Side Story 18
『Continue the assault!』
Ann commands, leading a mixed force of skeletons and antlings in a charge against the thieves.
There appear to be about twenty thieves just within her line of sight, and she senses more inside the cave.
They are numerous, but their training seems subpar.
Her antlings are intermediate-class individually, and the skeletons, thanks to the armaments provided by Elibel, boast the strength of advanced-class.
They alone should be more than capable of suppressing the enemy.
「What the— Who are these guys?!」「Where did they come from?!」「Hey, someone inform the boss!」「We’re tied up here; you go!」
The thieves are thrown into disarray by the sudden onslaught of monsters.
They’re laughably easy to overpower, betraying the shallowness of their strength.
But complacency is a no-go.
Above all, Ann can’t afford to waste time — not when the local monsters are suffering, especially if her former kin— her mother — is inside the cave.
『Skeleton troops, take care of aiding the local monsters and eliminating the humans here! Antlings, with me to the inside of the cave!』
Ann issues orders while cutting down humans along her path.
The skeleton troops, wielding the weapons given by Elibel and Earth, descend upon their foes.
「What the—?!」「Where did these skeletons— Aaargh!」「How are these skeletons so freakishly strong?!」「Argh! Why are these Killer Ants so powerful?!」
To the thieves, the sudden appearance of Ann and her forces must have seemed like nothing short of a nightmare.
They scream, panic, and fall one by one.
The skeletons, each one eager to engage, swarm the thieves as if venting their frustrations.
Could they possibly be stressed?
No, that can’t be.
As has been said over and over, skeletons are emotionless creatures.
So it must be that it “appears” that way, and they’re simply fulfilling their orders… probably. Surely.
Because surely they aren’t thinking things like:
“You lawless scum, do you know the suffering of working under a super perverted black-hearted boss like ours? Huh?! Die, just dieeeee!! That damn boss!!” or “Why isn’t Lady Ann our boss?! When we get back from this mission we have to report to… Nooo, I don’t wanna!!” or “Kill them, kill them all, smash them to pieces, die, die, die…”
―――Such inner screams are surely just Ann’s imagination.
Because they’re skeletons.
They don’t have feelings, right?
Meanwhile, the monsters from the cave stand bewildered.
Are they unsettled by Ann’s sudden arrival? They’re clearly slower to react.
It’s exasperating… what are they doing?
Ann takes a deep breath and then:
With just one word, she yells at the monsters.
『What are you dazed for! Show your fangs! Unleash your claws! Strike down the enemies before you! Do not forgive those who have invaded your territory! Fight!!!』
The monsters snap to attention at her command.
They quickly regain their senses and start fighting back against the humans.
Several men, gripped by fear, flee deeper into the cave.
Ann and her antlings follow them, storming into the cave after the retreating thieves.
At that moment, deep within the cave, the Killer Ant queen and several soldier ants were battling the thieves.
No, that’s not quite the right word for it.
To be precise, they were being hunted.
Killer Ants, by nature, are lowest-class monsters that can’t fight properly without overwhelming their enemies with numbers.
They stood no chance against these battle-hardened humans.
Their name, Killer Ants, was a gross misnomer.
One by one, they were falling.
In the deepest part of the fray, the queen ant watched as her soldiers were cut down, realizing a grim truth.
―――This is the end.
The queen ant accepted her fate.
The beginning of their end started a few days ago when these thieves attacked their former nest.
They looted all the food and supplies the ants could use, destroyed and burned everything else.
It was nothing short of a miracle that she and a few antlings survived at all, escaping through a hidden passageway.
They found this place and tried to establish a new nest.
But the humans wouldn’t allow it.
They attacked just as they were about to settle in, having found other monsters seeking to coexist.
Bad luck―no, it was as if luck had abandoned them completely.
What had they done to deserve this?
They had just lived quietly in the forest, peacefully, carefree―――.
『―――No, Mom, let me go! I don’t want to go outside! I want to live leisurely with you! Why? Why, Mom!?』
Suddenly, the queen ant remembered a certain daughter of hers.
That “odd child” who used to be with them.
