Though Vahn enjoyed walking alongside Ais (and Lefiya), it wasn’t long before the happy atmosphere began to fade. By the time they had reached the stairs, even with Vahn’s domain, the mood was beginning to turn grim. When they made it past the ‘Wall of Grief’, the site where Vahn had recently slain the Goliath, everyone had solemn expressions. However, after Vahn inspected them, he noticed they weren’t expressions of helplessness, but conviction and determination.
Due to the nature of the 17th floor, it eventually came time for Vahn to release Ais’s hand or else it would be difficult traversing through the dungeon. The atmosphere had influenced him as well, and Vahn continued forward without speaking much. Along the way, there were a few monsters that spawned, but they were all instantly annihilated by the vanguard. Each successive kill seemed to increase the atmosphere a bit, so Vahn was thankful for the dungeons ‘cooperation’.
The group made fast progress through the 17th floor and arrived in the corridor before the stairs that led to the upper floors. Everyone began to break off into their assigned groups, so Vahn had to move ahead of the majority and stand amongst Tiona, Tione, and Riveria. Lefiya ended up joining as well, while Ais continued forward and joined the advance group. Seeing the small party of adventurers, Vahn felt slightly concerned. Ais was still just a very small girl and watching her join the team that was expected to draw the attention of the Juggernaut, Vahn couldn’t help but feel worried.
Vahn noticed that the sword Ais was carrying wasn’t of a very high quality, even though the materials it was made of were very sturdy. Remembering that she seemed to destroy her weapons commonly in the manga, Vahn made his determination and ran up to the vanguard group. Seeing his approach, Finn frowned slightly before saying, “Vahn, I know you are strong, but it would be very difficult for you to fight against the Juggernaut. You should stay with the second group and provide support with your unique skills.”
Shaking his head, Vahn ignored Finn and walked up to Ais. Pulling out his tamahagane sword from his inventory, Vahn selected the gift function with Ais as the recipient. As he had just recently got her affection to 90, he was able to gift her a single item per month. “Ais, take this with you. It should be much stronger than your current sword.” Seeing the concern in his eyes, Ais smiled and received the sword. She was shocked when she felt how light it was, so she gave it a few practice swings and was amazed at how easy the large blade was to handle.
Finn also noticed the unique quality of the blade and asked if he could take a look at it. Vahn tried to stop him, but Ais had handed it over without thinking. The moment Finn’s hand made contact with the handle, the blade jerked away and spun until it had stuck into the wall of the dungeon. Finn stared in shock at the display before he turned toward Vahn with a questioning look on his face. Vahn said plainly, “The items I have are made with a special technique, and they can only be used by myself and those I gift them to. Right now the sword belongs to Ais, and nobody else can touch it.”
Finn seemed surprised by the claim as Ais walked over and grabbed the sword from the wall. Vahn quickly explained its uses, “The blade has an enchantment that greatly increases its sharpness while reducing the weight. It might be a bit awkward at first, but I think it is very suitable for your style of combat.” Hearing his words, Ais focused her energy into the blade and saw the runes begin to glow. By the time they had spread across the body of the blade, she noticed that the weight had almost disappeared.
Ais had the biggest smile on her face that Vahn had ever seen. It was almost like her eyes were glowing as she marveled at the sword’s capabilities. Turning towards Vahn, Ais stepped forward and in front of the entire gawking crowd, she kissed Vahn. She held the kiss for a few seconds before pulling away and saying, “Thank you Vahn.” She then separated from him and started practicing using the sword a bit away from everyone else.
Finn, who had been unaware of the ‘progress’ that had been made between Vahn and Ais recently stared between the two of him as if he had just witnessed the most unbelievable scene in the world. After a while, when he finally managed to compose himself, he looked toward Vahn and said, “I thought you would end up with Tiona…I never expected Ais to fall for you as well. It hasn’t even been a day…” As he spoke the last words, Finn just shook his head and sighed.
Motioning towards Gareth, who was giving Vahn a ‘thumbs up’, Finn began to lead the fuming Bete and the ‘excited’ Ais away. Before she had joined them, Ais removed the sword from her hip and ran over to give it to Vahn. “Here, just in case.” Vahn received the sword with a smile before watching her join the rest of the Vanguard team. Seeing her ‘happily’ move away while carrying his tamahagane blade made Vahn feel a little less worried about what would happen.
Rejoining the ‘ambush’ party, Vahn noticed that Tiona was looking toward him with a smile on her face. Once he got near, she closed the distance before saying, “I am really jealous she got a gift before me~ Make sure you remember that for later, okay~?” Though she was ‘acting’ mad, Vahn noticed she was very happy for some reason. He decided to ask her, “You seem very happy?”
Tiona laughed cheekily before saying, “That’s because I realized you’re the type that worries about people, even if they are stronger than you. It makes me happy knowing you look at us like girls, instead of just strong warriors. It was my dream to be treated like a princess, ya know~?” Vahn noticed that she mentioned ‘was’, so he once again spoke. “Was? Why not anymore?”
