Chapter 335: Imprinting

Due to exploiting the holes leading downwards, it only took the group around twenty minutes to make their way to the 17th floor. On this floor, the number of monsters spawned was far fewer than the preceding floors, but they were individually quite strong. There were Lygerfangs, giant tiger-like monsters, as well as a few Minotaurs and a few smaller monsters like Hellhounds and Almiraj, rabbit-like creatures that often used small daggers and spears. They typically exploited the low-light of the cavernous structure of the 17th floor, but they weren’t able to get the drop on the group with Vahn present.

After progressing through the floor for around half an hour, the group came across a pair of Minotaurs and Vahn decided to give the weaker members of the Familia a chance to fight. Even though the Minotaurs were strong enough to pose a threat to even Fenrir and Mikoto, Vahn believed they would be fine if they worked together. Fenrir charged at the closest Minotaur and tried to attack its legs with her claws while Mikoto followed closely behind to cover her in the event anything went wrong. The twins began to pelt the pair of Minotaurs with bolts while Haruhime watched from the backline and was prepared to use her short-chant magic to help out if necessary.

As expected, Fenrir’s attacks easily broke through the thick hide of the Minotaurs and left huge lacerations on its body. However, the Minotaur didn’t falter from the attack and managed to react fast enough to slam its fist into Fenrir’s side and send her flying several meters through the air before she landed on her feet with fiercely glowing eyes. Mikoto had exploited the gap in the Minotaur’s defenses from attacking Fenrir and stabbed it directly in its magic core with her katana.

Though he originally intended to let the girls fight together, Vahn called out, “Everyone back away, let Fenrir fight alone!” Vahn could tell that Fenrir was ‘triggered’, so he needed to let her vent out a bit or it would be troublesome later. She was actually quite vengeful by nature and wasn’t the type that would easily accept someone’s help when she was angry. Since she was Level 2, a Minotaur wasn’t an opponent she couldn’t match on her own and Vahn was standing by if she needed help.

Fenrir’s hair started to rise with her anger as she leaned low and prepared to destroy the remaining Minotaur. As if it could sense the danger, the Minotaur actually back stepped a bit and looked like it might try to run away. However, it wasn’t long before it let out a loud bellow and charged at Fenrir as if to try and crush her with its powerful fists. It was actually faster than she was, in a linear charge, but Fenrir was far more agile than the Minotaur and managed to dive to the side before kicking back with her leg and leaving cuts with her feet-like paws at the back of the Minotaur’s leg. Seemingly unaffected, it tried to twist its body and slam its fist down onto Fenrir and left spider-web cracks on the ground as she evaded yet again.

Exploiting the moment when it had leaned forward to attack, Fenrir jumped at the head of the Minotaur and grabbed both of its horns as she stabilized herself on its body. The Minotaur tried to reach up and grab her, but Fenrir’s eyes glowed scarlet as she opened her mouth far wider than normal and bit down with terrifying sharp teeth. As if there was no resistance at all, Fenrir bit off the entire top of the Minotaur’s skull before it turned into dust and dissipated in the air. Unappeased, she picked up the magic core and crushed it with her powerful jaws before absorbing the Minotaur’s essence into her body. She turned back to the group and still had scarlet eyes with a slightly crazed expression on her face.

Vahn squinted his eyes before using Shundo to approach Fenrir to prevent her from getting near any of the other girls in her current state. He placed his hand on her head and used [Hands of Nirvana] to calm her mind as he said, “You did very well, Fenrir, I’m proud of you…” As she commonly did, Fenrir reached up and placed her paws around Vahn’s forearm, but he noticed her claws weren’t retracting much and it was very obvious she was restraining herself. She muttered in a somewhat cold sounding voice, “Master…Fenrir hungry…” Vahn nodded his head before looking back and saying, “Ryuu, Aki, take the girls the rest of the way, I’ll catch up in a bit.” Vahn threw over the [Rallying Whistle] and [Divine Hearth] for emergency use before leading Fenrir along as she chewed away on the link of [Enkidu] trailing from his palm.

