavern beneath this cave.
If they were to use this place as a middle-layer dungeon, a clash with the local monsters would be inevitable.
Ann nods in understanding.
『Got it. So, like we did with the Yuguru Great Forest, we need to subdue the local monsters, right?』
「Exactly. The dungeon isn’t finished yet, so we need to handle this as quietly and inconspicuously as possible. Can I count on you?」
『Of course. The middle-layer dungeon is essential for Lord Earth’s peace. Plus, if we can get the cooperation of the local monsters, it’ll be killing two birds with one stone.』
「Thank you. Just in case, I’ll lend you my undead troops. Use them as you see fit.」
As Elibel says this, Ann thinks she sees the skeletons and wraiths behind her make a face that says “Oh no,” but that must be her imagination.
Skeletons can’t get tired, after all.
And besides, Ann thinks to herself…
By sheer coincidence, the place is close to my hometown—the nest I used to live in.
What a perfect opportunity.
She remembers what Earth said.
Might as well visit my old nest while I’m here.
I’ll show them how much I’ve changed.
To my mother, to my former kin.
And I’ll thoroughly enjoy showing them up.
To prove that I, once called a failure, have become something to behold.
In the end, I realize I’m actually quite interested in seeing my old kin despite everything.
With a mix of dark emotions and anticipation, Ann begins to prepare for her visit to the forest of her hometown.
The next day.
『Shall we be off?』
Ann gathers her things—which are really just a sword and a cloak, plus some magic stones for emergencies—and looks at the antlings and the skeletons and wraiths behind her.
Everyone seems ready.
They’re not a large group.
Making a scene with a big army would defeat the purpose.
Of course, they already have a few wraiths and antlings stationed as scouts in the area.
By the way, Earth is still asleep.
She made sure to inform him of her departure the day before.
She didn’t want to wake him and earn his ire.
The light of the teleportation flickers at their feet.
Ann and her party step through the teleportation gate, leaving the dungeon behind.
The light from the teleportation gate fades.
Ann and her group find themselves in a meadow, a little away from the forest.
This, too, is a location that Elibel had previously marked.
They didn’t teleport directly inside the cave.
That’s because, after two hundred years, the ground inside the cave has become quite fragile.
If they recklessly startled the monsters living there, it could lead to chaos and battle, and in the worst-case scenario, the cave itself might collapse.
That would be counterproductive.
So, they decided it would be best to approach from a distance, negotiate with the monsters, and—if necessary—annihilate them.
『Ah, it’s a nice meadow. There are wild medicinal herbs growing, too. Maybe I’ll pick some as samples for Elibel on our way back.』
『Oops, right, we need to be quiet.』
One of the antlings speaks up.
They have to be careful.
Although they’re at a distance, there’s a human village nearby.
They must act cautiously.
So they begin to move, hiding their presence so as not to be detected by adventurers or other monsters.
After a few minutes of travel, they arrive at the entrance to the forest they were aiming for.
Suddenly, they hear the scream of a monster.
『What’s going on?』
Ann immediately instructs a wraith to scout ahead.
At once, the wraith dashes off to survey the situation.
It doesn’t take long before Ann receives a thought transmission.
“Nearby, a goblin is being attacked by humans.”
Ann recalls there’s a human village not too far away.
Perhaps they came to hunt monsters, or maybe they’re here to gather herbs.
Well, their purpose doesn’t really matter.
What to do now?
After a moment of silent contemplation, Ann makes her decision.
『…Let’s not interfere.』
It’s better not to get involved carelessly.
After all, the goblin that carelessly wandered into such a visible area is also to blame.
It’s seriously lacking in survival instincts.
For a wild monster, it’s simply reaping what it sowed.
That’s her judgement.
The antlings and skeletons nod in agreement and start moving so as not to be noticed.
「Heh, a goblin thinking it stands a chance!」
「Don’t underestimate humans, you monster!」
The voices of humans can be heard.
Mixed in are the screams of the goblin.
From a distance, the group appears to be ordinary villagers, not adventurers, armed with hoes and hatchets, tormenting a battered goblin.
It seems they are not hunting, but merely taking pleasure in torturing a lost goblin that strayed from the forest.
Distorted smiles spread across their faces, intoxicated with the pleasure of the strong bullying the weak.
I can’t help but feel disgusted at the sight of these humans.
Overwhelming the enemy with numbers is a tactic I wouldn’t usually condemn.
I am, after all, a monster that moves in a “swarm,” and I understand all too well that “numbers” are a form of “strength.”
But that is a means for survival, a strategy to win in battle.
It’s not a vile method to be used just to torment the weak, like those humans are doing.
And that goblin, too, what about it?
Why is it being tormented so easily?
It should either run or fight back, but instead, it just cowers in silence, enduring the violence.
『What a pitiful sight…』
This reminds me of my own past weakness before I met Lord Earth when I was weak in both body and spirit.
She knows that without standing up for oneself, nothing can be gained.
There’s no point in offering a hand to someone who lacks the will to stand on their own.
With that thought, she’s about to look away―――when something catches her eye.
The crouching goblin.
It’s not a mistake.
In its arms, Ann can see a goblin child.
The goblin wasn’t just crouching and enduring.
It was protecting.
A life smaller than itself.
Surrounded, with no chance to escape, but still desperately enduring to protect its child.
It could have saved itself by abandoning the child and running away.
But instead, it doesn’t try to escape, enduring the blows to protect its offspring.
There are surely better ways.
It could call for help from its kind, use itself as a bait to let the child escape―there must be other options.
Yet, it simply uses itself as a shield to protect the child.
Small, foolish, and pitiful.
―――Before she realizes it, Ann is already sprinting forward, sword in hand.
Sub29: I’ve not been feeling well recently and need a bit more time to recuperate. So the chapter released may not be on schedule. I appreciate your understanding if there’s a delay.
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