Chapter 1002: Cut Through

Though thirteen enemies weren’t considered a large group, the fact that even the weakest amongst the Hypergoblins was near the peak of Level 6, combined with the fact they worked together as a team, meant they weren’t easy pickings. Instead of charging into the fray against Fenrir and Jeanne, the two red-skinned Hypergoblins took the vanguard position for their group as the smaller green-skins began to fire volley’s of massive arrows while maintaining a proper battle formation. There were even two Mages in the very back, identifiable by their club-like staffs, lighter armor, and densely arranged tattoos.

Unwilling to simply watch the battle from the sidelines, Vahn had already drawn his [Khryselakatos], firing it towards the Mages without a moment’s hesitation. The leading red-skinned Hypergoblin tried to use the overlapped plates of its gauntlet to intercept the arrow but, even with its surprising speed and presumed durability, Vahn’s magically enhanced arrow spiraled through both plate and flesh before piercing the forehead of one unfortunate Mage. Two things happened in response to this, causing Vahn’s eyes to squint slightly as the hole on the red-skinned Hypergoblin’s arm immediately closed up. At the same time, the tattoos on its body began to glow red as the two fierce-looking eyes deeply set in its face began to emanate a malicious light that caused a suppressive force to spread through the area.

Undaunted, Vahn commanded, “Fenrir, move out of my firing line. Jeanne, pull back and stick close to the group. Take care of any stray attacks that break through…!” Though it was obvious that Fenrir wanted to throw herself into the fray, Vahn felt that the two red-skinned Hypergoblins were too dangerous to confront directly. He could sense they were around the peak of Level 7, meaning each was a potential match for Fenrir if their base parameters were taken into consideration. Though her magical prowess and speed should give her the edge, Vahn wanted to at least thin the flock a bit since their natural Fire Elemental affinity would give them ample resistance to her Ice Elemental magic.

As if using Vahn’s command as a signal for itself, the glowing red-skinned Hypergoblin leaned forward slightly, causing Vahn’s eyes to sharpen as the former accelerated much faster than its size should have allowed. It moved so quickly that a red blur was left in its wake as it quickly moved to try and overtake Jeanne and Fenrir’s position. Neither girl had dropped their guard, however, so, while Fenrir sent a spear of ice to intercept the Hypergoblin, Jeanne responded by raising her kite shield and bending her knees ever so slightly. In response, the Hypergobline allowed the spear of ice to penetrate its chest without even trying to evade while bending its back in a surprising arc before swinging downwards towards Jeanne with its massive cleaver. The force contained within the blow carried such momentum that it seemed nothing would be able to stop it but, just as she had always done, Jeanne took the blow head-on without flinching.

An explosion rang through the area as what appeared to be a red electrical surge emanated outwards from the Hypergoblin’s body. This pulse carried dense Fire Elemental energy which, upon contacting the surrounding mist, compounded in intensity as it slammed into Vahn’s barrier while knocking all but the other red-skinned Hypergoblin to the ground. Fenrir and Helen were left unscathed by the attack and, after a second explosion cleared away the dust, it was obvious that Jeanne had been unaffected as her sword accurately pierced through the throat of the Hypergoblin before a flash of brilliant white light completely severed it from the monster’s body. Surprisingly, this didn’t seem to be a fatal blow, at least in short order, as the Hypergoblin continued to move after losing its head. It attempted to grab Jeanne in a bear hug but, without missing a step, she used its broad chest as a foothold before performing an acrobatic flip through the air. In the middle of her arc, Jeanne sent a blade of light that impacted the still-moving body of the Hypergoblin but, instead of cutting all the way through, it only cut a few centimeters deep before fading away.

By the time Jeanne had landed, the secondary wound she had created had already healed completely but, after having lost its head, it didn’t seem as if the Hypergoblin retained its motor functions. Its attempt to grab Jeanne seemed to have been powered by instinct as, after receiving her follow-up attack, it fell to the ground and began twitching about while the decapitated head continued to change expression, a furious and vengeful look in its eyes as it glared towards Jeanne. As would be expected of a capable Knight, Jeanne showed no hesitation, even while having a decapitated head glaring at her, quickly sending a third attack to completely eradicate the Hypergoblin’s severed head. This was finally enough to put down the monster whom, after having its head destroyed, burst into red and purple dust before leaving behind a rhombus-shaped monster core.

