Chapter 402: Unwavering

After taking a half hour break for lunch, Vahn ended up using his newfound skill, which was being referred to as ‘cleaning magic’ to help Tiona and Tione remove any blood from their bodies. He did the same for Ais as well, even though she didn’t have any obvious signs of the previous battles anywhere on her white and blue armor. The wind barrier that often surrounded her body completely shielded her from any ‘debris’ that might stain her nearly flawless appearance and this caused Vahn to notice a peculiarity…

Vahn had never considered it much in the past, as he had never seen Tiona’s status, but now that he had seen her parameters for himself he noticed there was something ‘wrong’. He didn’t bring it up to her, as it might alter her awareness and inhibit her growth, but Tiona was not without mana as her status board showed. Though it didn’t use much mana, her weapon was a Rank A (Magic) item that Vahn had personally forged for her in the past. Many of its effects were ‘passives’, but the thin barrier of wind that would surround her body when she was moving was only possible if mana was fed into it.

As they progressed down the 200m between the 19th and 20th floor, Vahn was closely observing Tiona with his [Eyes of Truth], trying to do as the name implied and see through to the truth behind her constitution. Like all things, both living and not, Tiona’s body was comprised entirely of elemental energies that supported the structure of the molecules in her body. Unlike others, however, she didn’t seem to have any mana circuits, something that should be impossible given Vahn’s current understanding. If she truly had ‘no mana’, her body should be in a permanent ‘Mind Down’ state because she wouldn’t have the requisite mental energies to maintain consciousness.

Fortunately, soon after they entered the 20th floor, Vahn led the group toward a group of monsters known as Swordstags. They were slightly under two meters tall and, unlike a normal deer or stag, they had long blades for antlers instead. Beneath their matted fur coats, there were also small scales that covered their bodies, not that it made much of a difference considering the power output of the girls that immediately moved to engage them. Vahn had been watching Tiona move about and notice that, as soon as the wind barrier activated around her body, he could see a thin green string of mana appearing out of nowhere that ran through her body like a wisp of smoke.

Vahn’s eyes opened slightly before he increased the amount of energy fed into his skill to enhance his vision even further. The reason he chose to do this was due to the purity of Tiona’s ‘mana’, which was generally a gentle blue or white color. For it to be green inside of the body didn’t make any sense, as that was typically something that would only happen after you converted your own mana into wind elemental energy. Now that his eyes were capable of seeing even more, Vahn noticed that Tiona’s pores were inexplicably drawing ambient elemental energies into her body from the atmosphere. Not just any elemental energies either, but pure wind elements so that she was able to make use of the wind barrier surrounding her body.

The find ended soon after and the girls went back to resume their positions before Tiona noticed Vahn’s ‘fervent’ and unwavering gaze staring directly at her. He had a very serious expression as he scanned all over her body and she could ‘feel’ his gaze touching her skin and making it tingle. Since she was still excited from the fight, her heart began to beat quicker the longer he stared at her and he seemed to notice it as his eyes darted to her chest as an icy blue light shone in them. Tiona could feel a strange sensation against her breasts, almost like she was being seen through by his glowing eyes…

When she had resumed her place in the formation, Vahn noticed that the mana in her body began to alter its flow inside of her body. Instead of dissipating back out into the atmosphere, the moment Tiona stopped using the energy, it began to pool inside her abdomen and heart before disappearing in a strange manner that Vahn couldn’t see through regardless of how much he focused. As he had been observing her body very closely, Vahn noticed Tiona’s heart began to beat rapidly and turned his attention to watch it for any abnormalities. For him to be unable to see through the process, it had to relate to an Innate ability, though Vahn wasn’t sure which one it was. It made the most sense for it to be her [Magic Devouring King], but Vahn couldn’t understand how that had anything to do with absorbing mana from the atmosphere so she could use a magic weapon.