A strange girl who didn’t go out to be independent like the others, who just comfortably holed up in the nest and never left her side.
The girl had all the talents and magical power fit for a queen but was too faint-hearted.
Dependent on her mother, she was cast out to stand on her own two feet, that peculiar girl.
What was she doing now?
「There she is! That’s the queen ant!」 「Causing us so much trouble, but this is the end!」 「Kill her!!!」
The thieves closed in on her.
The surrounding soldier ants stepped forward but were no match.
They were weak.
Oh, how weak they all were.
Was that girl still alive?
Had she managed to establish her own nest as a new queen?
…Why was she thinking about this now?
Probably no particular reason.
It was just that, somehow, that girl had left the strongest impression on her.
She was the most peculiar among her daughters, just like herself.
So if that weak, little girl could change…
If she could realize her mission and stand on her own…
―――Surely, she would be reigning as an incredibly great queen by now.
―――The blade was inches away.
She was about to be killed.
It was over.
That’s what she thought.
―――But death did not come.
There was a clang! The sound of the blade being deflected.
『Haa… Haa… I… I made it in time. I’m just in time… Good… truly good…!』
Someone was standing in front of her, blocking the approaching thief as if to say, “You shall not pass.”
―――Who is it?
The queen ant looks at the creature before her.
It’s a creature she’s never seen before, a fusion of human and ant, wielding two swords.
She feels an immense magical power, incomparably greater than any of the Killer Ants’.
Yet… why does it feel so familiar?
She knows… this creature. This incredibly nostalgic magical power…
Yes, that power.
Even if its appearance has changed, instinct, the soul, tells her.
Indeed. This creature is ――― the child she bore.
『Mother… it’s been a long time,』
says a voice, hoarse and tinged with uncertainty.
The daughter who was once so weak is now looking straight at her.
She abandoned her daughter because she had to.
But her daughter did not abandon her.
『Mother… it’s been a long time…』
It had been years.
What to say, how to speak, and would she even recognize her at all?
All these emotions piled up and, in the end, Ann’s greeting was a simple, everyday phrase.
But it was the right choice.
The response was dramatic.
Her mother recognized her.
After years and such a drastic change, she recognized her own daughter.
That realization alone filled Ann’s heart.
She felt she had finally faced the “past self” she had been unable to confront until now.
It wasn’t about proving herself or seeking validation.
She just wanted to be seen properly.
That was all.
And so, with that,
Ann gazes at the fools before her.
Lawless intruders who stepped into their territory uninvited.
There are fifteen of them in total. Only one seems to be a real problem.
『How dare you kill my former kin?』
She kicks off the ground.
Her sword swings.
「Ah!? Who the hell are yo―――」
One head flies.
「Eh? What’s happen―――」
Another body splits in two.
Her antlings pounce on the humans scattered around.
Each one of them possesses the strength of a intermediate-class.
They can hold their own against humans.
Meanwhile, she’ll dispose of the most troublesome enemy.
「Damn it! Who the hell are you!?」
Snarls a particularly large human, wielding an axe, glaring at Ann.
He must be the leader of these thieves.
Ann channels magic into her sword.
「Ha! I’ll take you on! Listen up, you piece of monster trash! I’m the leader of this bandit gang, known as ‘The Great Axe’―――」
The words didn’t last until the end.
Before he can introduce himself, there’s a thud, and the man’s head falls off.
Easily, the man is cut down by Ann and dies.
His expression, until the very end, was that of a fool, unaware of what had just happened.
With such an opening, announcing himself was practically asking to be killed.
Ann swiftly takes down the nameless thief leader and glares at the “enemy.”
The man―the leader, was hiding behind another man with gaunt cheeks.
「Heh… Heh heh, impressive. That guy, he used to be quite a well-known adventurer… Heh heh.」
With a creepy laugh, the man readies his dagger.
Looks can be deceiving. This man is definitely a veteran
Despite the leader being killed and his comrades dying one after another, there’s not a hint of disturbance in the magical aura he emits.
No doubt about it. The presence of a veteran I’d sensed before entering the cave is this man.
Who is he?
No, it doesn’t matter.
He’s just another one to kill.