In response to the death of their ‘companion’, the other Hypergoblins released loud war cries while releasing their attacks with even greater fervor than before. Unfortunately, even with one remaining red-skinned Hypergoblin acting as their vanguard, Vahn was quickly picking off the green-skinned backline who, even after trying desperately to dodge, ended up on the receiving end of an enchanted arrow. In less than a minute, there was only the red-skinned Hypergoblin remaining who, after failing to protect its allies, now glowed with such intensity that the entire cavern was suffused with a red hue. Then, just as Vahn was about to allow Fenrir to deal with it on her own, the red hide of the Hypergoblin began to turn black as its size began to rapidly increase…

Uttering a curious ‘Hmm’, as it was very rare to see a monster transform into a variant in the middle of combat, Vahn nocked a [Yi] arrow before unceremoniously loosing it towards the Hypergoblin, mid-transformation. Though it becoming a Level 8 didn’t make it much of a threat, Vahn would rather not risk Fenrir’s life on the assumption that she would still be able to contend against it. She may have the advantage as far as speed and magical power was concerned but, regardless of how much mana she pumped into her tiny arms, Fenrir would have no means of contending against the raw power of a normal red-skinned Hypergoblin, much less a black-skinned one.

Without any suspense, the transforming Hypergoblin’s flesh was ripped from its durable muscles before they too inevitably succumbed to the powerful gravitational force contained within the [Yi] arrow. Impressively, the regeneration of the creature managed to keep up with the destruction wrought by the arrow for nearly its entire duration but, just as Vahn was prepared to fire a second arrow, the variant Hypergoblin exploded into dust before its monster core was crushed by the [Yi] arrows gravitational well. This was one of the downsides to relying on the seemingly unstoppable arrows as, if it was still active after the kill was secured, most of the loot would be destroyed as a result.

With the final enemy succumbing, an eerie silence spread through the area as the only audible sound came from Jeanne’s subtle breathing. She wasn’t exhausted, not even remotely, but the exertion had caused her blood to pump a bit faster in response to the release of endorphins and her slightly elevated heart rate. As for Fenrir, she was pouting at the side with a discontented expression on her face that caused Vahn to issue forth a light chuckle before flipping his wrist and collecting the spoils. Pulling out one of the glimmering monster cores, Vahn tossed it over to the despondent Vanargandr before roughly stroking her head as he said, “You can have the next one. Now that we know their approximate strength, we’ll be to increase our speed a bit. Leave any of the variants to me though, okay…?”

Though she specifically wanted to fight one of the black-skinned variants on her own, Fenrir still nodded her head in affirmation while happily squinting her eyes in response to her Master’s petting. At the same time, she threw the monster core into her mouth, crunching down on its crystalline shell and savoring the energy-rich contents. After finishing, Fenrir wiped her mouth with the back of her paw before saying, “When we get near the end of the Floor, I want to try and fight one on my own. Though eating magic cores makes me stronger, fighting against powerful enemies makes me ‘feel’ stronger. I can’t just rely on my [Devour] alone if I want to develop a second Innate…!”

Hearing this, Vahn’s brows perked up slightly and he couldn’t help but allow a smile to spread across his face as he put more pressure into stroking Fenrir’s head. He knew that her approach to growing stronger was indeed the correct route but, as a result of his overprotective nature, it wasn’t easy for him to give those under his charge the room they needed to grow. Though it seemed like a lifetime ago, Vahn could still recall the time when he watched Fenrir fight to her limit on a daily basis, including allowing her to sustain injuries so that she could learn from her mistakes. Ever since his strength had increased to the point that he could proactively prevent harm from befalling the people he cared about, however, Vahn knew his overprotective nature had only become stronger…

