Chapter 1001: Slight Progress

After having cleared the troublesome 78th Floor and resting for a few hours, Vahn summoned Fenrir back into the Dungeon and, though she was refusing to speak, Helen from her room. Even Jeanne didn’t have much luck in getting her to open up so Vahn had the party advance, allowing Fenrir and Jeanne to take the lead as he, once again, protected Helen. Fortunately, though each monster they came across at this point was, individually, very powerful, neither Fenrir, nor Jeanne, had any trouble dispatching them. With Vahn providing support using his bow, they quickly mowed through the 79th Floor’s residential monsters with ease. Upon reaching the 80th Floor, the point that the One-Eyed Black Dragon claimed he would never be able to cross, things got moderately more difficult. This was a result of the fact that gravity, which had been relatively normal on prior floors, seemed to triple while descending the stairs down from the 79th…

Though experiencing three times the normal gravity didn’t have much of an impact on anyone in the party, there was a startling reduction in everyone’s maximum speed. Their muscles were certainly strong enough to resist the strain but, having no real means to strengthen individual cells, fast movements would cause a prickly and painful sensation in the limbs. The most problematic aspect was the fact that the eyes, which were often seated snuggly in the head, felt as if they weren’t moving as fast as the rest of the body. Even when accelerating forward, Jeanne commented that it felt like someone was pushing on her eyes with their fingers while Fenrir outright adopted a fighting style reliant on her sensitive nose and ears as a result of her discomfort.

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It was possible to use [Cantus Bellax] and [Vis Maxima] to create a magical aura around the body, enhancing your parameters and providing a moderate resistance against the increased gravitational pull, but this was only a stop-gap measure. The drain of using such skills under the increased burden was a little extreme and, though Vahn was able to manage with relative ease, even his reserves were beginning to dwindle when having to constantly replenish the reserves of three other people. If not for the fact that the only enemies on the Floor were strange, armored frog-like creatures, each possessing thick and robust legs while having squashed bodies, it would have been far more difficult to clear the 80th Floor. Fortunately, though their ability to shoot magical means from their mouths were more than a little annoying, their attacks weren’t able to break through the auras shrouding everyone’s bodies. Their biggest weakness, of course, was the fact that, much like the party, these Armored Frog Battery’s were extremely slow.

After eleven grueling hours, with night having already descended upon the surface world, the group finally reached the stairs leading down to the 81st Floor. The moment they set foot on the long spiraling stairwell, the increased gravity faded in its entirety, causing Fenrir to jump around excitedly while Jeanne began rubbing her tired joints after having to move around in heavy armor for an extended period of time. Since it hadn’t been easy for him either, even with his ability to forcibly adapt his body, Vahn brought out the cottage without spending too much time checking the surroundings. Helen, just as she had done previously, retired to her room without a word while Vahn cooked dinner for everyone, refusing the offer of Fenrir and Jeanne to assist. He could see that they were tired while his body had already recovered completely. His [Magia Erebea] constitution meant that, as soon as the strain of the increased gravity had faded away, he was already back to 100% without any issues whatsoever.

Fenrir ended up watching as Jeanne removed her armor and began performing routine maintenance, even though Vahn would ultimately end up having to touch-up the armor on his own. Her process included using one of the scent removal towels that had become relatively commonplace back at the Manor to remove, as much as possible, the smell of her sweat. Though she showed a great deal of confidence at most times, Jeanne would often become sheepish whenever it came to some of the ‘smaller’ things, especially if it concerned embarrassing situations with her Lord. Fortunately, Fenrir readily assisted her by using her sensitive nose to confirm that her aroma wasn’t clinging to the armor before it inevitably found its way into Vahn’s hands. As for the latter, he often found Jeanne’s actions rather adorable but, unlike many of the other girls in his life, chose not to tease her for it since it seemed like a ‘dangerous’ weakness of her’s. The last thing he needed was his most capable Knight fumbling around whenever he was near her so, as much as he wanted to tease her, Vahn had resolved himself to avoid that landmine for as long as possible…

