Chapter 354: Variant

—Haruhime PoV—

After spending three hours on the tenth floor, Haruhime was very aware that this floor no longer presented the ‘challenge’ she sought. She didn’t understand the changes in her body well, but Haruhime had realized something had changed ever since Vahn updated her status earlier. Though it was an incorrect assumption, Haruhime felt like Vahn had ‘changed’ something inside of her and she had become much stronger. She accredited her current progress to his support and the thought of him watching over her just made the feelings welling up inside of her even stronger. Her final fight on the tenth floor had been a group of nine Orcs that were surrounded by fourteen Imps. If it were her old self, before Vahn changed her, Haruhime would have certainly died against such great odds. Instead, after a few minutes had passed the only thing that remained of the enemies were several magic cores on four Orc Hides which Haruhime didn’t bother to loot.

After arriving at the relative safety of the stairwell, Haruhime waited for a minute or two before sitting down after Vahn didn’t show up. She felt her tensions ease up slightly and sat down on the cold Dungeon floor to recuperate for a bit. One thing she had noticed was, though her parameters had increased greatly, her ‘dance’ slowly drained both her stamina and mana at the same time. Since [Sakura Blossom] didn’t take too much mana to sustain, Haruhime understood there was something unique occurring in her body that allowed her to break through her normal limits in exchange for a bit of mana. She felt like her emotions had reached a level that broke through common sense and had become her actual power. This thought made the bubbly feeling in her tummy rise even higher as she peacefully sat humming a tune for nearly an hour before continuing into the marginally more dangerous eleventh floor.

Though she felt confident, Haruhime knew the eleventh floor was very dangerous for a single person to traverse since it was habitated by Hard Armored, Silverbacks, Orcs, Imps, and very rarely, Infant Dragons. Hard Armored had the highest defense of any monster on the upper floors while Silverbacks had incredible power and decent agility that could overwhelm rookie Adventurers. The Orcs and Imps wouldn’t be too problematic but a single Infant Dragon could spell the end of her journey if she weren’t careful. Their flame breath was powerful enough to burn large holes without the hard dungeon floor and could melt through steel with relative ease. Her only hope when encountering such a threat was to hit it from a distance with her magic even though its scales were some resilient against low-level spells.

As she walked through the mist of the eleventh floor, Haruhime kept her senses trained on her surroundings and noticed there was a strange earthly aroma all around the area she had entered. Her ears bobbed up and down in a steady rhythm as she crouched low to the ground and stifled her own breathing to an inaudible level as she waited. Her senses had warned her of danger and she felt like retreat wasn’t the correct course of action since it would expose her to whatever lurked within the mists. Her decision had proved the correct one as a 5m tall monkey-like creature shambled through the mist with glowing green eyes. Unlike a normal Silverback, instead of a single stripe of silver fur, its entire body was covered in silver fur and Haruhime quickly understood she had encountered a variant species. Since variants were typically a level higher than their counterparts, that made the monster before her a Level 2, and one marginally stronger than other Level 2 monsters.

The large monkey sniffed the air with loud inhalations before releasing a steady stream of hot condensation that caused the mist around its body to evaporate. Unfortunately, though she had made efforts to conceal herself, a solid red kimono and long blond hair weren’t exactly stealthy against the white grass backdrop of the eleventh floor. The ‘Silverback Alpha’ noticed Haruhime’s figure crouching as the fur on its body started to take on a reddish hue and it breathed a long stream of flames toward her. For its troubles, an ice spear crashed into the side of its face and caused a fair amount of damage that made the Silverback Alpha howl loudly as he leaped the full distance between itself and Haruhime.

Haruhime’s eyes had widened when the flame breath came at her suddenly and she held out both arms to cover her face. Even if she got burned elsewhere, Haruhime didn’t want Vahn to see her with burns on her face. She wanted to be able to smile for him always and couldn’t forgive the monster for its affront against her on this matter. Strangely, other than a bit of heat, Haruhime didn’t feel any painful burning sensation and noticed a bubble of invisible energy coming from the accessories Vahn had lovingly forged for her in the past. Because the Silverback Alpha’s flames were magical, the M.Def of the accessories prevented any harm from reaching her as a beautiful smile bloomed on her face and she called out, “Piercing Chill, Icicle Edge~!”

