The group continued to ascend the Dungeon while doing their best to avoid combat as much as possible. Since Vahn was carrying two people, he wasn’t able to make use of his archery and instead focused on ‘cooking’ the monsters by converging fire elements into their eyes, ears, and mouths, while Ais and Tiona cleared the path. For weaker monsters, he could simply stun them with a pulse of his intent so they were making fast progress and eventually reached the stairs leading to the 26th floor above. However, before they were actually able to reach the entrance to the staircase, Vahn sensed a projectile enter the periphery of his domain and immediately ducked to avoid the red trident that pierced the space where his head had been.
From the water at the sides, Vahn sensed several strong presences converging on their position and shouted, “Enemy ambush, they’re in the water…I sense seven monsters, likely variant species!” Using Shundo, Vahn broke formation and retreated to the relative safety of the corridor before placing down Haruhime and Fenrir. It would have taken just a few seconds for them to also reach the door, but everyone except Tione stood their ground and prepared to intercept the enemies. Vahn nodded his head and pat the top of the two girls’ heads and said, “Fenrir, protect Haruhime within this corridor. Haruhime, renew your [Uchide no Kozuchi] on Ais, Tiona, Tione, Riveria, and Ryuu. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”
Tione arrived soon after and dropped off Lefiya before telling her to cast a barrier before rejoining the fight. Vahn had already returned with the use of [Shundo] and was currently helping support Riveria in the middle distance while Ais and Tiona were fending off the other enemies. Riveria was no stranger when it came to avoiding danger at a close range, and she was actually able to dodge several needle-like projectiles from the enemies without much effort. With the help of her [Concurrent Chanting], she had already applied [Veil Breath] to everyone and was now doing her best to evade attacks and chant her attack magic at the same time.
From first glance, Vahn couldn’t tell what kind of monsters the seven were, but they looked like a combination between a Red Wyvern and a Merman. They each stood three meters tall and were covered in a dense assortment of red scales. Also, unlike the normal variant Mermen, they had long tails that were covered in scales and also had several spiked bones sticking out of the end. Though they weren’t that proficient with them, the ferocity of their attacks made the nature weapons they were wielding dangerous tools. Without the support of Xuánwǔ form, and his equipment, Vahn wouldn’t be able to fend off their attacks and buy time for Riveria.
Things weren’t all bad, however, as Ais had already defeated one of the two enemies she had been fighting and was currently dueling against what looked like the leader of the group. Though they were stronger than normal, the monsters were only Level 4 and weren’t a match for the agile Ais and her ridiculously powerful strikes. Because they seemed to have the blood of a dragon running through their veins, Ais’s [Avenger] and [Gram] were in full effect and she had managed to cut through both the weapon and body of what Vahn was referring to as ‘Draconic Mermen’.
A few tens of seconds into the fight, Vahn felt a surge of power pass through his body and this marked the official turn of the fight in their favor. Tione had already rejoined the fight alongside Tiona and they were fighting against a group of three monsters while showing commendable coordination with each other. They also received Haruhime’s buff magic and were able to get an immediate advantage against the enemies they had been in a stalemate against. Ais, however, was the fastest on the uptake and had managed to decapitate the Draconic Merman Captain with a swift blow. It’s head danced through the air with an incredulous expression on its face before it splashed into the water at the side.
With the fall of their captain, the surviving five monsters tried to flee by diving into the water at the sides, but they were quickly followed by both Tione and Tiona who dove in after them. Riveria had finished her chant and blasted the small lake and froze the entire volume of water contained within, including the two monsters that had fled into its depths. This left three remaining, the ones that were being targetted by Tiona and Tione. They had tried to put up resistance against the Amazon sisters, using their home-field advantage, but Tione was surprisingly more agile than any of them were able to deal with. Tiona had a bit of trouble, but she was able to avoid taking any fatal blows and had managed to steal one of the tridents before planting it into the belly of its owner.
Though Vahn was using [Wound Transfer] to absorb the damage from their bodies, both girls were getting the benefit of their respective [Berserk] skills as time passed. After three silent minutes, at least on the surface of the water, both girls popped out from the surface with smiling faces before swimming to the shore. Once the situation became a 2v2, they were easily able to deal with the surviving monsters using their coordinated attacks. After losing their Captain, the other Draconic Mermen had become decidedly weaker and it was only a matter of time before they fell.