Vahn’s vision was suddenly obstructed by a ‘transparent’ and very fluffy tail which caused him to blink and deactivate his skill. Looking to his right, Vahn saw Haruhime smiling at him with a gentle expression on her face as she said, “If you keep looking at her any longer, I’m afraid she might attack you, fufufufu~.” While he was confused, Haruhime removed her tail that was obscuring his vision and saw the deeply blushing Tiona giving him a sidelong glance with a somewhat ‘hungry’ look in her expression. Vahn suddenly realized that her heart wasn’t beating rapidly as a result of her skill, but due to the fact that he had been ‘focused’ on her chest for several seconds…

As the group made their way further into the floor, Tiona acted in a way very similar to Fenrir when she was frustrated and threw herself into a group of lizardmen and began to indiscriminately slaughter them. Though he felt no true remorse for their loss, Vahn still sent them a silent prayer as their somewhat ruthless deaths were a result of his mistake. He was beginning to realize that, if something really did happen between him and the girls within the Dungeon, it would likely be a result of his actions having triggered them. Fortunately, Vahn had made the decision to bring along Fenrir for the trip to prevent anything from actually happening.

There was also Riveria, Lefiya, and even Haruhime present, so Vahn was ‘hoping’ things wouldn’t take any strange turns once they set camp for the night. Sleeping arrangements hadn’t been discussed yet, but Vahn knew he would probably be sleeping with Fenrir in order to ‘avoid’ having to sleep with the larger group of girls. It was inarguably far too dangerous to share a tent with Tiona and Tione so he would most likely end up staying with Ais, Lefiya, and Fenrir, which was a relatively ‘safe’ group, all things considered.

Sensing an abnormality, Vahn raised his hand and stated in a firm tone, “Stop, don’t advance any further!” The girls immediately listened to his order and took battle ready stances as Vahn probed the room up ahead with his perception. After observing the flow of energy within the walls and ceiling of the Dungeon, Vahn turned to Riveria while speaking loudly for the benefit of the entire group, “There is a large fluctuation of mana in the next room…if I’m not wrong, it is either a strange phenomenon in the Dungeon or the precursor to a Monster Party.”

Riveria’s cool expression became somewhat serious as she said, “Even if it’s only the 20th floor, a Monster Party can be very dangerous. Though I’ll leave the decision for you, I would suggest taking a detour and finding another way forward.” Vahn nodded his head but was still considering fighting in the room regardless. They wouldn’t be caught off guard like the traditional groups which would become the victims of such a situation, and their group also consisted of several powerful Adventurers. Vahn himself had the benefit of his domain and could use his [Heart of the Eternal] flame and [Lævateinn] to deal with a large number of enemies as well.

After considering the matter for quite a while, Vahn nodded his head firmly and said, “Riveria, we won’t always be able to avoid dangerous situations when we’re in the Dungeon. Now that we have a chance to tackle one while having ample time to prepare, I think we should push forward. It’s also a good opportunity to let Lefiya gain some exillia so I want you to create a barrier to defend the backline while Tiona, Ais, and Tione clear away as many enemies as they can during Lefiya’s chant. Haruhime, since we don’t know what will happen, I want you to use your Uchide no Kozuchi on the vanguard, myself, and Riveria. Fenrir, Ryuu, I want the two of you to stay back within the barrier and be prepared for any changes in the situation.”

Tiona immediately shouted out a happy, “Alright~! Let’s destroy them all, ahahahahaha!” while Tione and Ais also seemed to get a bit riled up at the idea of fighting what would likely be hundreds of monsters. Riveria gave a slightly exasperated sigh before saying, “Very well, it sounds like a sound plan. We should stay oriented towards the door, however, just in case we need to retreat into the adjacent rooms.” Vahn nodded his head in affirmation before giving the order to advance forward, knowing full well the Dungeon had prepared a ‘trial’ for them to overcome. He hadn’t mentioned it to Riveria, but Vahn was just as excited as Tiona, Ais, and Tione when it came to the thought of fighting a mass of enemies.

