Chapter 106: Dragon’s Nest

After settling matters with the trio from Demon Island. I walked slowly through the forest with Claira, whom I had taken hostage.

Moving truly slowly, as if taking a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood. Claira looked at me with a puzzled expression.

The hand that had previously grabbed Claira’s hair had been released quite some time ago.

The rough behavior of grabbing her hair and forcing her to stand or walk was part of my intimidation of Gozu and Klimt. If I did that, the threat, “If you come after me, I’ll kill you,” would carry more weight.

But since those two were no longer around, there was no need to continue the act. Of course, I didn’t bother to explain this, so Claira probably still harbors animosity and caution towards me.

That aside, the reason I didn’t return to Ishka and instead stayed in the forest was to address a concern I had.

Previously, Lunamaria had stated the following about dragonkind:

“True dragons do not have an egg stage. They are a mythical calamity that is born with flesh and blood when the conditions of the world are right. That is what a dragon is.”

If this statement is correct, then the Titis Forest where the Hydra appeared currently meets the conditions for the emergence of dragonkind.

In other words, defeating the Hydra alone would not solve the problem; there is a possibility that a second or third dragonkind could appear.

Of course, there is also the possibility that no new dragonkind will be born, but since the details of the emergence conditions are unknown, everything is just speculation.

So, I decided to check it out.

The reason for leaving the Hydra, which had pretended to be dead, was this.

As for how I knew the Hydra wasn’t dead, it was because when I cut off all eight of its heads earlier, almost no souls flowed into me. Whether it was the king of flies, the king of snakes, or Jijinbou, a large number of souls had entered me the moment I killed them.

It was impossible for the soul of a Hydra, a mythical creature, to be inferior to them. Therefore, I was convinced that the Hydra was still alive.

At first, I thought about finishing off the Hydra while Gozu and the others were out of the picture. But the fact that it played dead suggested that it had a consciousness that didn’t want to die. From that, I surmised that it had the intelligence to recognize the power gap between us.

If the threat that I posed were to disappear, the Hydra would undoubtedly return to its nest, waiting to recover. By following it, we might be able to find out the conditions for the emergence of dragonkind. At the very least, we might be able to find some clues – that’s what I thought.

Even if this idea turned out to be off the mark, it wouldn’t be a problem. At that time, I would just have to finish off the Hydra again.

And as predicted, things began to move.

“I see, so you had hidden the crucial last head in your body all along.”

As I pursue Hydra, racing north through the Titis Forest at incredible speed, I mutter to myself in a low voice.

The ninth head had emerged from the meaty remains of the body, which had lost its eight heads and eight tails and had become a lump of flesh. This, presumably, is Hydra’s true body.

This is because the head that had emerged by tearing through its own body had eaten away at the part that was connected to the body, and had begun to move on its own.

Crawling along the ground, contorting its body like a giant snake, it dissolved the ground with its poison as it advanced. There was no trace of the sluggishness it had shown before.

“Um, Lord Sora!?”

As I carefully track Hydra without being noticed, a panicked voice suddenly arises from very close by–specifically, from around the chest area.

Looking down, I meet the confused and embarrassed gaze of Claira.

“Be quiet. You’ll bite your tongue.”

“Y-yes. Um, but, I think there might be a bit of a problem with this position…!”

It seems that Claira is concerned about the position she’s in, being carried in a princess carry by me. Well, it’s understandable that being carried by the person who was just fighting with you moments ago can make you feel uneasy. However, I can’t imagine Claira, who seems to be exhausted, keeping up with me, and I can’t see what’s happening outside my field of view with her on my back. Of course, leaving her behind is out of the question.

Considering all this, carrying her in this manner is the best option. In this position, even if Claira were to attack me, I could respond immediately.

“Endure it.”

With that heartless command, Claira lowered her eyes in resignation.

As we exchange such a conversation, I continue to move through the forest as if flying.

The Hydra was heading north, to the depths of Titis Forest, and even further to its innermost part. Along the way, we passed through an area that had turned into a sea of venom, and I thought it would be troublesome to dive into it, but the Hydra passed over the venom as if it were sliding.

Its desperate fleeing seemed to indicate that our battle was especially difficult, and I felt a strange sense of guilt as I watched it go. For some reason, it brought back memories of running home, crying as a child, to where my mother was waiting.

–After a while. We finally set foot in the deepest part of Titis.

We knew this because the atmosphere had clearly changed. This was not a metaphor, but a real change in the quality of the air.

In short, the air had become thicker.

At first, I thought that Hydra’s poison had penetrated Kei’s defense, but that wasn’t the case.

This was the overwhelming smell of life. The power of mana, which the world produces, was overflowing in the air, and one could feel one’s whole body being filled with magic just by standing there. If I were to cast magic right now, I could unleash several times, if not dozens of times, the usual power. The same held true for Kei techniques.

The density of mana is unbelievably high, almost eerie.

I slow down my running speed as if something has caught my attention and start moving forward while remaining cautious of my surroundings. The more I advance, the stronger this strange feeling grows. The surroundings only serve to intensify this sensation.