It wasn’t necessary, but Vahn helped Tiona and Tione out of the water before noticing they had both lost their waist cloths. They had probably ditched them for increased mobility in the water and now he got a clear view of their wide hips, toned thighs, and fleshy butts. Though Tione had longer hair, and larger breasts, the rest of their body had filled out in much the same manner and it made Vahn’s brain buzz slightly seeing them in what amounted to swimsuits. He set the matter aside for now, however, as the group made their way to the safety of the corridor before the Dungeon threw anything else their way.
While they were making their way up the stairs, Vahn explained in a serious tone, “I have a feeling this isn’t going to be the end of our troubles. I can’t imagine the Dungeon can keep throwing powerful monsters like that at us, but stay on your toes until we reach Rivira. There is a good chance those monsters were only spawned by the Dungeon after I had damaged it a great deal. However, it doesn’t hurt to assume there is a greater scheme afoot. Everyone, make sure you have the [Effigy of the Hero] that I had given you…”
Hearing Vahn’s words, everyone reached into their various pouches, packs, pockets, and breasts, to show they still had their effigies. Vahn gave a satisfactory nod before confirming that Fenrir also had her’s safely stowed away in the small pouch at her hip. Now that he was positive everyone had their failsafe, Vahn turned to Riveria and said, “If you can, please try to keep up [Veil Breath] at all times when we are on the floors themselves. I’ll make sure to scout the area, but we need to be prepared for any sneak attacks that might come our way. I’ll supplement your mana to the best of my ability and we’ll rest for up to two hours between floors.” Riveria nodded her head and started casting her chant for everyone present.
Vahn gave Riveria a grateful look before addressing everyone else, “Tiona, I want you to move to the backline and replace Ryuu for the time being. Ryuu can fight better at the mid-range than you and your instincts will be useful if any other sneak attacks appear from behind. Ais, Tione, Ryuu, you three will make up the vanguard, but try to stay within 20m of the group in case of emergencies. I need to keep my hands free, so we’ll slow our pace to match Lefiya, Haruhime, and Fenrir. The most important thing is that we all stay together so that Riveria can use her barrier magic, if necessary.”
After reshuffling the formation, everyone entered the 26th floor proper and began clearing a path to the 25th floor. Lefiya had apologized several times for being ‘useless’, but Vahn had just shaken his head and stated in a gentle tone, “Lefiya, there is no sense in beating yourself up over your performance. The most important thing is that you use it to shape the person you want to be in the future. As long as you continue striving to become stronger, you can rely on all of us to support you.” Though there was a chance she would ‘overload’, Vahn still pat Lefiya on the head before turning his attention to a Harpy and pinning an arrow between its breasts.
Lefiya tightly gripped her [Heal] within her tiny hands for several seconds as a serious expression colored her face with a confident glow. She didn’t cast it too often, but Lefiya began chanting her [Arcs Ray] magic to target distant enemies instead of standing in the backline. Though she would eat away at her reserves, she knew Vahn would be able to support her mana if it became necessary for her to use her AoE magic. She didn’t want to continue being ‘useless’ and wanted to believe in Vahn’s words. He had previously offered to help her become stronger and, because she had seen the changes in the other girls, Lefiya knew she too could change and become someone everybody could rely on…
Fortunately, the Dungeon seemed to have returned to normal and the group was able to progress relatively easily through the 26th floor before entering the stairwell leading up to the 25th. As he had suggested, everyone sat down to take a break and Vahn passed out snacks. As they had still been ‘excited’ from earlier, Vahn ended up being sandwiched by Tione and Tiona, though they had enough self-restraint to prevent themselves from doing anything ‘problematic’. They just cuddled up with him and rested with their eyes closed against Vahn’s shoulders. He was nearly 10cm taller than they were now, so it was very ‘convenient’ for them to do so. As for Vahn, he was just happy that Tione was more ‘accepted’ in the group now, as he had never really blamed her for her mistake in the past.