As was often the case, the food prepared by Vahn ended up being both delicious and nutritious. Jeanne gave a few heavy compliments and, even though it tasted pretty much the same as everything she had ever eaten, Fenrir also enjoyed it a great deal. Vahn had developed a spice that was particularly useful for enhancing the flavor of anything she ate so Fenrir often quickly gobbled down anything he handed her. Her tongue was sensitive to mana-rich ingredients so Vahn had a shaker that was filled with the powdered remains of several high-level Dragon’s. On occasion, though only very rarely, Vahn would even mix a bit of his blood into any stock he used in preparing her meals. This would instantly cause Fenrir’s ears to perk up since it was, by far, the tastiest thing that ever reached her palette. It had the unfortunate side-effect of over-exciting her, however, so Vahn had quickly learned to use such a special ingredient sparingly…

With dinner completed, Jeanne retired to the room that Vahn would normally sleep in while he ended up taking the couch alongside Fenrir. This was after placing a covered tray containing warm food for Helen’s consumption, though the odds of her actually eating it seemed slim at best. Since she could easily go months without eating, Vahn wasn’t expecting Helen to reflect on how she had been behaving and improve any time soon. Part of him wanted to just yell at her, in an attempt to break her free from her delusional state, but reason told him such actions were, ultimately, pointless. She seemed to have convinced herself that even Jeanne was somehow against her as, throughout the 79th and 80th Floors, she distanced herself from the downtrodden Knight, refusing to even make polite conversation with the latter.

While thinking about what the future would hold, Vahn absentmindedly ran his fingers through Fenrir’s hair, tracing down the line of her back before invariably stroking her bushy tail. This would cause her hips to twitch slightly, something Vahn found both amusing and therapeutic, as she never complained about any ‘inconvenience’ caused by the involuntary movement. Fenrir had grown so accustomed to his touch, in fact, that she quickly fell into a light slumber, even has her body obediently responded to his touch. Vahn found this adorable and, though he was tempted to press into the sensitive spot above her tail to see how much he could get away with, he ultimately managed to resist the urge while focusing on other things. Fenrir only slept out of consideration for him so Vahn wasn’t going to behave even more selfishly just to satiate every whim that crossed his mind…

Waking early the next morning, Vahn began preparing himself for whatever the 81st Floor would throw at him by stretching his body and performing routine maintenance on everyone’s equipment. To his surprise, Vahn noticed a distinct lack of a tray out of the corner of his eye, indicating that Helen had, at some point, done something with the food he had set out. Though she may very well have disposed of it out of spite, Vahn didn’t think Helen was ‘that’ petty. The fact that her Affection had gone up, even just a single point, seemed to indicate that she inevitably broke down after smelling the fragrant aroma wafting from the covered dish. Vahn had specifically used a cloche that had the added effect of enhancing the smell of whatever was beneath it. Since Helen also had a ‘weakness’ for spicy food, which was naturally aromatic, Vahn made a few of her favorite dishes in an attempt to lure the icy queen out of her isolation.

By the time Jeanne had dawned her armor and everyone else was ready to go, Helen finally made her appearance. Fenrir’s nose twitched slightly in response but, much like Vahn and Jeanne, she elected not to say anything to the still-quiet Helen. The fact that she had eaten the food was progress enough, for the time being, so there was no need to put her on the spot and cause her to retreat inside her own mind even further. Vahn, truthfully, would rather not have to watch Helen die after losing her ‘purpose’ so, if at all possible, he wanted her to mellow out a bit by the time they reached the 99th Floor. Even if the odds were extremely slim, it was a far better outcome as, regardless of how much time he had experienced chronologically, Vahn felt he wasn’t prepared to watch someone that should be his ally kill themselves.

Without dawdling for too long, the group proceeded into what should be a relatively easy Floor, at least with the information Vahn possessed. He knew what enemies to expect along the way but, much like how the 80th Floor’s gravity had come as a surprise, there were undoubtedly even more environmental hazards that would bar their passage. Fortunately, by analyzing what kinds of monsters had chosen the Floor as their habitat, it was possible to make a basic assumption about what they should expect.

The 81st Floor was home to a group of vicious humanoid creatures who, seemingly possessing a small amount of intelligence, were attired in tribal equipment comprised of stone, bone, and pieces of roughly worked metal. They came in two varieties, a stout group with green skin who seemed capable of using powerful magical attacks and ranged weaponry while their much larger kin, possessing blood-red skin, towered over them while wielding fierce-looking sword and axes. While the former was a ‘modest’ 2m in height, the latter group seemed to easily reach 3m while, according to the information Vahn had obtained from the mirror, there were even ‘variants’ that could reach 5m. Though this wasn’t particularly large for a monster, the densely packed muscles on even the smallest of the monster, covered in intricate tribal tattoos, made them seem far more intimidating than most enemies.

