The Familia progressed through the seventh floor before eventually arriving the relative safety of the corridor and stairs leading down to the eighth floor. As she initially stated, Haruhime had the group rest and recuperate for a bit before progressing further. It had taken them nearly an hour and a half to reach this point after leaving the sixth floor, and it was a sign that their progress was beginning to stall. Though they had put in a lot of effort, it was a simple fact that Haruhime, Emiru, and Maemi, were new Adventurer’s and not that far into their parameter development.
Haruhime could cast her [Uchide no Kozuchi] around eight times, and the casts only lasted for an hour or so before wearing off. Since she only recouped around 30 mana an hour, it was impossible for her to sustain using the magic, especially if she wanted to support the group with her [Icicle Edge]. She had been making up for her lack of mana by using potions, but it was only delaying the inevitable. Unless for when Mikoto and Fenrir took point, the groups’ progress had slowed a fair amount. Since Mikoto and Fenrir were both Level 2, and relatively capable ones, they weren’t having much trouble yet, but there were simply too many enemies for them to fend off with the two of them. If not for Fenrir’s [Freezing Roar], things would have gotten out of hand with how quickly the enemies spawned compared to how fast they were dealt with.
They had discussed it previously, but it was the general consensus that the tenth floor would be where the party fell apart. Mikoto and Fenrir would be able to manage, to an extent, but it would get to the point where Maemi and Emiru wouldn’t be able to fight enemies without potentially suffering grievous wounds. They would have to take up their crossbows and support from the backline with Haruhime while Fenrir and Mikoto fended off the approaching waves on their own. By the time they got to the eleventh floor, where the agile Silverbacks lived, it would be next to impossible for them to fight if there were more than a few enemies. At that point, the only one able to fight would probably be Fenrir, as she had experience going down to the twelfth floor and didn’t seem to be affected by the fog that would be present.
After resting for a half hour, the group pressed on and Vahn noticed that Emiru and Maemi had already switched to their crossbows and Haruhime had activated her bracelets. It wasn’t a bad idea, since she could slowly replenish her mana reserves while relying on the bracelets and the twins would be able to conserve their stamina. Fortunately, the most prominent monsters on the 8th and 9th floor were Goblins and Kobolds, so the group was able to make relatively quick progress through the levels. Though the enemies were faster, stronger, and greater in numbers, it didn’t change their attack patterns much and the girls were all accustomed to fighting them. Fenrir was a nightmare for such monsters as her agility and reflexes were high enough that she could easily ‘bully’ them from close proximity unless they had weapons.
It took slightly under two hours to progress through the floors so Vahn suspected that their confidence played a heavy role in how fast they dealt with enemies. When there were newer monsters, the girls showed a lot of caution and it slowed the progress of the entire party down. Since the Goblins and Kobolds of the 8th and 9th floor were stronger than the enemies of the 7th floor, they should have progressed even slower. Instead, the party moved along confidently and dispatched a number of enemies with relative ease simply using their teamwork to carve a path of destruction through the two floors.
When the party progressed to the outside of the 10th floor, Vahn listened from the side as the group discussed the various dangers ahead. Even Fenrir, who had actual experience on the floor, pitched in with her own views on the monsters. She described, in vague detail, that the Orcs were slow and powerful while the Imps were fast while also being weak and sneaky. The most problematic things were the ‘loud’ and ‘smelly’ Bad Bats that would be attacking them from the air. Without excellent marksmanship, it would be difficult to deal with them and they were one of Fenrir’s hated nemesis. The only way she could deal with them was to use [Freezing Roar] to paralyze them out of the sky, but there was a major downside to the skill that it required a large amount of mana. Fortunately, Fenrir’s mana recovered quickly, especially if she was eating the monsters and magic cores along the way.
After the group progressed into the misty 10th floor, their pace was much slower than normal as everyone was paying attention to their surroundings. Visibility was terrible and it was even worse for the various Adventurer’s proceeded into the dungeon as it didn’t seem to have a great influence on the monsters within the mist. A few minutes after progressing into the floor, there were various red lights shining through the mist coming from shadowy silhouettes nearly three meters tall. Some of the monsters, which were easily identifiable as Orcs, were even carrying trees that they had uprooted from the floor of the Dungeon with their monstrous strength.
Emiru and Maemi immediately opened fire on the Orcs before they could close the distance, but their skills with a crossbow left a lot to be desired. Most of the penetrative bolts hit the relatively large bodies of the Orcs, but they were just superficial wounds since you needed to destroy the core a few inches below their neck to actually kill them. Even when a stray bolt slammed into the forehead of an Orc, it kept shambling forward after making a pained roar but was otherwise unaffected by the projectile. Hitting them in the head wasn’t a bad idea, but you had to destroy the entire brain if you wanted to turn them into dust using that method. Orcs had incredible vitality and very powerful regeneration to make up for the flaws in their unbalanced parameters.