After they left, Haruhime muttered in a quiet, sad sounding, voice, “Poor Fenrir…it must be very difficult for her when she can’t control her urges…” Ryuu, who often took care of Fenrir, nodded her head and stated plainly for the rest of the girls who were a little unnerved, “She tries very hard to fit in with everyone, so make sure you treat her well to make things easier for her. Compared to her original self, she has made great progress and it shouldn’t be impossible for her to learn to control herself even better in the future. Just remember, she doesn’t have a lot of experience interacting with people so she needs everyone’s guidance from now on. Her potential is incredibly high, and she will be a core member of the expedition parties in the future, so make sure to get along well…”

Though they were a little worried at first, Maemi and Emiru nodded together and said, “Yes, we’ll take care of Fenrir from now on when we’re at the Manor.” Ryuu nodded her head with a kind smile before saying, “We need to hurry…without Vahn’s detection ability there is no telling what might happen if we stall for too long. Aki, you protect the rear…I’ll take point and Mikoto will protect the center of the party and use her detection magic to scout for enemies. Try not to draw too much attention to yourselves with the crossbows…and Haruhime, don’t be shy about using your mana potions and accessories. There isn’t a great distance between here and the 18th floor, and we’ll have plenty of time to replenish our reserves when we arrive.”

After organizing themselves a bit, the group set out at a moderate pace while remaining alert. Fortunately, the number of enemies on the 17th floor wasn’t that great and they had four people within the party of six that could see in the dark, had powerful hearing, and a well-developed sense of smell. Most monsters were rather pungent and weren’t great at stealth so it wasn’t that difficult to push forward if they were careful. Ryuu was able to kill most monsters in a single hit at this Level, so the group’s progress wasn’t stalled much until the arrived at the Wall of Grief an hour later. Ryuu could tell that the shadow within the wall would appear in the next day or so, which coincided with their intentions of venturing into the dungeon in the first place. She then led the group to the corridor connecting to the 18th floor to wait for Vahn and Fenrir to catch up.

Vahn had led Fenrir far away from the group and used his domain and minimap to map large areas of the 17th floor to look for monsters. He noticed that Fenrir had calmed down a bit when it was just the two of them, but she was still very frustrated and needed to vent against monsters so Vahn found small groups for her to fight. Fenrir saw the group of five Hellhounds in the distance and dropped [Enkidu] from her mouth before charging toward the group. Hellhounds could breathe fire and were quite quick, but their defenses were abysmal, not that it mattered since Fenrir’s claws could cut through adamantine easily. Vahn supported from behind and briefly stunned any of the monsters that tried to attack Fenrir’s flanks while she jumped around and literally tore them apart. They weren’t much larger than large dogs so Fenrir’s claws could easily cut several centimeters deep into their flesh, which was enough to cut through bones and muscles. They also weren’t able to change directions easily, so Fenrir could exploit their non-existent defense easily. She had grown a lot in the last two months and could even fight well when she had lost her senses and entered a blood rage. Her instincts, sense, and reflexes, were all abnormally high and it made her more than a match for most monsters. The only major threat to Fenrir were agile monsters with high offensive power and those that used magic and could fly.

Though he had stunned it, one Hellhound managed to break through and try to bite at Fenrir’s side, but she turned around and grabbed at its mouth with her paws. The Hellhound bit down on the somewhat fleshy appendage and bit deeply into her paws, but Fenrir closed her claws and squeezed its face until it dissipated into smoke. Vahn could see the wounds left by the Hellhound slowly closing as she completely ignored the damage and continued to fight. Not only did she have powerful regeneration, especially when she was eating things. After the fight ended, she had ‘spared’ a single Hellhound after cutting through its spine early in the fight. She picked up its body and began to devour the entire thing, fur, bones, and all.

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Vahn approached while she was eating and waited for her to finish before giving her the link of [Enkidu] in his hand. She reached out in a casual manner and grabbed it in her paws as she started chewing away at the indestructible chain. Vahn noticed that, even though she had suffered a few wounds, Fenrir was still calming down faster than normal. He had long known that she was the least stressed when it was just the two of them because she still struggled to truly open herself up to others after suffering Eva’s ‘mistreatment’ in the past. Vahn felt like she only rationalized getting along with the others because they treated her well based on his orders, not their own volition. The only exception to this was Milan, Tina, and Preasia.

After killing a few smaller groups of monsters, they came across a group of four Minotaurs and Fenrir said in a low tone, “Fenrir kill ugly cow monsters…then we go. Fenrir doesn’t want to leave the others waiting.” Vahn smiled and stroked the little wolf girl’s head and said in an encouraging tone, “That is very mature of you Fenrir. You really are a good girl.” She nodded her head as if it were an undeniable truth and said, “Fenrir is a good girl so Vahn has to treat Fenrir well. Fenrir doesn’t like being icky, so Vahn has to wash Fenrir properly.” As if to emphasize her ‘distaste’, Fenrir tried to dislodge some of the blood from her fur before making a ‘disgusted’ face. Vahn laughed because he knew that, though she was ‘pretending’, there was some truth to her claim as well. She had grown accustomed to wearing cute clothing and liked being clean since it made people pamper her more.