Ann charges her sword, the Earth Dragon Sword, and her cloak with magical power.
She maximizes the Slash Extension feature of her degraded version of the sacred sword, Leviathan.
She must manifest all the power she possesses.
Her instincts tell her that she can’t win otherwise.
Ann moves first.
She swings the Earth Dragon Sword to decapitate the man from the side.
He parries it with his dagger.
Using the recoil, the man tries to close in.
So, Ann fires an “acid bullet” to intercept him.
The concentrated acid bullet grazes the man’s cheek at point-blank range.
But, unfazed, the man tries to thrust his dagger into Ann’s side.
She twists her body and activates Leviathan’s slash extension ability.
The enlarged blade becomes a makeshift shield, blocking the man’s dagger.
In a flash, Ann brings her face close to the man’s.
She breathes in quietly―and then…
The attack is a sonic wave that paralyzes the semicircular canals, an attack she used once before in a fierce battle with Heleb.
The man’s body sways.
Ann goes to tear out the man’s throat with her teeth.
She’s certain of her victory.
But in the next moment―she feels a chill.
The man’s face was grinning.
With a flick of his tongue, a small “needle” appears.
The needle shoots out with his breath.
It sticks in Ann’s shoulder.
The pain is so minor it’s hardly worth calling damage.
Ann falls powerlessly to the ground.
The man looks on with satisfaction.
「Heh, heh heh… How’s that poison? Your body’s numb and can’t move, right? I concocted it specially… It’s fast-acting and, moreover, causes intense numbness and pain at regular intervals until death… Keh heh heh.」
With a creepy smile, the man watches Ann’s condition.
The poison is undoubtedly effective.
He’s convinced of his victory.
He places the dagger at Ann’s throat.
「……Keh heh heh, as a parting gift to the afterlife, shall I tell you my name? I am the ‘Poison Sword’―――」
The moment he tries to introduce himself, a small wolf bites his wrist.
「Wha, ow… What’s this dog! Stop interrup… Ow, that hurts!」
He’s completely caught off guard.
Due to the very slight magic and the small presence, the man didn’t notice the approach.
He tries to shake it off, but the young wolf clings on desperately, refusing to let go.
The man slashes at the wolf cub with the dagger in his other hand.
The cub is cut, released from the man’s wrist, and collapses into the pool of its own blood.
「Phew… Stupid beast, getting in the way, seriously…」
He goes to rub the wrist that was bitten but then notices something odd.
The man is puzzled.
His wrist―it’s gone.
More accurately, everything below the elbow has vanished, as if sliced clean by a sharp blade.
When he looks down, there lies his own arm.
Cut? By whom?
That slight question. The thought. The hesitation.
It proved to be fatal.
With a thud.
The man who lost one arm now has the other cut off as well.
He loses both arms, stumbles, and fumbles.
『……I was careless.』
A voice comes from behind.
He turns around.
There stands the monster that was supposed to have been downed by poison.
Why can it move?
Why didn’t the poison work?
No, it should have worked.
Why, why, why, why does it hurt, HURT, HURT―――.
And then, the man’s head is severed.
Ann exhales in relief after confirming the man’s death.
…That was close.
If she hadn’t had the “antidote,” she would have been done for.
『……Thanks to that goblin family.』
The herb given to her by the goblins saved Ann in her desperate situation.
The poison on the needle used by that man was exactly the same as the one that had afflicted the water serpent.
It must have been this man who had fought the water serpent.
Knowing the symptoms of the poison in advance, Ann quickly realized she’d been hit with the same poison and was able to counteract it.
If it had been a different poison on the needle, the outcome would have been different.
『……The needle is small, but it was infused with magic.』
So that’s how it penetrated Ann’s shell.
She snaps the needle with a satisfying crack.
『Thank you, young wolf.』
Ann approaches the greatest contributor to the victory―the bloodied, fallen wolf cub.
If he hadn’t risked his life to buy those few seconds, Ann wouldn’t know what state she’d be in now.
But thanks to that, she was able to launch a surprise attack on the completely off-guard man.
…He’s still breathing.