The plants in the deepest part of the forest differ from those on the periphery or in the less dense areas. It’s not that there are only new species that I’ve never seen before growing here. Every plant that catches my eye is a familiar species.

It’s just that their growth is beyond my knowledge.

For example, the Korusira grass I can see in my right hand should only grow up to a meter at most, but here it is easily growing over two meters tall. The Pararu fruit should only be about the size of a fist, but here they have grown to the size of an adult’s head.

Every plant that comes into sight is in that state.

As a result of continuously absorbing an extremely dense amount of mana, the forest had deviated from its original form as a species and became a deformed forest. This was the appearance of the deepest part of Titis Forest, which was rumored to be inhabited by mythical creatures.

I don’t know why so much mana is being generated, but we should consider that not only plants, but also other things, are mutating at this rate. There is also a high possibility that demon beasts are significantly enhanced.

I put Claira down on the ground and manifested my soul equipment. It’s better to do so, or rather, my instincts told me that it’s dangerous not to.

Perhaps Claira also sensed the same thing and manifested her own soul equipment, following my lead.

Fortunately, it’s easy to follow the direction that the hydra went since the trees in its path have all been knocked down.

I proceed cautiously, wary of my surroundings. As I look around, I notice branch-like objects beginning to sprout from the cracks in the wood that the hydra had broken. The growth rate is unnaturally fast and impossible for natural plants.

When I think about it calmly, Hydra was born in the deepest part and headed towards Ishka, so the plants in this area should have also sunk into the sea of poison at least once. Even if it had deviated from Hydra’s path, it would have been blown high into the sky along with the ground by the tornadoes that mythical creatures had created.

Nevertheless, there are no signs of that in the surroundings. The way the plants have densely grown, without even a gap to walk through, makes it look like a green fortress. These plants have absorbed Hydra’s poison with their abundant vitality and have regained their usual appearance in just a few days.

As mentioned earlier, remnants of the poisoned sea still linger in the deeper parts. Therefore, this is a characteristic only of the deepest part. It was certain that there was “something” beyond this point.

And just when I thought that, my vision suddenly shook.

I hurriedly stepped forward and shook my head slightly. It was like a feeling of drunkenness, my body feeling strange and my feet unsteady. If you drink alcohol to excess, you might experience the same sensation as I am right now.

In addition, a dull pain resembling heartburn has been felt in my upper abdomen since earlier.

It was clear that these abnormalities were caused by Mana.

Normally, Mana does not impair the body, but rather has the function of activating both mind and body. Even those who are not magicians can receive the benefits of Mana.

However, just as too much of a good thing can be harmful, excessive intake of mana can overly activate bodily functions. That is probably what is causing the abnormalities in our body and mind.

If it were a poison, we could defend against it with Kei, but in the case of mana, the body takes it in automatically, so we cannot prevent it even with Kei. In fact, using Kei causes the body to crave even more magical power, leading to an even higher absorption rate of mana, which creates a vicious cycle. In a way, it was more troublesome than the poison of the Hydra.

Staying here for a long time can be a matter of life and death. Unaware, our speed chasing the Hydra had increased.

I wonder how far we have come since then.

Claira has been holding her hand over her mouth and vomiting constantly since earlier. I myself was tormented by dizziness and nausea and felt like I would collapse on the spot if I let my guard down.

To be honest, we were lucky not to be attacked by magical beasts. Perhaps it was due to the Hydra’s fear, but I am grateful to that dragon species for this point.

That “it” came into our view at that moment.

— There was a gaping hole in the ground.

A huge, too huge hole. The moment I saw the hole, which could swallow not only Ishka but also the capital, every hair on my body stood on end.

A torrent of mana overflowed from the hole with a roaring sound. The density of the mana that had tormented us up until this point was probably only one-tenth compared to the mana that surged up to the sky as if to reach it.

What is this, even the term “mana” or “magical power” may not be adequate for it. Could this be a power from the realm of mythology, like “Elemental (Ether)” or “Divine Power (Origin)”?

A nightmare where infinite power gushes out endlessly, perfectly matched in its intensity.

Ah, if that were the case, I could truly understand why a mythical creature could appear here.

I had never seen such a sight before. However, I recognized it from what I had learned.

A hole opened in the earth, from which primal power overflowed. Since ancient times, the heroes who founded the dynasty always built their capital atop such places.

In other words, it is a dragon’s lair.

Authors note:

Anima: Anima: The Other Self Within You

Within every human being, there is another self dwelling deep within their soul, known as the anima. The anima can be classified into two types: the unique and the world. The former is an anima that arises from personal unconsciousness (i.e. the user’s own memories), while the latter arises from collective unconsciousness (i.e. the memories of humans as a species). By categorizing the anima in this manner, we can gain a clearer understanding of this inner self.

Using the characters in our story as examples, Jijinbou’s anima is of the unique type, while the animas of Sora, Gozu, Claira, and Klimt belong to the world category. As a general rule, the anima that belongs to the world category possesses greater power and ability. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

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