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    The main story is complete! As for the extras, I’ll be uploading 1-2 chapters per week :)

    “What if it’s wrong!”

    “Just trust. That’s all we can do right now.”

    Damn it… Frustrated, I roughly rubbed my face and cursed under my breath. Feeling so powerless was maddening. I shouldn’t have been here. I should’ve joined the other team, maybe cast a protective shield. Stupid, stupid! I berated myself inwardly. Just as I was about to lose my patience with the wait, Apsilon pointed at the projection.

    “The freezing spell is fading.”

    “It looks the same to me.”

    “You’re too close to the projection. Step back a bit and look.”

    I did as Apsilon suggested, taking a step back. Indeed, the freezing spell appeared weaker than before. Seconds passed, and finally, the spell dissipated completely.

    The scene that unfolded was more harrowing than expected. The relentless freezing spell had entirely encased some soldiers who couldn’t escape in time. They looked like blue statues rather than living humans. I frantically searched the projection for Matthias, Ludwig, and Cesare. Thankfully, all three were safe. I let out a sigh of relief. They were each leading their squads, dodging the spells. Slowly, from the center where the spell was cast, the dragon revealed itself.

    “…Is that size even possible?”

    I gasped briefly. The dragon was much larger than anticipated. Its reptilian eyes, with long slits for pupils, were larger than a human’s height. Even through the projection, it seemed to be the size of an entire sports field. Its massive body appeared to be composed of muscle, not fat, and every part, except for the belly and wings, was densely covered with hard, blue scales.

    An overwhelming sense of fear enveloped us. We watched the projection, breathless. The fear was palpable even through the screen; facing it in reality would be unimaginably terrifying.

    Tick, tick, tick, tick. The sound of sharp claws tapping on stone echoed, and simultaneously, the inside of the nest brightened as if it were day. The dragon seemed to have cast a spell to illuminate its lair. The light reached far into the distance, revealing the interior of the nest in stark detail.

    The dragon swung its tail, striking the frozen knights. With a resounding clang and a shattering noise, they disintegrated into powder, as if their previous existence was nothing but a lie. The dragon’s yellow eyes curved slightly as it turned to view the scene. In that moment, I realized it was enjoying itself, reveling and thrilled by the situation.

    The dragon had been anticipating and waiting for our arrival, holding back its attacks until we showed up for the show it desired. The realization that such a massive creature could possess this level of cognition was numbing.

    “Let’s go.”

    Apsilon grabbed my hand and spoke. It felt like waking from a dream. I blinked, staring at Apsilon, knowing there was no time for hesitation. Nodding, we started running.

    We had been waiting in a passage about ten minutes away from the nest to avoid detection, as the congregation of mages could have given us away even without using magic. If we ran at full speed, it might take us about five minutes to get there.

    As we ran, the dragon continued its onslaught, slamming its massive hind legs and tail down, crushing the soldiers. Those who had survived until now were adept at dodging, but the small size of the cavern compared to the dragon’s enormity made evasion difficult, resulting in occasional casualties. It was like a cat releasing mice in its territory to hunt them one by one.

    Arrrrgh!

    An unfortunate member of the extermination team was trampled under the dragon’s hind leg. The crushed leg was beyond recognition. The soldier clutched at his leg, screaming in agony. The dragon’s yellow pupils shimmered with delight at the scream. It extended its foreleg and picked up the soldier. The soldier struggled in vain, only managing to tear his armor on the dragon’s sharp and sturdy claws.

    The dragon tossed the soldier into the air and caught him again. By the dragon’s standards, it was a light throw, but for the soldier, it meant being tossed up about 5 meters before landing back on the dragon’s claws. Watching his agony, I felt a deep sense of distress. It was even more torturous because I couldn’t look away from the screen.

    Amidst his suffering, the soldier summoned the courage to grab his sword and strike at the dragon’s claw. Sparks flew where the sword met the dragon’s cyan-colored claw. With one last effort, the soldier tried again to hit the claw. A metallic clang sounded, and the sword broke into two. Although I couldn’t see his face, I knew he must have been engulfed in despair.

    Then, something unexpected happened. Ludwig, who had used magic, leaped towards the dragon’s foreleg.

    Ludwig’s sword was enveloped in a dark, black aura. Sensing something, the dragon curled its foreleg inward, but Ludwig’s sword had already sliced off two of the toes clutching the soldier. The two toes, each the size of a person, along with the soldier, plummeted through the air. Before the soldier could hit the ground, Matthias caught him just in time.