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Vahn gave her an encouraging pat on the back to urge her forward after saying, “Sure, but you’ll have to take a proper bath with the girls later. It’s better if everyone gets along since we’ll all be together for a very long time.” Fenrir nodded as a strange ‘smile’ appeared on her face and she said, “Yes, but Fenrir will be with Vahn forever and ever…” Her words finished, she charged at the group of Minotaurs that had been unaware of their presence due to Vahn’s concealment ability preventing sound from reaching them. Since four Minotaurs were a bit much for her, Vahn used his bow and shot a few arrows into the joints of the monsters without killing them or fully disabling them. Fenrir exploited the gaps in their movements and learned that it was much easier to kill the Minotaurs if she attacked them from behind. She could dig into their back with her indefensible claws before yanking out the magic core as the Minotaur struggled to try and reach her. She had a relatively small frame, and the Minotaurs weren’t very flexible, so she could easily exploit this fact to take them down unless they attacked each other.

Monsters weren’t very ‘smart’, and they acted with strange restrictions in place that usually prevented them from using attacks and magic that affected their ‘allies’. If Fenrir was on another Minotaur, the others couldn’t easily attack her and just tried to pull her away but were unable to do so because whoever she was attacking usually flailed about due to the pain they were experiencing. Vahn thought the sight was somewhat humorous because it felt like Fenrir was bullying them quite harshly. When there was only one Minotaur remaining, Fenrir got in a reminiscent pose similar to when she first entered the dungeon long ago. She held up both of her paws, claws extended, in something similar to a sumo pose as she faced down the Minotaur completely undaunted by its massive size and incredible power.

The Minotaur released a loud roar like it was trying to intimidate her, but Fenrir countered with her own [Freezing Roar] and temporarily stunned the large monster. Since it was obviously afraid of her, it wasn’t able to resist the paralyzing effect of the skill. It stalled for several seconds and began to froth from its bull-like mouth before the light eventually faded from its eyes and it fell to the ground. Fenrir took a ‘heroic’ pose similar to what Vahn had done when he was showing off earlier. She puffed out her nearly non-existent breasts proudly and tilted her head up a bit as she looked down on the unconscious Minotaur with a disapproving glare in her eyes. She sent short glances toward Vahn with her scarlet eyes and he realized what she wanted to he clapped his hands as if he were impressed and said, “Wow, very powerful, very domineering~!” Hearing his words, Fenrir pat her chest with a thump and made the closest thing to a laugh she could manage, “Ehkekekeku, Leave it to Fenrir~!” She stepped forward and reached her hand through the Minotaur’s chest and pulled out its magic core before trotting over and delivering it to Vahn with a ‘smile’ on her face.

Vahn praised her a bit more before leading the way towards the rest of the group that had been waiting for them. He had been slowing tracing a path towards the Wall of Grief while Fenrir was on her tirade, so there wasn’t that great a distance to traverse before they arrived. Vahn had even suspected that Fenrir picked up their scent earlier, and that was likely why she had brought up regrouping with them. She still ‘remembered’ Haruhime’s scent that he had her memorize in the past, so it was very easy for her to track down the fluffy Renard girl even if they were separated by several kilometers. When they reunited with the group, Fenrir walked forward proudly and proclaimed, “Fenrir killed lots and lots~!” As if she weren’t affected by the bits of blood and gore covering Fenrir’s body, Haruhime extended out her hand and affectionately stroked Fenrir’s head and commented, “Fenrir is as strong as she is cute~!” Fenrir nodded her head before casually walking away from Haruhime’s petting and walked over to get spoiled by Ryuu.

Vahn cocked his head at the strange display because Fenrir always acted differently towards Haruhime compared to all the other girls. Though she wasn’t very ‘eloquent’ in her speech, she didn’t really struggle to say any words. Yet, even though they had been around each other often, Fenrir still called Haruhime as ‘Harume’ and usually didn’t let herself be spoiled by the young Renard unless Vahn let them brush each other for a while. As if she had read his mind, Haruhime laughed before whispering, “She doesn’t like me because my tail is fluffier than her’s is…fufufufu~.” Vahn’s eyes widened at the claim and he noticed Fenrir’s ears had twitched as well. Even though she had spoken quietly, Fenrir’s ears were very sensitive and she gave Haruhime a sidelong glare with slightly glowing eyes as she muttered, “Smelly Harume…”

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