「This was Spina’s doing!?」
「That is the most likely case.」
「Oh, what is that girl doing…」
Lilu held her a palm to her head and sighed. She immediately felt that this was not so much a betrayal, but her way of forcing Aur to stop. Spina had been adamant about trying to stop Aur from declaring war on Lafenice before she disappeared.
「It is just like her to try and stop you from doing something outrageous, by going out and doing something much more so.」
While it was something that she was likely to do, this was excessive any way you looked at it.
「So what will you do?」
「…I have a general idea of the path. We will start our assault. The only problem is how we should deal with that slime…」
The slime was most likely an improved variant of the magic eating slime that Spina had once made. It would be very difficult to prepare a large quantity of water in the labyrinth where rain could not reach. And either way, they had no confirmation that this one was weak to water like the last one.
「Are we sure it isn’t an invincible slime where nothing will be effective?」
Spina of all people would find a way, said Lilu worryingly. Aur shook his head.
「Such a thing is not possible in principle. No matter how well balanced it is, that balance will distort when it eats something, which will weaken it. That is the base, you cannot freely create ignore that. You must choose within established options.」
Lilu thought hard and then raised a finger as an idea hit her.
「Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be faster to just ask Spina directly?」
「Do you even think before you…」
Aur sighed. There was no reason to believe that an enemy who had attacked them would give up that information. However, it was true that dealing with Spina seemed like it would be easier than dealing with the slime.
「Very well, we will go in that general direction for now.」
「Eh, then why was I just rebuked?」
Aur abandoned Lilu, who starred with an unsatisfied expression and began his preparations for the attack.
An assault from one dungeon towards another was a little different than the conquest of a dungeon by adventurers. For a dungeon lord, the labyrinth was comparable to their own body. They maintained a general awareness of what occurred within, and in turn, were able to generally control it.
In other words, a battle between dungeons was a struggle over territories. Like eating into each other’s bodies. It was very different from the 『sophisticated』warfare between states or even dungeon exploration.
「Now, take up position! Break the wall down!」
The hellhounds killed and devoured the orc hordes, and the room was splattered with blood and brains as Aur entered and set up a barrier around it. Kobolds and imps continuously attacked the surface of the walls with pickaxes, destroying it in no time.
There was no need to wander through the labyrinth and slowly kill enemies. They could break through the walls and floors and head to the center in a straight line. Such were the battles between two dungeon masters.
Aur collected the corpses of orcs and drew a magic square with their blood. Aur’s own labyrinth was densely covered with barriers that forbade teleportation. But Spina’s labyrinth was a different story. She had but a few simple barriers set up, but they were weak in intensity compared to Aur’s. If he drew a magic square and reset the barriers, he would very easily be able to create teleportation squares.
「You lot will defend this area.」
Aur used the teleportation square to call several giants and white elves and had them stationed there. The giants would function as a blockade for the enemy, the elves would support from behind with volleys of arrows. It was a combination well suited for defense.
With the placement of the defense roles at his back, he could avoid pincer attacks and surprise attacks from the rear, on top of containing any further attempts of invading his dungeon.
「Dig through the eastern wall next! We will enter the water vein!」
Once the kobolds had torn the wall to the ground, the roaring rush of an underground stream was revealed ahead. The giant flies would have had no problem lightly flying over the current, but Aur and his force could not do the same. They would have to make a detour… Or so Spina was sure to assume.
「Lay the Bridge! Make haste!」
Aur had summoned a monstrous bridge and ordered the giants to set it over the river banks. The bridge had been hurriedly constructed by the dwarves and was of a simple wooden build, but its durability was guaranteed. There was not even a sound of bending wood when the giants, who were several times larger than humans walked over it.
「Destroy the wall of the opposite bank!」
On the other side of the bridge, the kobolds and giants began to work together as they swung their pickaxes; the wall crumbled in no time. And in the same instant, death cries echoed through the tunnels.
Gigantic boulders that were big enough to fill the pathways began to roll out, crushing the kobolds and swallowing the giants. A 『sphere』 trap… It was a most diabolical trap, it had an excessive destructive ability that made it difficult to use.
「The fool, to set it in a place like this… No, maybe it was because it was a place like this.」
Spina was well acquainted with Aur’s personality and patterns of action. This place could not be passed through conventional methods. And it was for that reason that Spina had anticipated Aur to come through here, and so she had laid a trap.
「After this, I think it would be safe to assume that she would have anticipated every other route as well.」
Aur drew a map of Spina’s labyrinth in his mind. Thinking back, all of the routes that he had thought to use in order to surprise her seemed questionable now. Too many of them made it difficult to position guards. Aur had thought of these as mere openings, but they were more likely to be traps. Surely she had set brutal devices in the area instead of posting guards. Even so, making a head-on assault could hardly be considered a good strategy either. The enemy had hordes of monsters.
Even if they were expected to be weak as individuals, they had a geographical advantage. To illustrate, should a rain of arrows be loosed from an elevated platform, Aur’s side would be able to do nothing but suffer the one-sided attack. If that were to happen, the loss would be tremendous, even if he wasn’t ultimately defeated.