As he hadn’t been using that much of his own energy, Vahn had managed to recover after resting for an hour and spent the remaining time helping replenish the reserves of others. His ability to recover his source energy far exceeded the traditional regeneration of the others who relied on [Spirit Healing] as their only method of recovery, other than rest. Since his source energy was far purer than their mana, Vahn was able to restore their reserves without expending that much of his own energy. He had noticed this ‘discrepancy’ in the past and it made him a little frustrated since, when he cast magic, his efficiency was actually terrible and it cost him a large amount of energy to produce a much weaker result.
Because he knew the actual values of the girls’ mana, after taking into consideration their magic stat and abilities, Vahn was able to understand he could convert a single ‘point’ of source energy into ten ‘points’ of mana. This should indicate that, if he used the same output in his magic, his spells should be ten times as strong as normal. Instead, perhaps due to his lack of comprehension, Vahn would be severely drained as a result of his casting and the effect wasn’t even half the originals. When he returned to the surface, other than forging and preparing for the wedding, Vahn needed to spend time experimenting with his magic and developing a better understanding of how to use his own source energy. His actual control over elemental energies was much higher than even Riveria’s, so it was a little difficult to understand why he had trouble achieving similar results…
The 25th floor also hadn’t offered any real challenge for the party, but Vahn still had everyone keep their senses trained for the time being. Complacency, especially after having overcome a dangerous situation, was the most dangerous mindset a person could cultivate. Vahn couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong and, considering his past experience with such things, kept his mind open and his attention focused on the scouting out everything within his domain. Even when they had stopped to rest, Vahn continued scanning the surroundings while brushing Fenrir’s fur. She was especially stressed out, likely due to her connection with him, so Vahn was trying to stay calm to help ease her mind. He had the benefit of [Will of the Emperor], so it wasn’t actually that difficult to inhibit his own emotions and focus his thoughts on his domain.
Though it was rather early, Vahn decided that it would be a better idea to set up camp before trying to clear the remaining floors the following day. Everyone was mentally drained from the earlier Monster Party, and successive ambush, so Vahn wanted them to rest and recuperate. Instead of using tents, everyone slept on futons that Vahn had set out on the Dungeon floor while he kept the place warm with his domain. Even though it wouldn’t inhibit their response time by much, setting up a traditional camp would potentially cost them precious seconds if something actually happened. The girls also slept in the majority of their equipment and Vahn ended up getting poked in the side by the strap on Ais’s breastplate for the duration of the evening as he enjoyed a light sleep…
Near a gathering point on the 20th floor, where several trees bearing fruit could be found, there were a group of monsters that had human-like qualities to them. Though their appearances varied greatly, it could be seen that three of them were females, each gathering fruits, while the remaining member was male. While the others were picking fruits and gathering herbs, he stood guard atop a large boulder and scanned the surroundings with his steely blue eyes. It was difficult to tell at a glance, but this man was a member of the humanoid monsters known colloquially as the ‘Xenos’. His task was to escort the weaker members of his race when they were gathering materials and right now his instincts were flaring up as if danger was approaching.
Though his ‘rebirth’ had only been a year ago, he was formed from the essence of a Silverback that had been slain by a powerful Adventurer in the past. As a result, he had the strength of a Level 3, and could even fight against weaker Level 4 Adventurers for a time. Unlike other ‘monsters’, he stood proudly with armor that looked like it had been forged in the style of the far east. Though he had humanoid features, the majority of his body was still covered in white fur and there was a silver ponytail coming out of the back of his helmet. Though he was a Xenos, he struck a somewhat heroic figure against the bright backdrop of the Dungeon as he brandished the large spear that was his namesake ‘Silverspear’.
As for those in his charge, they were three female Xenos that were reborn from a Goblin, Bugbear, and a Hellhound respectively. Other than the Goblin girl, named Ecks, the other two looked more monster than human and were known as Beary and Nera respectively. Ecks was short-statured, with pale green skin, and looked closer to a human child than a monster. Other than her complexion and mangy brown hair, the only indicator that she was a monster were the two horns on her head. Beary had a human-like face, albeit somewhat larger than normal, but the rest of her body was covered in a layer of light brown fur from head to toe. She was the most mature looking girl in the group and actually had a thin figure only the thick mat of fur. As for Nera, she had a somewhat odd shaped body and, instead of a humanoid face, had a dog-like head with human-like eyes which created a somewhat eerie sight.
