Chapter 353: Moment of Reflection

—Haruhime PoV—

Haruhime didn’t understand it herself, but ever since Vahn had started brushing her hair earlier it felt like her heart was fluttering about in her chest. She hadn’t mentioned it to him, but it felt like all of her parameters were increasing and she had a strange urge to ‘prance’ about the Dungeon and defeat even more monsters. It was like there was an uncontainable jubilation well up inside of her and she needed to ‘release’ it for, not the world, but just Vahn to see. However, everything she had learned told her to keep her senses about her and never lower her guard regardless of how confident she felt. Though it was important to trust your instincts, you should never neglect your training because, as was often said by both Ryuu and Aki, ‘It will save your life.’

The tenth floor was typically beyond the limits of most Level 1’s unless they were formed up into parties because the rooms were much wider and filled with a fog reminiscent of morning mist. There were a number of small monsters, known as Imps, that were always skulking about behind rocks and trees in order to catch their prey unawares while they were distracted fighting against the various Bad Bats and Orcs that populated the floor. Haruhime, fortunately, had the benefit of her enhanced senses or it would be very difficult to clear the floor since there was a high chance she might get caught off guard. Instead, since she had been to this floor before, Haruhime had memorized the various scents and was able to locate the hiding Imps as long as she paid attention.

Haruhime heard a slight rustling of grass that made her ears twitch as she pulled out her katana. She didn’t need to use its magic for a single enemy so Haruhime simply charged the diminutive creature and took the initiative to strike it down. It tried to defend with its dagger, but Haruhime’s [Sakura Blossom] easily cut through it before bisecting the Imp from head to toe. She brandished the katana to disperse the blood that had marred its beautiful surface before continuing forwards. The lack of enemies actually made it harder to fight since she couldn’t get into the correct ‘tempo’ unless the fight lasted longer. Fortunately, Haruhime caught a rather pungent scent that alerted her to the presence of Orcs hiding within the thick mist. She could easily defeat them using [Icicle Edge], but Haruhime wanted to test her capabilities against the notoriously durable monsters and their rapid regeneration.

After following the trail, Haruhime found a group of four Orcs and a gentle smile appeared on her face before her body began to sway and she drew her katana and whispered in a sing-song voice that tickled the hiding Vahn’s ears, “Dance, fading effervescence. Blossom, petals of spring. ~Blossom!” A group of sakura petals began to slowly dance around her body as she leaned forward and dashed toward the Orcs with her newly upgraded Agility. After Vahn updated her Status Board, she had more than a 50% increase and Haruhime could feel a lightness in her body that made her feel ‘free’ and unrestrained. Even though she was only 150cm tall, she wasn’t afraid of the 3m tall Orcs at all and actually felt more excited than anything else. When she dodged the overhead strike of the Orc, who had been using a large club, Haruhime placed her weight onto her right foot before doing a backflip to dodge the second swipe and she heard the peculiar sound of bells ring once.

When she landed on her feet, Haruhime performed a short instep towards the Orc before performing a graceful, almost slow, strike through the air that cut accurately at the location of its magic core. The sakura petals trailed behind her slash and peppered small holes in the body of the orc before it turned into dust. Haruhime heard the sound of bells again before she took a half step backward and tilted her body to evade the strike that had been aimed at her face. Though there was no music playing, Haruhime felt like she had fallen into the Orcs tempo and all of their movements were the accompanying music for her performance. She knew Vahn was watching and wanted to appear as elegant as possible to please him.

Though she hadn’t intended to use it, Haruhime found herself raising her left hand as she muttered, “Piercing Chill, Icicle Edge~!” towards the Orc that had just raised both of its clubs at the same time. Since there was a second Orc at her flank, there wasn’t any easy way to evade their combined attacks and her instincts naturally guided her actions to use a magic spell to instantly kill the Orc. She then, instead of retreating away, stepped toward the Orc that tired to swipe at her from the side as she ducked under its arm making use of the size difference between them. Without swinging her sword, Haruhime simply walked past the Orc as the sakura petals trailed her movements and cut through its left leg and abdomen before leaving it on the ground screaming.