Moments after her spear hit the monster, the flames came to a stop and Haruhime heard a loud roar overlapped with the sound of bells as she dodged to the side in a strangely slow spin that still allowed her enough time to evaded the leap of the monster. The moment she did a full turn, Haruhime smiled and whispered in a small voice, “Piercing Chill, Icicle Edge~!” while aiming at the side of her assailant. The meter long spear of ice smashed into the side of the monster but only caused a small abrasion covered in ice to appear on its silvery fur. Less than a second later, the ice melted away and the only signs of her previous magic spell was a patch of mangled flesh that hadn’t gone remotely deep enough to do any serious damage. Fortunately, the monster seemed to be slower than expected and most of its attacks missed her by a large margin even though Haruhime felt like it should be faster than she was.

Unable to hit the small creature flitting about around its body, the Silverback Alpha began uprooting trees and boulders to try and smash the small figure into a paste. Every time it tried, however, it noticed the weak creature seemed to disappear before popping up in a new location which made it roar in anger as its fur became progressively redder. Its anger exceeded the limits of its tolerance and the Silverback Patriarch began to smash the floor of the Dungeon around it with its heavy fists without even bothering to try and hit the small creature anymore. If it couldn’t smash her when trying to, it would just smash everything around it instead.

Loud explosions sounded through the room as a cloud of debris was slowly concealing the body of the Silverback Patriarch as large chunks of sharp shrapnel began to fly about in random trajectories. Haruhime’s tempo was disrupted by the random attacks and she cried out, “Dance, fading effervescence. Blossom, petals of spring. ~Blossom!” Haruhime began to take small steps as she rotated her body faster and faster in a strange manner as the sakura petals danced about her at a high speed. She tried to trust her instincts to evade the oncoming debris but several pieces still collided with parts of her body before a fragment of a decayed-looking tree lodged itself firmly into her thigh. Haruhime gnashed her teeth and continued her dance as large amount of blood began to trickle down her leg.

Though there were tears in her eyes, Haruhime’s mind remained clear as she brandished her katana and a blue light began to shine as she began to chant without stopping her dance. She had never tried to chant while moving under duress, but Haruhime’s instincts told her that, as long as she followed the tempo of her dance, she should be able to pull it off…she believed this monster’s rage would not be the end of her journey. Though it was much stronger than she was, Haruhime refused to back down even though her body was screaming at her to simply ‘stop’.

After taking a short step and turning, Haruhime muttered in a whisper as a blue light began to shine on her tail, “Kokonoe. Beloved snow. Beloved crimson. Beloved white light…” A large piece of debris came toward her and Haruhime’s body leaned on instinct but it still smashed into her shoulder and tore part of her kimono. Though she got knocked back a few steps, Haruhime continued to chant,” Please let me be beside you – this love I have found at the end of two thousand nights. My name is Magic Fox. Former destroyer…” The Silverback Patriarch seemed to realize the coming danger and stopped its tirade before running toward Haruhime on all fours with a fierce momentum and death contained deep within its glowing green eyes. Haruhime’s dance had never stopped as her body ‘vanished’ from the spot and reappeared to the left of the monster as she said, “My name is Ancient Song. Former dreamer. For you who beat your wings like a bird, I shall allow the nine spirits to dwell in me. Echo, song of gold, sacred poem of Tamamo. White face, golden fur, king of nine tails…” In its panic, the Silverback Patriarch forgot its earlier failure as it released a long stream of fire towards Haruhime who received the blow head on by positioning her katana in the path. The mystical bubble guided the flames around her body without damaging her in the slightest as she continued, “Oh, tails of the auspicious beast, consume all, grant all wishes, Piercing Chill, Icicle Edge~! – Dance!”