The room they proceeded into was very large, nearly 300m in diameter, with the height of the ceiling nearly 40m above. There was a large number of root-like protrusions that connected all the way from the floor to the ceiling and would serve as cover for both allies and enemies alike. Though there were presently no monsters visible, everyone could sense the abnormality in the room since Vahn had pointed out the possibility of an ambush. Vahn himself was paying close attention to the fluctuation of magic and, just as the mana in the walls began to shift, he said in a clear tone that resonated through the area, “Riveria, barrier magic, now!”

Riveria nodded her head and began her chanting as a massive emerald green magic circle appear beneath their feet, “Dance around spirit of the atmosphere, lord of light…” Just as she had started chanting, cracks began to appear all over the room as monsters began pouring out of the holes like water escaping a leak. The vast majority of the monsters turned out to be Bugbears, but Vahn had noticed the presence of several new enemies that might prove a problem if not for the prowess of the three Level 5’s out front. Standing around four meters tall, though there was one much larger, were a group of five Trolls that appeared within the monster horde. They had bark-like brackish brown skin that was shaped like dead trees. Vahn knew these branch-like protrusions were both very durable while also being incredibly sharp. They were considered some of the strongest monsters in the middle floors and their variants could easily be stronger than Level 3.

Riveria hadn’t stopped her chant while the monsters were converging on them and eventually finished long before the first contact ever happened, “Contract with the guardian of the forest, and envelop us with the song of the land. Surround us become a great barrier of forest light and protect us – my name is Alf!” A massive barrier appeared around the entire backline that would completely prevent any enemy attacks from reaching them. Vahn realized he should have given this order earlier, but turned to the somewhat pale Lefiya and said in a calm, yet firm, tone, “Lefiya, use the strongest magic you can manage. Don’t panic, you’re perfectly safe…” Lefiya’s aura had begun to waver like a flame that was on the verge of being extinguished by a strong wind.

Even though she was Level 3, Lefiya still didn’t have a lot of confidence in herself and struggled when it came to dealing with large groups of monsters. Vahn didn’t understand this too well since, as a mage, it was precisely her job to deal with mobs of enemies. He wasn’t sure how her expectations were able to deviate away from the ‘purpose’ she had within the group, but he did his best to support her so she wouldn’t hesitate for too long. Just as he had done in the past, Vahn stood slight behind Lefiya and said in a gentle tone, “You can do it, Lefiya…” as he placed his hand gently on her shoulder and channeled his own source energy into her body with [Yggdrasile’s Favor] and [Hands of Nirvana].

Lefiya felt the familiar energy, the same which she had found comfort in during the fight against the terrifying Juggernaut, and nodded her head as she began her own chant, “Proud warrior, snipers of the forest…” While she was beginning her relatively slow chant, Ais had become a veritable typhoon of wind and had started a massacre against the hordes that had managed to close the distance. She, Tiona, and Tione, had all split up in order to protect the backline from three different directions and were trying to whittle down as many enemies as they could before the retreat order was given.

Ais could see the massive 7m tall red troll in the back that was actually picking up other monsters and biting off their heads as it released a powerful roar that shook the entire room. It was far behind the larger mass and Ais knew she wouldn’t be able to go all the way over there, slay the relatively strong monster, and then retreat all in the time it took for Lefiya to finish her chant. Though she felt a powerful compulsion to fight against the strong monster, Ais was beginning to waver in her single-minded pursuit after having been exposed to Vahn.