Haruhime felt very strange at the moment, almost as if her mind was becoming increasingly calm even though powerful emotions were coursing through her. She felt compelled to move about, but also restrained herself through instinct and she didn’t know what was happening. The only thing she ‘knew’, even though she couldn’t explain why she knew this, was that she had to dance…so she did. Even though there were still two Orcs present, Haruhime began to dance to a melody only she could hear as she effortlessly evaded the attacks of the Orcs who became increasingly violent. Their attacks cut through the air with enough force to disperse large amounts of fog and even a grazing blow would be enough to seriously injure her, yet Haruhime seemed to ignore their presence entirely. The only things their attacks managed to do was cause her long hair to ‘dance’ in the wind as her body moved fluidly around the area.

After around three minutes, the urge Haruhime had begun to fade and she sheathed her sword before kneeling down on the grass in silence. While she had been evading the combined attacks of the Orcs, their battle had caused an additional ten Imps to sneak up and ‘contribute’ their efforts to the fight. However, the only thing that changed was the ‘tempo’ Haruhime could feel in her body as she danced around and slew every monster without swinging her sword a single time. Now that her strange state had faded, Haruhime was ruminating over everything that happened and nurturing the pleasant feelings that were welling up inside of her. After sheathing her sword, she held both palms to her chest and felt like she could feel the flame seed in her chest warming her entire body with its comforting, everpresent heat…

—Standard PoV—

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Vahn had been crouching down in the grass around 100m from Haruhime’s position and watched the entire fight from start to finish. He was in awe at what he had witnessed because, unlike the dance-like movements Haruhime used in the past, it seemed like she had actually started dancing seriously. The strange thing was, it was almost as though the monsters were moving to her tempo and were always one step behind everything she did. There were even times when she started to move before the monsters even attacked yet they went through the motions almost as if they didn’t even realize she had moved in the first place. Since he suspected it was the influence of a skill, Vahn had been watching part of the fight with his [Eyes of Truth] active and noticed a large area around Haruhime appeared to be ‘illusory’ in nature.

Several seconds after he realized this, Vahn’s eyes opened wide because he realized he had gotten caught up the illusion for a very brief moment and had been ‘mesmerized’ by Haruhime’s dance. He saw her spin on her feet and, as his eyes traced the tantalizing curve of her tail, Vahn noticed that Haruhime had moved a few meters away before he even realized what happened. Since he was supposed to be ‘absolutely immune’ to illusions, Vahn had no idea how Haruhime was able to pull off what should have been an impossible feat. The only explanation was that it was the influence of her Innate skill must have some way to bypass his own [Eyes of Truth] and the implication triggered a flag within Vahn’s mind. His understanding of his own Innates was shallow at best, and now he realized there were Innates that could exceed any preconceived notions he possessed about his own mental defenses.

Though he realized it was ‘dangerous’, Vahn allowed his mind to focus on Haruhime’s movements again and noticed that he didn’t seem to be affected at all as long as he retained focus. However, when he saw her hips sway gently like a reed and followed her tails with his eyes, Haruhime was suddenly several meters away once again. Vahn’s eyes opened wide and he realized the skill was either activated by Haruhime’s tail, or took effect and exploited the gaps in a person’s concentration when their thoughts shifted.

To test his theory, Vahn focused all of his attention on Haruhime’s somewhat pert butt, willowy waist, and elegant tail for nearly a full minute without any effect. This showed that it was likely the case that it exploited the gaps in a person’s concentration so Vahn ‘uncharacteristically’ imagined Haruhime performing her current dance wearing nothing but the lingerie he was designing for her. By the time he returned to his senses, Haruhime was sheathing her sword and Vahn felt a strange sense of shame and lowered his head to stare at the grass for a short while as he calmed his mind. During this moment, Vahn realized he could simply use [Will of the Emperor] and the cool energy would immediately remove the effects.

Vahn released a small sigh of relief before turning his attention back to the ‘meditating’ Haruhime with a small smile on his face. Even if she hadn’t awakened her Innate, she had to be very close to it and Vahn realized it would be an incredibly powerful one when she honed her skills further. There was nothing more critical in a fight between two experts than being able to exploit the small openings in your opponent’s defenses. Haruhime’s ‘dance’ also seemed to push her senses, at least her hearing, to the absolute limit because Vahn had noticed her ears were twitching about in a steady rhythm and could detect mana accumulating in them.