The smile on Tiona’s face froze a little as a small amount of melancholy appeared, very briefly, in her eyes before fading away. “I learned when I was very young that you can’t always wait for a prince to come and save you. Now, I’ve become much stronger than I was then…so I guess it just kinda faded away naturally~?” Tiona spoke in a chipper tone, but Vahn understood she was having sad thoughts as he could see her aura flicker slightly with a bluish hue.
Vahn reached out his hand to place it on her hair, but before he finished the motion, he changed the trajectory of his hand and placed it on her cheek instead. Tiona stared at him with wide-eyes as Vahn gently stroked her cheek and passed his fingers through her hair in an affectionate manner. “I may not be able to do so now, but I will try to treat you like a princess in the future. Don’t be sad, okay?”
A red hue began to appear on Tiona’s face as her eyes began to slowly build up moisture. Vahn could feel his instincts begin to trigger, and he realized he may have pushed his actions a little too far. Luckily, since everyone seemed to be interested in what Vahn was going to do, Tione had stepped in after noticing the change in her sister. “Alright you two, break it up! We don’t have time for your lovey-dovey stuff right now. Stay focused!”
Tiona was dragged away by Tione as she stared at Vahn with a somewhat heated expression on her face. Fortunately, she hadn’t lost her mind like earlier as she allowed herself to be pulled away without resisting. Vahn just stood there watching as a voice sounded out from his left. “You cheater…” Vahn turned his head and saw Lefiya glaring at him while standing next to Riveria who had a slightly exasperated expression on her face. Seeing Vahn look over, Riveria said, “Vahn, the dungeon isn’t the place to pick up girls. Flirt when you get back to town, we have a mission to do.”
Riveria began giving orders to the ‘ambush’ team and the group made their way to the area outside the 13th floor. The ‘garrison’ group split off from the main party and went to their designated area on the 14th floor. Eventually, Vahn’s group had caught up and he was able to see the ‘vanguard’ party acknowledge their presence before entering the 13th floor proper. The ‘ambush’ group waited outside the door as Riveria listened for the sounds of combat.
Everyone remained absolutely silent as they were waiting for the signal to enter the floor. The ‘vanguard’ was charged with drawing the attention of the Juggernaut before pulling it away if necessary. In the time they were engaging the creature, the ‘ambush’ group would move to their assigned spot on the 13th floor, an area that connected to the 14th floor through a series of holes.
Twenty minutes of soul-crushing silence later, the group was able to feel the reverberations of the dungeon. Riveria’s ears twitched slightly as she signaled to the 22 members of the ‘ambush’ party. “Let’s move, we don’t have a lot of time!” Before her words even finished, Riveria began leading the charge into the 13th floor. Following closely behind her were Tiona and Tione, while Vahn ran alongside Lefiya slightly ahead of the rest of the group.
While they were running, Vahn noticed that Lefiya was holding her staff so tightly that her fingers were turning white. She had a fearful expression on her face, and she looked somewhat out of place amongst all the older adventurers in the party. As she was only 12, Lefiya was the youngest person in the entire group. Though she had the option to join the ‘garrison’ party, she had resolved herself to join the ‘ambush’ team so she could be of use. Though attack magic wouldn’t work on the Juggernaut, Lefiya was also a capable healer and could case various buffs with the support of her unique skill [Elf Ring]. (A/N: Elf Ring lets Lefiya use ANY elven magic, as long as she knows the chant. Because of this, she is known as the Thousand-Elf in the canon.)
Vahn felt Lefiya was very brave, but it was somewhat pitiful to see her current appearance. Without notice, he reached out his hand and channeled the strongest version of [Hands of Nirvana] he could while placing his hand on her shoulder. Lefiya startled a bit at the contact, but after seeing it was Vahn, she actually felt a little relieved. Feeling the calming and warm energies enter her body, the fear that had begun to settle in her mind was rapidly chased away.
After a few seconds, Lefiya blushed slightly before knocking Vahn’s hand away. She continued to run in silence without making eye contact for a few seconds before whispering in a low voice. “Thank you…” Vahn was still paying attention to Lefiya, so even though she spoke the words very quietly, he was able to hear her. Smiling, Vahn said, “You are very brave Lefiya, but don’t try too hard. If things get dangerous, I will try to protect you.”
Lefiya gave Vahn a sideways glance before sighing in an exasperated manner. She gave Vahn a strange look and asked directly, “Don’t tell me you aren’t satisfied with Ais and Tiona, now you’re aiming for me as well?” Vahn hadn’t expected the sudden words, and he nearly lost his footing on the uneven ground of the dungeon.
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Can’t a guy be nice to a girl without bad intentions?’,’Where is the Juggernaut!?’,’Is it wrong to pick up girls in a dungeon? Probably.’,’Vahn creating future troubles with his handsy hands’)