With more than a little reluctance, Vahn nodded his head while saying, “Very well then…show me how far you can go, Fenrir. I’ll be watching closely…” As he said this, Vahn used his perception to make sure that Fenrir’s [Effigy of the Hero] was safely stowed away in her pouch before retracting his hand and allowing her to lead the way once again. Before she fell into her own position in the formation, Jeanne came to his side and, in a low voice that Fenrir could still undoubtedly hear, whispered, “She’ll do fine, my Lord. Fenrir is a capable warrior who has even greater potential than my own. If you let her spread her wings, I’m certain she will not let you down.” To this, Vahn returned a smile and, in a voice that was easily picked up by the distant Vanargandr, replied, “I know. She is my most reliable companion, always and forever…”

Though she was well over a hundred meters away at this point, Fenrir’s ears twitched in response to her Master’s words and, even without the ability to read auras easily, Vahn could see that Fenrir was in a good mood. His only hope was that she wouldn’t let his words get to her head, even though he genuinely meant each and every one of them. As over-protective as he might be, Vahn truly trusted Fenrir’s capabilities as, even without her monstrously high Loyalty parameter, she had become one of the foundational aspects of his existence. In the face of eternity, a concept that might break most people, Vahn was able to hold his head up without concern as, instead of walking his path alone, there were many willing to walk alongside him…

With renewed vigor, the group began clearing the remainder of the 81st Floor without any major difficulties. After the initial battle, the capabilities of the Hypergoblins had already been noted by each member of the party and, so long as they were not allowed to enter the state where their tattoos began to glow, even the red-skinned species was relatively easy to deal with. The patterns carved into their flesh were the catalyst for their incredible regeneration and, though it seemed as if some were able to activate it willingly, the vast majority relied on their rage and bloodlust to trigger the tattoo’s effect. The most common trigger was the death of their allies so, by focusing on the red-skinned Hypergoblins first, the rest were quick to fall in the aftermath.

It wasn’t until Vahn had detected a path that led down to the 82nd Floor that they came across a small hiccup in their expedition. Unlike the previous groups, which very rarely exceeded ten Hypergoblins, the entrance to the 82nd Floor was blockaded by an entire colony of the relatively powerful monsters. In fact, the entrance itself was hidden by a massive tent that was comprised of a type of leather that, as of the present moment, had no discernable source. Vahn knew that the 81st through the 83rd Floors all had Hypergoblin species and, according to what he was able to learn from the mirror, they should be the only entities residing in this area of the Dungeon. This meant that, lacking other materials, the most likely ‘source’ of leather, bones, and other organics, was the Hypergoblins themselves. Though it would require a period of observation to prove, not that he had any interest in testing the theory, Vahn suspected they either fought amongst themselves for territory or outright cannibalized the weaker members of their society in order to harvest resources…

Shaking the barbaric image from his mind, Vahn pulled back his intent after scouting the entire encampment before explaining, “There are at least twenty of the red-skinned Hypergoblins while, at the very center, one of the larger 5m tall variants exist. Though the green-skinned subspecies aren’t much of an issue, their numbers could be problematic if we allow ourselves to get boxed in. I can probably take out the entire encampment on my own but what do the three of you think…?” Even if Helen wasn’t on ‘speaking’ terms with the group at the moment, Vahn felt she would only use the fact he excluded her to fuel her current mentality further. By addressing the entire group, he could avoid her having any excuses later on if she became confrontational…

As hungry as she was for a climactic battle, quite literally, Fenrir wasn’t foolish enough to throw herself into a large number of powerful enemies without proper consideration. She held up one of the digits on her paw before saying, “It’s fine if you cull their numbers but I still want to fight against a powerful enemy. Leave the 5m tall one alive so I can tear it apart on my own…” Since a black-skinned variant hadn’t appeared after her Master had slain the first one, Fenrir wanted a crack at what they were calling the Hypergoblin Chieftain. Though it may not be as strong as the black-skinned variant, she assumed it was still far stronger than the rest of its race based off the fact that it was much larger and obviously ruled over the other members of the tribe.

