Chapter 313: Captivating

Not long after he had ‘gifted’ the [Sakura Blossom] to Haruhime, she got to use it in actual combat. Because the blade was somewhat shorter, around 65cm, Haruhime was able to use it without interfering with her previous, ‘dance-like’ movements. The only thing that seemed out of place was the sheath so Vahn starting considering alternatives while watching her ‘prance’ about and cut down monsters. He wanted her to get used to using the magical ability of the sword, so Haruhime would shout, “Dance, fading effervescence. Blossom, petals of spring. ~Blossom!” before the start of an engagement and there would be a few petals dancing around her body in a very captivating manner.

Though there were significantly fewer petals floating around her body than when he used it, Vahn actually thought it was a very lovely sight. He also got to see the actual effect of the petals when a Kobold had tried to break through the small barrier of wind and three of them cut through its body as if there was no resistance at all. Vahn could see, through the use of his [Eyes of Truth], that the petals were highly condensed ‘blades’ of mana and the ‘wind’ that flowed around Haruhime’s body was actually a transparent magical energy that altered the flow of the petals according to the movements of the user. This was why, even if Haruhime wasn’t moving, the petals would continue to slowly revolve around her body and keep a safe distance away from her.

After successfully slaying a large group of monsters, Haruhime waved the katana about happily and dissipated all the petals before she sheathed it. She would then run over to his side and Vahn would pat her head while explaining where she could improve while her stamina and mana slowly recovered. Haruhime listened to his words very attentively and he was able to see her actively using the advice he had given her in the very next fight. Vahn began to suspect this was the influence of the [Mentor] skill, since she hadn’t shown nearly the same improvement even though she had been training with Ryuu daily. Since the [Mentor] Development Ability was something that had never been documented before, Vahn was the first wielder and the only one that could understand its use presently.

Some of the things he had learned, though it was all still speculation, was that the recipient of the Mentor’s Mark seemed especially receptive to his ‘advice’. There was also a noticeable glow to the mark, that only he could see, that allowed him to interpret how effective the skill was while in use. Through proper motivation, careful explanation, and adequate rewards, Vahn was able to make the mark shine brightly and it seemed to make his lessons more effective. Vahn honestly felt like the ability was a bit of a ‘cheat’, since he had the ability to already see auras to determine a person’s mood, subtly manipulate their affections, and could even use his [Eyes of Truth] to see through the flaws in their movements to offer the most practical advice without forcing them to conform to his own combat methods.

One example was, Vahn noticed that Haruhime always focused her weight on her left foot as a pivot since she was left-handed. This meant most of her attacks came from the left side of a monster, since she liked to spin and slice them, but always left openings on her right side while exposing several other parts of her body. If she continued down this path, Haruhime’s moves would become repetitive and she would be restricted in the means she had to attack the enemy. After Vahn pointed out the downsides and made a few suggestions, Haruhime completely changed her approach to combat and started leading with her right foot more often and using it as a pivot for a variety of thrusts.

She had even, after his suggestion, started trying to fight with her right hand and mirroring her former movements to improve the ‘balance’ of her technique. Vahn himself was ambidextrous, since he had very high dexterity as a [Master Smith], and had always fought with the use of his ‘instincts’ instead of any actual technique. He usually fought with a somewhat ‘squared’ stance that would allow him to change position easily and used a loose-grip to hold a sword that allowed him to swing it omnidirectionally without having any habits to speak of. He had picked up this habit after watching Tsubaki’s training, since she could also masterfully fight with both hands, even if she was wielding heavy weapons. As they were both [Master Smith]s, Vahn and Tsubaki had a benefit that wasn’t enjoyed by most Adventurer’s which was an incredible flexibility in their combat style. Because of their familiarity with weapons, they were able to use any weapon they got their hands on, even though Vahn was the most proficient with a sword.

When Vahn explained his reasoning to Haruhime, she had sparkles in her green eyes and even asked, “Should I learn to forge as well~?” Vahn imagined Haruhime wearing a kimono while slamming down a heavy hammer and couldn’t help but feel there was an incongruity to the image. Instead, he shook his head and explained, “I don’t think it suits you that much. Your movements are elegant and carry a similar quality to a dance, so I’d like to see how far you can polish your own style in the future. I think you’re more suited to ‘elegant’ hobbies like tea ceremonies, reading, and maybe sewing.” Though it felt a little strange to ‘rationalize’ a person based on their appearance and disposition, Vahn couldn’t help but feel like they were the most suitable things for Haruhime to practice.