Upon entering the 81st Floor proper, Vahn noticed that the air became extremely humid while the surrounding temperature instantly shot up to around 40 degrees Celsius. It was even possible to see a thin mist lingering around the floor which, in most situations, could have been misconstrued as condensation due to the increased humidity. The subtle glow contained within, however, alerted anyone with even moderately high perception that it was something far more dangerous. For the first time in more than a day, Helen broke her self-imposed silence by muttering, “Mana…” in a voice that even Fenrir had trouble hearing. Vahn didn’t ask her to speak up, however, as he had already made a similar conclusion and didn’t want to trigger Helen back into silence.

After spending a few seconds in silent contemplation, Vahn turned to Jeanne and Helen to ask, “Will mana this concentrated be an issue for either of you…?” Though mana was generally good for the body, high concentrations could cause a variety of problems, especially if the contained element ran counter to your affinity. There was even a phenomenon known as Mana Sickness which, in some instances, could even prove fatal to those with a weaker constitution. Since Helen was a Half-Elf Demigoddess, Vahn didn’t expect her to have any issues but, even with all of her resistances, Jeanne was still a normal Human. She may not die from overexposure to mana but it would quickly become a problem if they had to lug her around in a drunk and delirious state.

Helen’s response was to slightly avert her eyes without answering while Jeanne gave a confident nod before stating, “Though it may not mean much after what happened on the 78th Floor, I can say with full confidence that this degree of mana shouldn’t have any effect on me. My body should naturally filter out anything bad for me while the accessories forged by my Lord should be more than enough to prevent any other status abnormalities…!” Since, even without her Innates, Jeanne possessed a Pure-Light Elemental Affinity, the odds of her being affected by anything other than Pure Darkness were slim to none. Even then, anyone trying to harm her would have to be far stronger than her which, considering that she was nearly Level 9, implied Jeanne was virtually immune to status abnormalities. This wasn’t even accounting for the equipment Vahn provided to all the girls as part of their standard loadout which, as a result of his overprotective nature, had built-in redundancies that provided protection against most status ailments and mental control.

Seeing Jeanne’s confidence, combined with his own as a [Master Smith], Vahn gave a small no in response before sparing Helen one last glance. She squinted her eyes without saying anything so Vahn decided not to press her as he turned to Fenrir and said, “I’ll leave the vanguard to you again, Fenrir. Don’t forget to show added caution when first encountering a new enemy. At this point, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see monsters that are Level 7 and higher as the standard…” Though Fenrir wouldn’t struggle against the average Level 7, Vahn couldn’t help but worry about her since the predominant element contained within the surroundings was Fire. Her body could easily process it as nourishment, meaning she would almost never run out of energy by simply breathing, but this didn’t apply to external attacks from increasingly powerful enemies.

Though she didn’t take her Master’s words to heart, Fenrir still gave an understanding nod while increasing the tension in her body slightly. She knew that her strength was beginning to plateau compared to Jeanne’s but, as the strength of the enemies increased, so too did her own power. By consuming the cores of more powerful enemies, she could marginally increase her power, literally without limits. Even if this came at the cost of destabilizing her mind a bit, Fenrir knew she had far more control over her emotions than she did in the past so she had a lot of leeway before having to worry about going berserk. If things got really bad, there was also the option of returning to the surface and entering closed cultivation for a time to stabilize her emotions once again…

Once their preparations were finalized, the group began their excursion through the 81st Floor, once against reverting to their standard formation with Fenrir as the vanguard/scout, Jeanne as the mid-line defender/support, and Vahn as the rearguard/ranged specialist. Helen was technically qualified as both a healer and buffer, a coveted combination that would make her heavily sought at by other experienced parties, but Vahn ended up filling those roles in lieu of her. As tempted as he was to ask for her help, Vahn still felt it was better to simply have Helen observe. Unless it was an emergency, her skills were almost overkill as, even compared to Haruhime, Helen’s ability to increase her allies parameters was truly monstrous.