The entire time she was meditating, Vahn used his bow in conjunction with [Call of the Reaper] to silently kill any monsters that approached near her. He understood it was very important to undergo moments of internal reflection to develop a better understanding of things at times. Even if she lost the timing to get the [Hunter] Development Ability, it meant nothing compared to awakening her Innate abilities. Fortunately, Haruhime only spent around forty minutes kneeling down on the grass before rising to her feet and dusting off her kimono and walking deeper into the floor. Though it was almost imperceptible, Vahn could sense a fundamental change in each of Haruhime’s movements. Her steps seemed lighter, yet purposeful, while her body swayed about in a natural and elegant manner. The most noticeable thing, however, had been when, for a very brief moment, Haruhime’s tail flashed with an illusory blue light reminiscent of her [Kokonoe] magic that made her sprout additional tails.

—Haruhime PoV—

Haruhime had continued to focus on the ‘heat’ in her chest and felt like she was stoking the small flame seed with her own emotions, almost like her thoughts and feelings were acting like a billow. She could feel her heart beating in a steady rhythm and slowly spread through her body and made a tingling sensation appear in her arms, legs, and extremities. It was like the feeling of happiness, yet instead of just feeling it in her heart it had spread throughout her entire body. As it reached the limits of her limbs, the feeling stopped spreading and instead began to increase in intensity. Haruhime’s desire to dance continued to rise higher and after more than half an hour passed she could no longer resist the urge and had to go find something to fight.

The moment she stood up, Haruhime felt like her entire body was light and the tingling sensation sent strange reverberations through her body with every step she took. It was almost as though every step she took towards the path she had decided for herself increased the feelings she felt in her heart, mind, and body. Since she knew Vahn was watching, Haruhime resisted the urge to laugh out from all the emotions building up within her body and instead settled on humming a tune she had never heard before. All she knew was that it made the fluttery feelings in her heart persist for a longer period of time and she felt an eagerness spreading through her body to join the happy feelings as she locked onto a pair of Orcs with her pale-golden eyes that had small slits instead of a normal pupil. There was a strange red coloration around her eyes, almost as if she had applied makeup that made her elegant expression appear far more alluring than normal…

—Standard PoV—

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Vahn had noticed that the moment Haruhime came across a new batch of monsters the air around her body changed once again so he immediately activated his [Eyes of Truth] and saw the illusory aura had activated again. He smiled widely because he was certain Haruhime’s Innate must have awakened and he ‘confirmed’ it by staring at the illusory second tail that was overlapping her real one like a phantom echo. Since he had done a bit of research to try and understand the Innate skills more, Vahn attributed this effect to her Innate called [Inari]. He had learned that it was the name of a nine-tailed fox deity that had a surprising number of myths that he had pulled from various records.

Though he had yet to meet her, Vahn also knew there should be a goddess named Inari in the Far East who was considered the principle goddess of the Renard people. The fact that Haruhime had an Innate related to her principle goddess showed that her noble bloodline wasn’t just for show. Not only did she have an incredibly rare magic, but her Innate ability was probably the most powerful one that a Renard could possess. If his intuition was correct, Haruhime might very well have nine tails one day and be able to make use of her [Kokonoe] without even having to use the chant…assuming it didn’t let her grow an additional nine tails. Vahn had trouble imagining what eighteen tails would even look like, so he believed his deduction to be true.

Now that she had a better understanding of her skill, though Vahn wasn’t even sure she knew it was active, Haruhime was able to defeat most of the monsters on the 10th floor without any real difficulty. The only thing Vahn felt somewhat unsatisfactory was how ‘slow’ the battles were, even though it was literally a mesmerizing sight to behold. It was looking more and more like Haruhime wouldn’t be able to slay 1000 monsters within the 72-hour window unless he came up with a solution to ‘accelerate’ the process a bit. Since it might negatively influence her to know about it, Vahn decided to keep the matter to himself and try and probe some information out of Haruhime when they rested in the evening.

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