As if to prove his statement, Haruhime held up her sleeve to cover her mouth as she giggled with squinted eyes. After a short while, she showed an elegant smile and straightened her back as she asked, “Do you prefer me to act elegantly~?” Vahn furrowed his brows slightly and was thinking of his answer before Haruhime continued, “I know, you want me to do the things I want without worrying about you. But, worrying about you is one of the things I want to do; it makes me feel happy inside~!” Vahn swallowed his words and showed a slightly wry smile as he patted Haruhime’s head and said, “Well, I don’t want to make you unhappy…” Remembering her earlier question, Vahn nodded and said in a cursory manner, “I feel that the elegant and gentle Haruhime is the most suitable.”

Haruhime’s ears waggled a bit and Vahn felt like her disposition suddenly changed to be similar to how it was when she first entered the Hearth Manor. She seemed to stand straighter and there was a ‘practice’ to each of her movements and expressions as she followed behind him with short, but quick, steps. Vahn suddenly felt like he was escorting a ‘noble lady’ even though she was wearing combat attire and carrying a katana. There was a gentle, almost placid, look to Haruhime’s green eyes and they suddenly seemed to be as deep as a still lake. Vahn didn’t know why, but he suddenly felt a bit of pressure coming from the small Renard girl.

After having spent an hour on the first floor, Vahn showed Haruhime down to the second level of the dungeon and tested her about her knowledge before they finally entered. She was able to accurately name all the monsters on the floor, including their habits, weaknesses, and drop items. Vahn knew that theoretical knowledge didn’t hold up against practical experience, but it would be very useful if properly applied to the strategies used when fighting monsters.

Haruhime was able to use what she had learned during her study sessions to change how she approached the monsters and was getting better at dealing with groups. Her stats, when they started, were actually lower than the twins, yet she was able to fight for longer periods of time since her movements were more fluid and didn’t drain as much stamina. She also had an incredible comprehension ability due to her naturally monstrous Magic parameter and it showed in how quickly she was adapting to combat. The twins had taken more than ten minutes to fight a group of five monsters together, but Haruhime was able to deal with a group of six Kobolds, each faster than she was, without issue while making the best use of [Sakura Blossom] to cover the gaps in her movements. Only four minutes later, the final Kobold fell and Haruhime gingerly made her way over to receive praise.

Around twenty minutes into the second floor, Vahn and Haruhime came across the first group of monsters that had a Dungeon Lizard in their numbers. It was a rather large monster, more than 2m long, and it had very resistant skin that was difficult to cut through for most newbie Adventurers. Their main weakness was their lack of agility, and Haruhime was able to deal with it faster than the rest of the monsters due to the fact that her blade cut through it like a hot knife. She already knew the location of the core and had cut through the back of the Dungeon Lizard to accurately strike the approximate location after performing a short hop overs its back, twisting her body slightly, and slicing downwards into its exposed flesh.

Vahn had a somewhat conflicted look on his face as he watched her deal with the remaining monsters because it felt like her equipment was going to restrict her growth. Having an A-Rank katana as a Level 1 gave her an incredible advantage over most other Level 1’s, and Vahn knew it could affect her mentality and growth negatively if she became overly reliant on her equipment. He would need to keep track of her development over time and get her used to a variety of weapons so that she wouldn’t become complacent. Since she attacked as if she were ‘dancing’, Vahn thought about making her some weighted fans, or letting her use something like chakrams or short swords. Her final weapon would still be the ceremonial, wooden, sword-staff that he would make for her, but it was never a bad thing to increase the versatility of your capabilities and combat style.

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After she finished off the monsters, Vahn moved forward to intercept her as she came to receive his praise once again. Vahn stroked her head and explained, “For now, we’ll keep going deeper into the dungeon until you reach your limits. It’s still pretty early, so we should be able to make good progress before lunchtime. If you need a break before then, make sure you let me know before you strain yourself too hard. Rest is easily just as important as actually fighting monsters.” Since she was currently getting her head stroked, Haruhime squinted her eyes a bit and made a polite “Nn.” sound instead of nodding her head.

Since Vahn had already mapped a few routes into the deeper floors, it didn’t take long for them to reach the third floor and then progress through it to reach the fourth within an hour. This was the point where Dungeon Lizards became the dominant monster, and it ironically made it even easier for Haruhime to progress since she was able to easily outmaneuver them while ignoring their supposed ‘high defense’. A simple swipe with [Sakura Blossom] was enough to cut through the resistant hide while also creating a path for the razor-sharp petals to follow. Though he originally thought the Piercing(A) on the sword related to its own blade, Vahn began to realize it applies to the petals just as well.