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Instead of the normal four tails, five tails bloom behind Harhime’s back, each with a small blue flame on their tips as five 3m long spears of ice appeared around her body, completely unaffected by the heat. A powerful light glowed in her pale golden eyes as the speared continued to grow in size despite the powerful heat before launching forward with an air-breaking speed and piercing deeply into the body of the Silverback Patriarch. Unlike the meter long quick-cast spears she threw out earlier, the final attack of Haruhime had condensed the magical energy to form five 4m long spears that were far more lethal than the weaker version of the spell. She packed all of her mana into the attack alongside the remaining mana into her accessories and believed in her victory as she sent the spears forward with a loud cry, “I won’t stop here, not when my story has just begun!” After her shout, Haruhime saw the spears pierce into the Silverback Patriarch as its body began to swell up before exploding into a large cloud of purple dust. The last thing she remembered before darkness claimed her was a warm feeling embracing her body that prevented her from falling to the ground…

—Standard PoV—

When Haruhime had entered the 11th floor, Vahn had followed closely behind her and detected the presence of the variant much earlier than she did. Because the mist had nearly no effect on his vision, Vahn had seen the lumbering behemoth walking on all fours through the mist before changing its path toward Haruhime. He nodded his head because she had made the correct decision to hide, but also knew it would be futile since the monster seemed to have a very powerful sense of smell and eyesight that could pierce through the fog. He was tempted to step in and help, but Vahn thought it would be a good experience for Haruhime since there was no guarantee he would always be around to protect her. The [Effigy of the Hero] would allow her to win regardless of how strong the monster ended up being and it would be an ‘eye-opener’ that would prepare her for the future if she could overcome the trial before her.

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Of course, though he rationalized it this way, Vahn’s body was incredibly tense as his fingers dug deep into the hard dungeon floor. There was a chilling cold in his mind because he had a powerful urge to leap forward and annihilate the monster every time it got close to injuring Haruhime. His [Will of the Emperor] was the only thing keeping him in place as he constantly muttered to himself, “She’ll be okay, believe…she’ll be okay, believe…” When the Silverback Patriarch began to slam the ground in a rage, Vahn felt like his molars were going to be ground into powder with how hard he clenched his teeth. He saw the ten cm long piece of wood pierce clear through Haruhime’s thigh and had almost leaped forward in the very next moment before noticing that Haruhime hadn’t given up at all. With a deep breath, Vahn pulled out his bow and nocked an arrow while maintaining his [Stealth] and trained his sights on the Silverback Patriarch so that he could kill it at a moments notice.

Though his focus was on the monster, Vahn noticed the mana around Haruhime’s body began to fluctuate and he turned his eyes toward her and saw the illusory aura around her body had actually formed a large bluish-white fox with golden eyes sitting behind her. It was more than 3m tall and had two wispy tails behind its body as and followed each of Haruhime’s movements like her shadow. Vahn could see the mouth of the fox’s mouth moving, almost as if it were whispering into Haruhime’s ears and he could also hear Haruhime’s chant even though she was still dancing. A peculiar feeling welled up inside of him, almost like a powerful burst of inspiration, as Vahn lowered his bow. He knew that Haruhime was at a pivotal moment in her development and that his interference would be a slap in the face to her convictions. Vahn saw the confident glint in her now pale-golden eyes and knew she wouldn’t give up no matter how difficult the fight got.

Toward the very end, when Haruhime had faced down the flames of the Silverback Patriarch head-on, Vahn saw the illusory fox behind her step forward before ‘diving’ into her body. The moment her chant ended, Vahn saw Haruhime’s four tails sprout into five as an illusory blue flame appeared on their tips. He felt a powerful convergence of ice elemental energy pulled into the flames at Haruhime’s tails before large ice spears, far larger than anything Haruhime had ever used before, began appearing out of thin air. Vahn, with his [Eyes of Truth], saw that there was a line of pure elemental energy contained within each spear, almost like an arrow of unstoppable magical energy. That small line nurtured the entire spear and prevented the flames from having any effect as Haruhime launched them forward with a loud cry. Vahn saw all five spears penetrate through the body of the Silverback Patriarch before using Shundo to step forward and catch Haruhime’s collapsing body. She went into a state of ‘Mind Down’ and had lost consciousness as Vahn held her body tightly in his embrace before vanishing from the eleventh floor and retreating into the safety of the adjoining corridor to tend to her wounds…

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