Seeing that the twins’ attacks were ineffective, Haruhime began to chant her magic while Fenrir and Mikoto stepped forward to deal with some of the Orcs that had closed in on the group. Unable to effectively use the crossbows on this floor, Emiru and Maemi switched back to their heavy daggers and teamed up to try and take out one of the orcs using their coordinated attacks. Because Orcs were incredibly slow, they were able to outmaneuver the large monster and exploit the huge gaps in its attacks to wound the regenerative flesh of the pig-like monster. Maemi eventually landed a grazing blow on the magic core and turned the Orc into dust particles before releasing a satisfied laugh and retreating alongside Emiru to protect Haruhime.
Since she hadn’t learned [Concurrent Chanting] yet, Haruhime was defenseless when using her chants and needed to be protected from sneak attacks. It was fortunate that the twins fell back when they did, because Ryuu was preparing to eliminate the two Imps that had been sneaking up from behind if things continued as they were. As they approached, the twins immediately spotted the Imps and closed the gap to try and eliminate them before things spiraled out of control. Unlike the Orcs, however, the Imps were very agile and even used daggers of their own. If they were coordinated, they might have been able to beat the twins in fair combat, but fortunately, they weren’t very smart, even though they were sneaky enough to ambush prey.
Emiru managed to cut the throat of the Imp she was fighting before moving over and supporting Maemi just as Haruhime’s chant completed. An additional three fluffy tails sprouted from her bottom in a magical light before wispy flames appeared on their tips briefly. The moment the wisps vanished, a total of four, meter long, icicles appeared out of thin air in complete defiance of gravity as Haruhime shouted, “Penetrative Chill, Icicle Edge~!” Her targets had been four of the Orcs harassing the group and the spears flew forward at fast speeds before penetrating the chests of their targets. The Orcs immediately turned to dust and Haruhime began chanting her magic anew while Emiru and Maemi protected her.
Though it was slow, trudging, progress, the group eventually cleared the 10th floor after more than two hours of intermittent combat. The biggest issue to deal with had been the Bad Bats, but Fenrir’s roar was enough to give the party an edge. There was a sticky situation where a large number of Orcs appeared out of the ground, in something similar to a Monster Party, but Mikoto had reacted quickly and used her [Futsunomitama], the gravity magic that affects an area, to crush the large majority of the group. She didn’t have enough mana to support using the skill a second time, but it was a very devastating magic, at least on relatively weak monsters. Vahn felt like she was actually more suitable as a mage if she could use attacks like that, but had no intention of forcing her into a role when she obviously preferred swordsmanship. Not to mention, using magic wasn’t always reliable as the mana cost and chant of powerful spells could take up to a minute, or longer, depending on the situation.
Since it was no longer their turn to take point, Vahn stepped in and helped the girls recover their stamina and mana as they rested. Almost immediately after he offered to help, the atmosphere underwent a shift as the girls, excluding Mikoto, all wanted to receive Vahn’s attention first. Vahn gave them a wry smile before putting out a large basin for Fenrir and helped the wolf girl wash her body while also restoring her energy. Fenrir was happy to be the first person tended to by Vahn and actually teased the girls by making a strange laugh that sounded somewhat raspy. After she was clean, the water became murky from all the blood that had soaked her fur so Vahn poured it off in a side room away from the party. The other girls wanted to take baths as well, but Vahn told them to wait until they reached Rivira as he began healing all their small wounds while helping to replenish their stamina and mana.
After patting Haruhime and the twins for a bit, Vahn moved over to the quiet Mikoto he gave him a plain stare for a while before turning around. Vahn reached out his palm and placed it on her back as he helped recover her mana as well. Her magic consumed the majority of her mana, so she was actually struggling to stand and had been putting on a strong front for a while. Vahn didn’t say anything and just silently helped her recover before removing his palm from her back. She nodded curtly and said in a polite tone, “Thank you, Captain.” Vahn laughed dismissively and said, “This is my duty, don’t make a big deal out of it Mikoto. I’m happy to help when I can.” Mikoto nodded again with a polite smile before sitting with the rest of the group and eating the light lunch that had been set out.
The group rested for about a half hour before Vahn led the way into the 11th floor proper while Ryuu and Aki protected the group. When there were smaller bundles of enemies, they would be leading the party in assaulting the enemies for experience. Mikoto and Fenrir were capable of fighting on these floors, as long as there weren’t too many enemies, and even the twins would be able to manage if they fought well. Haruhime was an exception since, if she used her magic properly, she could kill monster much stronger than her actual Level. This was one of the reasons mages typically became stronger early on while physical fighters took a while to catch up in Level until eventually exceeding them simply based on efficacy. As long as she hit the target with her magic, unless it had a resistance, Haruhime would be able to kill almost any monster on the current floors.