    Rooooarrr—!

    The dragon bent its body to cradle its injured foot and let out a bone-chilling scream. The sound echoed not just through the projection but also reached us in the tunnel as we ran.

    > The ‘Blue Dragon’ has used the skill ‘Dragon Fear’. All living creatures with a level difference of more than 30 levels from the caster experience a strange fear towards it.

    > The effect of ‘Dragon Fear’ is reduced due to being more than 300 meters away from the ‘Blue Dragon’.

    > There is a 5% chance of being affected by the status abnormality ‘Fear’.

    > There is a 5% chance of being affected by the status abnormality ‘Paralysis’.

    I glanced back quickly. Fortunately, as most of us were mages with strong resistance to mental magic, it seemed that no one was affected by the status abnormalities. Relieved, I increased my running speed. In our group, only Apsilon was able to keep up with my pace.

    Breath was catching in my throat, and a metallic taste filled my mouth. But I couldn’t stop running. That was all I could do right now.

    The dragon, disoriented from the initial attack, was in a rage. It swung its tail and hind legs wildly and fired breath attacks indiscriminately. It seemed panicked by the realization that these seemingly insignificant beings had the capability to harm its body. The attacks were furious and painful, simply scattering anger and pain around. Due to the dragon’s large size and high level, casualties inevitably increased.

    By the time a third of the extermination team had fallen, we finally arrived at the rear passage of the nest. From a distance, we could see the dragon’s hind legs and tail, and the extermination team moving busily. Fortunately, the team, having somewhat figured out the dragon’s attack patterns and following Matthias and Ludwig’s instructions, was occasionally striking back at the dragon, which seemed not to have noticed us yet.

    [You have entered the ‘Blue Dragon’s Nest’.]

    [The ‘Great Step’ collection has registered the ‘Blue Dragon’s Nest’. 45/80]

    [Your honor has increased by 100.]

    [Your charm has increased by 30.]

    As soon as we entered the nest, the system window buzzed with notifications. Observing the situation, Apsilon declared quietly.

    “Let’s start casting immediately.”

    Apsilon stamped his foot, and a magic circle appeared beneath him. The circle, filled with complex symbols and formulas, covered the cave floor. This magic circle was a masterpiece created by Apsilon after painstaking effort, specifically for this expedition. Even amidst the chaos, the mages looked at Apsilon with admiration.

    We stood inside the magic circle as we had trained. Apsilon was at the forefront of the mind map-style magic circle, followed by high-level mages, and then the intermediate mages in line.

    The magic we were about to cast was a 10th-class spell named ‘Incineration’. Facing a dragon of the 10th class, we too needed to counter with a 10th-class spell. ‘Incineration’ was the optimal choice against the Blue Dragon, known for its resistance to cold magic and vulnerability to fire magic.

    However, even Apsilon, the highest-classed among us, was of the 9th class, so we aimed to cast a 10th-class spell through the collective power of the magic circle.

    Not all mages were inside the circle. While we were casting, one high-level mage outside the circle continuously erected protective barriers in front of us. Two other mages were designated to cast protective shields on the front team after the spell was cast. Originally, more mages should have been protecting us, but the numbers had dwindled due to the rebellion, forcing us to take risks.

    The high-level mage safeguarding us continuously cast protective barriers in front of us. Meanwhile, all the mages within the circle used blades to cut their fingers, letting their blood drip into the circle. The white magic circle gradually turned red as each drop fell, signifying their agreement to provide mana.

    A deep, resonating sound filled the air.

    As the last drop of blood fell, the magic circle began to vibrate. Soon, a whirlwind swirled around, causing the mages’ robes to flutter.

    <10% of mana has been consumed due to the mysterious magic circle.>

    <20% of mana has been consumed due to the mysterious magic circle.>

    <30% of mana has been consumed due to the mysterious magic circle.>

    30% of my mana was drained just to cast one spell. I clicked my tongue internally. I felt a bit dizzy, sensing mana draining from my body. Several mid-level mages, who had less mana, staggered. We hastily gulped down the mana recovery potions distributed earlier.

    <Charging of the mysterious magic circle is complete!>

    <Casting the spell ‘Incineration’. Casting time is 3 minutes. Remaining time 2:59…>

    The countdown began.

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