She was beginning to understand that there were more things than simply slaying monsters that were required to become strong. Even though Vahn was a much lower level than she was, he was quickly catching up to her in strength and would probably exceed her within a year or two. Since he had stressed working together, even though he was growing so rapidly, Ais wanted to believe the path he walked was the correct one. She had seen the evidence in the ridiculous growth rate of Haruhime, Maemi, and Emiru and knew they would also become stronger than the current her in the future unless she changes her perspective…

Thus, against the expectations of almost everyone present, Ais didn’t charge forward to try and fight the Troll variant and instead used her Ariel to thin out the monsters closest to the barrier. Riveria was especially surprised by this change and sent a sidewards glance at the ‘confident’ looking Vahn that had a small smile on his face as he rested his hand on Lefiya’s shoulder. She could also see that Lefiya, who was typically somewhat unreliable in combat situations during expeditions, was calmly chanting her magic spell with her eyes closed. Her pale complexion had taken on a slightly rosy color and she was smoothly progressing through her chant as a gentle pink magic circle rotated under her feet.

Vahn had memorized all the chants used by Riveria and Lefiya so, just as she was getting to the final incantation, he stated in a calm and loud tone, “Fall back, Lefiya will take care of the rest! Riveria, lower the shield!” Lefiya’s brows twitched slightly as Vahn ‘shouted’, but she maintained her focus and continued her chant, “Release them, the fire arrows of the fairies. Falling like rain, burn away the savages!” Her chant ended almost at the exact same moment that Ais, Tiona, and Tione managed to get within her magic circle. Several small magic circles began to appear in the air overhead and red beams of energy erupted from their center and began to rain down on the monsters within the room.

Seeing the devastation wrought by the small elf, Vahn nodded his head approvingly and helped recover the mana that Lefiya had exhausted. She had used nearly 70% of her reserves in a single spell, one of the major downsides to using wide AoE magic, and Vahn wanted to top her off just in case. Though there had been several hundred monsters still present in the room, by the time the explosion had cleared there were only a few dozen injured stragglers located around the area. The floor was littered with magic cores and drop items that Vahn began to loot before walking over and patting Ais’s back as he said, “Go, Ais, destroy the enemy…”

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Ais had noticed that the variant Troll had survived the blast, likely due to its fire elemental affinity having resistance against Lefiya’s fire magic spell, and she had been contemplating if she should go and fight it. When she felt Vahn’s hand on her back and heard his words, Ais showed a small smile and said, “I’m going…” before dashing forward like the wind. Ais knew that Vahn probably wanted to fight the Red Troll himself, but he had left it to her and this made Ais feel both happy and grateful at the same time. She closed the distance with the massive creature just as it used a powerful roar of flames to try and scorch her body…

Ais brandished her [Gram] and completely dissipated the terrifying flames with the barrier of wind that surrounded her body. They couldn’t get within three meters of her and Ais wasn’t even able to feel the heat coming from them as she kicked off the ground with enough force to leave cracks against the hardwood floor. The Red Troll tried to smash its colossal arms into her figure but Ais dashed forward like a flash of light, directly through the body of the Troll. A tunnel more than 3m wide was formed in its body that continued to expand before it eventually reached a critical level and caused the Red Troll to turn into purple dust. Though it might be a very strong Level 3 monster, it wasn’t a match for the Level 5 Ais that had what was considered one of the strongest possible skills, [Avenger].

When she landed on the ground, Ais flared her blade before staring into its beautiful unmarred white surface. The small smile on her face turned into a more natural smile that reached her eyes as she stroked the flawless blade that Vahn had forged for her. Every weapon she had ever used in the past would eventually break after a bit of use, but the [Gram] in her hands had last for months at this point without even requiring any extra maintenance. Vahn had helped her sharpen it once, but it was otherwise exactly the same as when she had first received it. The only thing that had changed in that time was Ais herself and, seeing the group walking over to join her, with Vahn amongst them, she felt like it was a good change…

(A/N: Oh, this might not be necessary but I’d like to explain why Vahn didn’t give the [Seal of the Challenger] to Lefiya. There are a few reasons really, including that she doesn’t yet have a ‘flame seed’, but the biggest factor is…what kind of reaction do you think the bashful Lefiya would have if Vahn tried to give her a collar right before a big battle xD?)

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(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Ain’t no party like a monster party’,’Vahn’s noob tactics’,’Ais’s change in perception’)

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