Ann quickly pulls out a magic stone from her pocket and crushes it in her hand.
Powder would be easier to swallow.
She forces the wolf’s mouth open and makes it swallow the magic stone.
The reaction is dramatic.
The wounds heal rapidly, and the wolf cub returns to its original state.
The wolf cub runs around Ann.
It’s hard to believe it was near death just moments ago, so full of energy.
It licks Ann gratefully.
『……Have the others been taken care of as well?』
When she looks, she sees the antlings have taken care of all the humans.
And it looks like the outside’s been cleared too, since the skeleton squad is heading her way.
Is it her imagination, or does everyone seem oddly refreshed?
Well, no matter. She’ll just roll up the corpses into meatballs later as a reward for the antlings.
『The thieves are wiped out. …We can finally get back to our main mission.』
Ann heads toward her mother to report and share the purpose of her visit.
To cut to the chase, Ann’s requests are readily accepted.
Quite surprisingly so.
The local creatures, under the protection of ― precisely, Earth’s protection ― have pledged to guard the teleportation gate and have also promised to spare no effort in creating and defending the dungeon.
The fact that Ann had previously protected and saved local creatures like the wolf cub and the goblins only added to their willingness to swear loyalty to her.
Among those creatures were the water serpent and the family of goblins she had helped.
Of course, the creatures had their own calculations, hoping to be protected from external threats by powerful beings like Ann and Earth, but it was a mutual relationship.
With that, Ann’s mission in the forest is complete.
She can leave the rest to Elibel and the golems.
『And so, you know what Earth said at that time, Mom? He said, ‘I leave the upper floors to you.’ To me! He entrusted me with the upper levels! I was so moved at that moment!』
『I’ve never been so happy, really. I felt so determined to do my best! To follow this person! And then―――』
And so she goes on.
With the mission over and only waiting remotely for the teleportation gate to be repaired, Ann sticks close to her mother, talking nonstop.
Though it’s mostly Ann talking, with her mother nodding along.
The antlings and skeletons are watching this scene, tilting their heads, wondering, “Was Ann always like this?”
What they don’t know is that Ann has always been a shut-in and rather shy.
So in a sense, this might be considered her “true self.”
She finishes her long spiel and strokes the wolf cub lying across her lap, now fully adopted as a pet.
『Haah… That was a lot of talking. I never thought I’d say so much. ―――Oops, looks like it’s time.』
When she looks, she sees the teleportation gate in the underground cavern emitting a faint light.
It seems the repairs are complete.
『Well then, shall we head back?』
『Hm? What’s wrong, Mom?』
Ann makes herself ready, and her mother approaches with her antennae, the Killer Ants’ way of communicating.
They don’t have the ability to use thought transmission as fluently as Ann does.
So their conversation is somewhat halting and disjointed, but Ann’s mother wanted to express her feelings honestly.
Ann feels her mother’s emotions being transmitted to her.
―――Thank you for saving me.
―――I never imagined you, of all ants, would be named, let alone serving such a powerful creature.
―――I’m confused. But also very happy.
―――That weak little one.
―――Who depended on me, never left the nest, and always hid within her own shell.
―――Has grown up to be so magnificent.
―――I am satisfied.
―――Keep it up.
―――Follow the path you believe in.
―――Lead your kin with your actions.
―――I may not be able to do anything more for you.
―――But I am still your mother.
―――If you ever need anything, come to me.
She conveyed this.
Before she knows it, Ann is embracing her mother, crying.
Despite the antlings, the skeletons around, she’s shedding tears.
Yes, I will keep at it.
So watch over me, Mom.
She will continue to strive to be a fitting subordinate for that lord.
Slowly, she touches her mother’s body, feeling the warmth she could never feel before.
The bond of parent and child that had been missing is now firmly established and will never be lost.
She will absolutely never let go.
With this, Ann’s homecoming comes to a close.
―――In the northeastern part of the Eld Desert lies an unnamed forest.
This small forest, guided by a certain black ant queen, will transform over the years into a great habitat for creatures, rivaling the vast Yuguru Great Forest.
A utopia for monsters, where all kinds of monsters live together in harmony, helping and supporting one another.
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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