Helen’s standard Magic, a spell named [Oversoul], increased a single parameter by as much as 30% and, though it couldn’t stack on the same attribute, Helen could use the buff multiple times to effectively increase a person’s capabilities far more than a single level could account for. This had the detrimental effect of causing intense strain on the body, however, requiring Helen to use her second Magic, [Ulma-Natis], which, for a short period of time, made someone practically immortal unless they had their head or heart destroyed. The regeneration provided by the spell was comparable to Tiona’s [Pactio] but, much like her [Oversoul], it carried the downside of literally overtaxing a person’s vitality. Though this wouldn’t mean much to the most powerful individuals, as their lifespan was far greater than that of a normal person, it would still shave away at their longevity.

Though Helen knew far more Magic spells than were accounted for in her Status Board, as a result of centuries of study, each of her recorded spells were a bit too extreme for constant use. It was almost as if she had specifically chosen abilities that had determinants in order to dissuade anyone from trying to rely on her abilities to enhance their own. Since this was very likely the case, especially considering her situation prior to arriving at Spero, Vahn was content with having Helen act as a bystander. Even if she had to use her abilities, he would bear the consequences with his own body as, regardless of the detriments involved, they would ultimately have no effect, even without his [Magia Erebea] constitution.

Fortunately, Jeanne was prodigious enough that, even though she only had a few months to learn, she could use [Cantus Bellax] for short periods of time. Centuries of experience couldn’t be looked down upon and, with her mastery over Light Elemental magic, Jeanne had a natural affinity with the buff magic taught by Eva’s magic system. Though she only used it to resist the gravity of the 80th Floor thus far, as none of the monsters they had crossed were her match, Jeanne would still be able to activate it at a moments notice in a sticky situation. As for what would have to occur for that to happen, even Vahn couldn’t guess as, even if several Floors of the Dungeon collapsed on her, Vahn felt that Jeanne would crawl out of the rubble unscathed…

As if intending to put Jeanne’s durability to the test, an arrow that was much larger than normal came barreling through the Dungeon’s corridor, its glistening head aiming directly toward Jeanne’s throat. Ultimately, the situation never devolved to the point that Jeanne’s defense was called into question, however, as she deftly angled her kite shield, deflecting the arrow with practiced ease. The green-skinned monster, which Vahn had dubbed as an Hypergoblin, the result of its green skin and vaguely similar appearance to Goblins and Hobgoblins, immediately fired another ballista sized arrow in response to its first having been deflected. At the same time, another green-skinned Hypergoblin began to blow on a curved horn, obviously intending to call for backup since they seemed to be nothing more than a patrol group.

In the midst of calling for aid, the Hypergoblin was forced to abandon its horn by decisively, and surprisingly quickly, leaping back. Fenrir’s claws had nearly severed its head when she performed a flanking blow but, unwilling to allow her attack to be evaded so easily, Fenrir twisted her body using the momentum of her swipe to create a foothold in the air. Her body vanished from sight before reappearing right behind where the Hypergoblin had leaped to, even before it had landed. Its eyes widened into saucers as it attempted to curl up in a defensive posture but, much like every other monster that had tasted Fenrir’s claws, this was an ultimately futile effort. As if the plating provided absolutely no defense, the Hypergoblin’s body was cut into four distinctive chunks before bursting apart into a cloud of purple dust moments later. It was obvious from the small club-like staff that this particular Hypergoblin was a Mage so it was sorely lacking in Agility, even though its reaction time had been remarkable.

Immediately following Fenrir’s victory over her opponent, she looked over to see Jeanne pulling her sword out of the ranger’s chest. It had already slumped over and, by the time Jeanne brandished her blade, vanished into a second cloud of purple dust without any flair. As if they had been competing against each other, Fenrir gave a small snort through her nose since it seemed like their kills very close to each other this time around. Her only advantage against Jeanne was her speed, as the latter couldn’t use [Shundo], so Fenrir didn’t consider it a true victory since their battles had ended so close together. Fortunately, in response to the call for aid, a large group of Hypergoblins began to pour into the area and, much to Fenrir’s personal glee, there were even two of the red-skinned warriors amongst them…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Gravity imba, please nerf’,’For a brief moment, I imagined Helen as Erina eating Souma’s cooking…’,’Fenrir’s competitive nature’)

(A/N: For some reason, I keep waking up way later so I may have to start setting an alarm clock soon. There should still be three chapters today, though the second and third might not be until the afternoon. Sorry for the inconvenience m(。≧ _ ≦。)m…)

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