「…Well, I will show you then. Spina, here is a strategy that you have never witnessed.」
And so Aur finally reached the innermost part of Spina’s labyrinth. The giant slime filled the entire room, beating loudly like a living heart.
「Break down the patterns on the walls!」
Aur ordered the kobolds and they began to destroy the walls of the tunnel that lead to the slime room. The magical energy was being carried to the center of the labyrinth through the patterns on the walls. If they destroyed everything that surrounded the room, it would stop most of the slime’s supply of magic.
If that happened, the labyrinth would not be able to maintain itself, the slime would not be able to grow any further.
「Come out, Spina! We have severed your magic supply. You have lost.」
Aur shouted into the empty air. Where ever she might be, she was sure to monitor this room, the heart of the labyrinth.
「…Well done, master.」
The surface of the slime shook and distorted, a pair of arms pushed out. Next followed a pale face, and Spina slowly came out from within the mucoid lifeform. Leaving her naked body generously exposed, she slowly bowed before Aur.
「Truly, I did not expect you to reach here so quickly.」
「I had not shown them to you yet. Tactics such as these. …Well, they can hardly be called tactics.」
Aur turned around and indicated towards the back of the passageway.
What lay beyond it was a well-excavated hall that had just enough pillars remaining to keep the structure sound and there were giants, imps, and kobolds wielding pickaxes.
「It was nothing. A matter of overwhelming quantity used in full force.」
Ultimately, traps were only effective when used in narrow spaces such as tunnels and small rooms. As he had merely destroyed and toppled everything, it was not easily labeled as a strategic measure. But had he used all of his fighting force for this aim, his defensive capabilities would have dropped, increasing the danger. Finding this precarious balance could be considered a part of being resourceful.
「…More importantly, what are you playing at?」
Spina gave a clear smile as she answered Aur’s question.
「I was making preparations to welcome you. …You and I, we can live in this labyrinth together.」
「You should not have bothered. Hurry up and take care of that slime. …We are going home.」
「I cannot do that.」
As if in answer to Spina’s words, the slime began to move and shake, it blocked the exit passage, as if surrounding him. Aur could not understand how she controlled the slime, which had neither intelligence nor a will.
「Do you mean to have it so…even by force?」
Even while seeing this, Aur did not panic as he asked the question. He would not allow himself to be surprised any further at what abilities this girl had.
「No. I am only concerned about your well being.」
Spina approached Aur and slowly brought a hand to his cheek. Her hand was shockingly cold, a sensation more chilling than the already cool underground labyrinth shuddered through him.
「…You appear to be serious」
To think that I have such an ill-natured apprentice, Aur sighed. Had Spina rebelled against Aur as an enemy, he could stop her with the curse he had previously cast. But Spina had been moved to action by a genuine concern, to protect Aur.
「Yet, I cannot do as you want. 『Remove the slime, Spina』. Hurry and…」
He ordered, along with a spell. But the order had no effect on Spina.
It was not because the magic did not have an effect on her.
It was because he understood the price she had paid for it.
「You foolish…you, do you understand what you have done!?」
「Yes, I understand. But even so, there was nothing else I could do in order to match you…to stand next to you. And so, I do not see my actions as foolish.」
Spina slowly embraced Aur. The lower half of his body was already enveloped by the slime. And the slime was connected to the lower half of Spina’s body.
Spina’s lower half was changing into slime. The ends stretched out long, connecting to the pulsating giant slime that was the heart of the dungeon. It was obvious now, why she was able to freely control a slime that had no intelligence.
Because she herself had become a slime.
「Master, have you yourself not abandoned your own humanity…? Now, in the depth of this labyrinth, let us love one another into eternity…」
Spina’s body was rapidly swallowing up Aur’s body. While it did not dissolve his flesh, it sapped him of magic and prevented him from moving.
「…『Neris Bia Spina』」
Right as his body was almost completely immersed, Aur spoke with the mouth that was the only part of him that was still exposed. He called her name.
At that, Spina instantly grew still.
And with those words, Aur’s body separated from Spina’s.
Even in her shock, her body came away from Aur’s, even the surrounding slimes moved away. No matter how much she tried, she could not fight against it, she could not stop her own movements.
「There was one thing that I had never taught you.」
Aur said while he regained his breath and sent magic through his weakened limbs.
「A sorcerer can never go against the teacher who named them. Regardless of whether you can nullify magic or change into something inhuman, none of that matters. Your name is your existence itself. It is tantamount to the soul after all.」
Soundlessly, a tear ran down Spina’s cheek.
「…Do not cry. I understand your concerns, and I accept them. Now, let us 『hurry up and leave』」
Spina slowly brought a hand to her own cheek and saw that there were tears.
And then her mouth twisted into a smile.
「These are not tears of sadness. They are are tears of joy. Because I have finally…」
Aur’s movements stopped. He could not move his body at all, like Spina had not been able to a moment ago.
「Become your equal.」
No, the truth was that it was exactly as Spina had been a moment ago.
「Is this…imitative magic…!」