Other than Beary, they had nearly no combat potential present and Silverspear was charged with guaranteeing their protection. Their kind was often captured and killed by what the Xenos referred to as ‘Hunters’. Silverspear didn’t actually have anything against the races of the surface, but he hated the situation they were thrown into where they had become targets to be hunted and captured. Even though they had an agreement with a supposedly influential figure on the surface, they still faced endless persecution and several of his companions had been killed, captured, and even much worse.
Every time he had this current sense, Silverspear knew there was trouble approaching and, if he weren’t strong enough, he would have to witness the tragedy of losing even more companions. Ever since he lost his mentor, Xad, Silverspear had resolved to never lose any other Xenos and had been training hard ever since. Though they were all born within the Dungeon, other Monsters hunted the Xenos just the same as they fought against the surface races. This meant he had to fight against Adventurers and monsters alike, so Silverspear had quickly been increasing his strength over the last year. His goal, other than protecting his people, was to one day defeat the Adventurer that had slain him in the past, not that he intended to kill the seemingly young woman. He just wanted to show her that he wasn’t simply some monster that had barred her path for a brief moment, almost as though getting her acknowledgment would validate his reason for being…
Though he hadn’t sensed the presence of the figure that appeared from the treeline, Silverspear brandished his weapon before jumping forward and landing in front of the masked figure wearing a black cloak. In a deep, resonating, voice, Silverspear shouted, “Leave this place or face my spear!” As he didn’t actually hate the surface races, Silverspear didn’t want to fight if he could simply scare away the enemy. The figure before him was relatively diminutive and he couldn’t sense any aura from him at all. Assuming it was just some Supporter that had gotten lost from his group, Silverspear gave them the option of fleeing, all while keeping his guard up for any unexpected happenings.
Hearing Silverspear’s voice resonate through the air, the three Xenos girls became alert and grabbed their baskets before fleeing towards the secret passage that would lead them to safety. Before they were able to get far, however, a red-haired woman bared their path and slammed a heavy cudgel into the ground as she said in a lazy tone, “If you try to run, I will eat you. Do me a favor and stay still like good children…” Though she could sense the woman before her was very dangerous, the Hellhound Xenos, Nera, opened her mouth to alert Silverspear that they had encountered an enemy. The moment she did so, Nera felt sickly sensation in her stomach as a profound sadness overwhelmed her mind as she fell into perpetual darkness for the second time…
The red-haired woman had stepped forward as a blur and used her heavy cudgel to smash the Xenos girl that had tried to alert the somewhat troublesome man that was being kept at bay by the masked figure. Before the other girls were able to cry out, she reached forward and sealed both of their throats with her grip. She easily lifted up Ecks’s small body in her left hand before pressing down Beary’s somewhat large body into the Dungeon floor. Cracks spread out, but she was durable enough to withstand the blow without succumbing. She tried to use her claws to counter, or at least free her throat so she could yell, but the only thing she got for her trouble was a crushed esophagus.
Releasing an annoyed sigh, the red-haired woman released Beary’s neck and said in a cold tone, “All of you would have been fine if you had stayed silent. I wasn’t going to kill any of you, so you brought this upon yourself…how annoying.” As her words came to an end, the woman reached her hand into the chest of the still living Beary and ripped out the vibrant magic core that had been sustaining her. Beary released sad tears from her pale-red eyes as her body slowly broke down into particles of purple dust. Without any hesitation, the woman threw the magic core into her mouth and crushed it between her powerful jaws as she stared into the terrified eyes of the diminutive Ecks.
After swallowing the bits of magic core, the woman asked in a plain tone, “So, are you going to behave, or do I have to force you to be quiet like the others? This whole thing is a pain in the ass, so don’t force me to have to do any extra work, okay?” Without waiting for the girl’s response, the woman dropped her onto the ground and allowed her to finally take a breath of fresh air. As she kneeled down and dribbled drool on the Dungeon’s floor, the red-haired woman picked up her cudgel before setting it against the top of the girls head and asking, “So, what will it be?”
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Ais’s Dominance’,’Complacency kills…’,’Simply Tyrannical’)
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