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At this point, Haruhime was beginning to get in high tensions and Vahn decided it was time to take a break before she pushed herself too hard. It was fine to push yourself in order to exceed your limits, but it was very dangerous to overstress your body when fighting monsters weaker than yourself. Haruhime needed pressure for difficult fights, not because of mental fatigue and a lack of stamina. After giving her his order, Vahn set down a large cushion for Haruhime to sit on as he sat against the wall of the dungeon and pulled out some snacks for them to enjoy an early lunch. Haruhime gratefully accepted what she interpreted as Vahn’s kindness as she sat on the cushion he had laid out for her. Since she always sat with her knees under her body, Vahn was worried she would scuff the exposed skin on the rough floor of the dungeon and had given her a pillow for her benefit.

They rested for about an hour and Vahn noticed that Haruhime was making an earnest effort to act ‘elegantly’ as she sat next to him and took small bites of her lunch. The only thing that broke the illusion was the fact that she twined her tail behind his lower back, where there was a small gap between himself and the wall. It wasn’t the first time she had done such a thing, so Vahn didn’t mind it much at all. The only thing he felt was that she also had a subtle ‘possessiveness’ to her as well, but didn’t make it too apparent since it wasn’t her intention to actually compete with the other girls around him. Though he had already proven to her that she was a virgin, Haruhime still acted as if she were somewhat ‘beneath’ the other girls that Vahn was in a ‘relationship’ with.

When their lunch was finished, Vahn arose from the floor before helping Haruhime stand by extending his hand to her. Since she was acting ladylike, Vahn put on the act of a gentleman and got a small, delicate, laugh out her rosy lips like a wind chime that helped relax the mind. Vahn then escorted her down to the 5th floor and the second half of her training began. Haruhime confidently discussed the knowledge she knew regarding the monsters that habitated the 5th floor, including the notorious Killer Ants that were famous for being the end of several novice parties. Vahn nodded his head and actually developed a strange thought that he might try to implement in the future.

Vahn knew from discussing matters with Ryuu and Aki about the prerequisites for the [Hunter] skill and wondered if it was practical to hunt 1,000 Killer Ants within 72 hours or if he should camp out near a Pantry and allow them to kill anything that came near. Ryuu had purportedly gotten hers by following a well-documented path in the dungeon that could trigger several ‘Monster Parties’, but that was a dangerous method if you weren’t properly prepared. Aki had gotten hers in a similar manner because she was part of the Loki Familia and they tried to cultivate their new adventurers properly.

While he was mulling over the idea, Haruhime had encountered her first group of Killer Ants and had taken a cautious approach to engaging them. She knew they secreted a pheromone that could attach itself to unwary adventurer’s that would make it easy for other Killer Ants to track them. They also emitted a shrill sound that wasn’t detectable by most people that was easily heard by other Killer Ants and would cause them to gather en masse and potentially overwhelm their enemies. The only solution was to avoid the pheromone was to apply a chemical to your weapon that would prevent the invisible chemical from tainting the blade. You also need to avoid any direct contact with the Killer Ants and douse your clothes to mask the scent if all else failed.

After formulating a plan, Haruhime made eye contact with Vahn who gave her the go ahead and urged her forward with a confident smile. They had already discussed that he would only step in if things took a bad turn, since he would easily be able to deal with any number of killer ants using his domain and [Heart of the Eternal Flame]. However, Vahn would only step in if Haruhime couldn’t manage on her own and she didn’t want to let him down so she pressed forward with her confidence rising and a fierce determination in her eyes. She actually didn’t plan to kill all of the Killer Ants, because it was her goal to increase their numbers and see how far she could go in order to measure her limits.

Haruhime stabbed into the thorax of the closest Killer Ant and it immediately turned to dust as a shrill sound that made her ears twitch spread through the cavernous walls of the dungeon. Haruhime stepped close to the next Killer Ant and then smoothly evaded to the side of its body as it tried to lunge forward and attack her legs with its powerful mandibles. She rewarded its efforts by slicing off its head before spinning on her left foot, changing her sword to her left hand and slicing through the abdomen of the third Killer Ant. The initial group had five enemies, and Haruhime had killed two while disabling a third within the first ten seconds of combat. The shrill sound continued to echo in her ears but she remained focused on the task and evaded the combined attacks of the remaining Killer Ants. It wasn’t long after that she could hear several clicking sounds and a mild vibration through the ground as she loudly called out, “Dance, fading effervescence. Blossom, petals of spring. ~Blossom!”

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