Of course, they would only act if there were small groups of enemies. With their party size, the spawn rate of monsters was quite high and it would be necessary for Vahn, Ryuu, and Aki to take point for the majority of the floors. Vahn himself was getting hyped up, because he didn’t often have an audience for his fights. He never realized it before, but ‘showing off’ in front of the girls made him feel a little prideful and he wanted to do his best to act ‘cool’ for them. Though he usually fought with his Báihǔ form, Vahn was currently in his Xuánwǔ form because he wanted to acclimate himself to its use. He planned to fight the Goliath in his Xuánwǔ form so he needed to familiarize himself with it before the battle tomorrow. It also had the added effect…a four-meter-tall Silverback jumped down and slammed its fist at Vahn from overhead. Instead of dodging, Vahn held up his palm as a green light shone for a moment before the entire upper body of the Silverback exploded before it turned to dust.
Every time he easily dealt with an enemy, there would be a cheerful sound from his back as the girls egged him on and paid him heavy compliments. Vahn had a perpetual smile on his face as he used Shundo to appear under a Silverback before striking its abdomen with a heavy blow that caused a shockwave to pass through its body before it was sent flying back several meters. Vahn had never used his Xuánwǔ form in the dungeon after learning Shundo, so he was ecstatic to be able to circumvent the agility reduction that was imposed on his body. His Power and Endurance had been enhanced by a great deal, and his manipulation of shockwaves made it nearly impossible for monsters that relied on physical attacks to harm him. Vahn felt somewhat tyrannical as he quickly dispatched dozens of monsters while Haruhime, Emiru, Maemi, and Fenrir cheered him on from behind.
Because of his ‘excitement’, Vahn led the way through the 11th floor in a half hour and it would have been even faster if he hadn’t let the girls fight a few Hard Armored to gain some experience. As they were relatively slow monsters, it wasn’t too hard for the girls to take out the heavily armored monsters. Fenrir herself was their natural enemy, since her claws and teeth cut through the supposedly resilient armor as if it didn’t exist at all. The only downside was, all of her combat techniques ensured that she was covered in monster fluids and gore. Vahn even suspected that she was actually making an effort to get dirty so that he would give her another bath later. Given her rather spoiled nature, there was a very high probability that this was the actual case…
When they got to the twelfth floor, it was much the same as Vahn was more-or-less unstoppable with his ability to change between his Xuánwǔ and Báihǔ forms freely now. There wasn’t a single monster that escaped his awareness within a 450m radius, and his use of Shundo allowed him to almost teleport within the space of his own domain. He was moving around at such speeds that Ryuu and Aki couldn’t help but feel shocked at the spectacle. They could still follow his movements a bit, especially Ryuu, but they realized that Vahn was a nightmare opponent for most people. Unless they were much stronger than he was, Vahn would be able to outmaneuver most enemies and, if things got bad, he would most certainly be able to escape without anyone being able to stop him.
The other girls didn’t really have a strong understanding of how ‘abnormal’ Vahn was, so they just cheered on happily even after Aki reprimanded them for dropping their guard. Unfortunately, her words didn’t have a permanent effect as the girls would cry out again the moment Vahn did something ‘cool’. She also felt a bit awed by his figure as he engaged enemies, so there wasn’t much she could say to make the girls calm down. Given Vahn’s actions, both Aki and Ryuu were very aware that he was putting on a show for the other girls. There was an extra flair to his attacks and he almost always made sure the final blows were slow enough that even the Level 1s in the group could follow his actions. If it were the normal Vahn, he could defeat the enemies efficiently before moving on to the next group without batting an eye.
By the time they reached the stairs leading to the 13th floor, Vahn was completely free of any bits of blood and gore and proceeded forward with a confident smile on his face. He could see the ‘sparkles’ in the girls’ eyes and it made him feel accomplished, even when he saw the wry and admonishing looks from Aki and Ryuu. He sent the girls a playful wink before addressing the party, “From here on, we’ll be taking a few shortcuts just to expedite matters a bit. There will be holes that appear on the floor, and I’ll be carrying everyone down one at a time. Ryuu will guard the lower floor while Aki will protect everyone on the upper levels until I make my way back up. This will save us a lot of time because we can unlock the floors for everyone and backtrack at our leisure.”
True to his words, not long after they entered the 13th floor, Vahn found a hole leading down and grabbed Haruhime in a princess carry before jumping down the hole with Ryuu. He was using his Xuánwǔ form to invalidate the shockwave from the fall while Ryuu was strong enough to land on the lower floors without any major difficulty at all. When they landed, Ryuu immediately moved to start killing off monsters while Vahn supported her with his bow while protecting Haruhime. It only took a minute or so to clear the room before Vahn turned into his Báihǔ form and scaled the hole leading to the upper floors. He then jumped down with each girl in sequence, including Aki who wanted to tease him a bit for acting ‘cool’. She hadn’t jumped down with him when he carried down Mikoto, so Vahn eventually climbed up after waiting for a few minutes before jumping down with her in his arms. The words she had used to convince him were, “I don’t want to hurt the baby…” as she placed her hands on her stomach and gave Vahn a ‘pitiful’ look.