Having already determined the approximate strength of the Chieftain during his investigation, Vahn nodded in affirmation to Fenrir’s request before turning his gaze upon Jeanne. If it came down to it, she could easily take on the entire encampment on her own so, even though it would take more time, she resolutely stated, “I will draw their attention and deal with the majority of their numbers. So long as they don’t have the means to bind me to a specific location, I’ll be able to annihilate a group of this size in under an hour. Please conserve your strength, my Lord, as it may be necessary for any unforeseen occurrences.” Understanding that Vahn was far more versatile than she was, Jeanne would rather increase the time in which it took the clear the Floor if it meant there was less chance of something going wrong in the long run.

Since [Yi] arrows were rather expensive to use willy-nilly, Vahn gave a small nod in response since, much like Fenrir, he knew Jeanne needed opportunities to hone herself. His power was currently at a point in which everything almost seemed ‘too easy’ so, even if he held back and fought with just his two hands and feet, Vahn felt like the Hypergoblins wouldn’t be a challenge to him. Other than the brief bout against the One-Eyed Black Dragon, his parameters had hardly increased so, for the time being, Vahn felt the best course of action was to allow them some leeway in increasing their own. With how close he was to reaching godhood, empowering his allies to do the same would only provide even greater benefits in the future…

After coming up with a battle plan, including countermeasures to any expected events, Jeanne hefted her sword and shield in a battle-ready stance before activating her Innate, [Child of the Light] to produce a holy shroud over her armor. With the low-light of the Dungeon, she stuck out like a sore thumb within the darkness, causing several battle trumpets to sound out from the Hypergoblin encampment as hundreds of their number mounted defensive positions. The green-skinned sub-species were smart enough to avoid direct confrontation, relying on rudimentary mechanical weapons and bows to strike from a distance while the red-skinned variety, without any hesitation, jumped over their stone walls as they charged toward Jeanne.

Unlike her previous battles, where she would receive attacks before dealing lethal counters, this time Jeanne stood her ground with both eyes closed. Though her [Child of the Light] was only D-Rank, one of her most prolific Innates, [Voice of the World], had nearly reached the pinnacle of the record. Relying on it, Jeanne made slight movements to evade every arrow coming her way while her blade, almost as if driven by instinct, cut smooth arcs through the air that even cut down Lightning Magic with startling ease. Even when the first red-skinned Hypergoblin reached her, Jeanne kept her eyes closed shut as the light around her body more than doubled in intensity. Then, in a single swift motion, Jeanne passed by the Hypergoblin with the finesse of a gentle stream flowing around a rock. She didn’t even stop to issue any follow-up strikes as, unlike during her first encounter against the surprisingly durable creatures, it only took a single blow for her to fell what others would consider a worthy opponent.

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As Jeanne moved on to the next enemy, carrying the same momentum from her original movement, the Hypergoblin she had passed by finally, as if released from a temporal lock, shattered into dust. Even with his [Eyes of Truth] active, Vahn hadn’t actually seen what attack Jeanne had used to fell the creature and, if not for the fact that its internal mana had been ‘split’ into two, he wouldn’t have had any idea as to why it had died. Somehow, though not nearly as skilled as Musashi, Jeanne had ‘cut’ through the red-skinned Hypergoblin without actually cutting through its flesh. Instead, her sword, contrary to Vahn’s current comprehension, ignored all physical obstructions to directly sever the mana circuits contained within the unfortunate creature’s body…

Watching from the side with an unerring gaze, Fenrir eyes flickered with a subtle glow as she murmured, “I will not be left behind…” in a voice that only she could hear. Around her paws, formless blades of energy danced around and, though not nearly as polished as Jeanne’s swordsmanship, it seemed as though her Severing Laws, the energy that allowed her to cut through anything, was becoming more prominent…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Vahn’s archery is too op for this Record…’,’Fenrir will become the strongest…!’,’There is a reason Jeanne is one of the strongest in the world…RIP Hypergoblin-san’)

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