Chapter 466: Refinement

After shoring up the defenses of the plateau, Vahn suddenly found himself with an excess of time and wasn’t fond of the idea of spending the next few days ‘waiting’ for the expedition to go further into the Dungeon. This was a good opportunity for him to improve his own strength as a large portion of the monsters in the surrounding floors were a higher level than he was. Though he could defeat the majority of them with ease, it was still a good opportunity to gain exilia and he could also help the girls increase their own strength if they coordinate together well. Vahn knew it was dangerous to venture out, especially with potential enemies lurking in the dark, but that was also the primary reason why venturing out at such times was important.

The mentality of a person is often what resulted in the greatest amount of exilia gain so, as long as they were concerned their enemies may ambush them, they would experience greater pressure and, as a result, greater growth in their parameters. Just as the [Seal of the Challenger] didn’t actually increase the amount of danger he was in during combat, it only increased the potential damage he would take if he got hit. However, it was the pressure a person experienced knowing that, if they got hit, they would likely die, which allowed them to maximize the efficacy of the collar. Vahn had also been wanting to improve his actual combat abilities for a while now, so this was a good opportunity to break through his previous limits.

Hearing Vahn’s reasoning, Finn was tapping his finger against the desk that had, of course, been given to him by Vahn when they were furnishing the Command Tent. Loki had given him express orders to allow Vahn to act as he pleased, but she also said he needed to guarantee Vahn’s safety since it would be extremely detrimental to the Alliance if he actually died. Finn knew Vahn was highly capable, but he could also imagine any number of things going wrong, especially since Vahn wanted to venture into the 51st floor with girls that were only Level 2 and 3. Since Vahn wanted to make use of his [Mentor] skill to help the girls get stronger, it meant they couldn’t actually have support from other people as the skill wouldn’t take effect. Even following them secretly would be nigh impossible because Vahn would be able to detect their presence within 2km through the luminance of the Mentor’s Mark…

Seeing the conflicted expression on Finn’s face, Vahn simply smiled in a casual manner as he sent a signal for his faithful companion to come to his side. Without any significant delay, Fenrir came bursting into the tent with the same characteristic eagerness she often had around Vahn. Finn was surprised by the sudden intrusion but kept to himself as he watched the ‘monster’ girl run to Vahn before hugging his body with her deadly claws. Even as a Level 6, Fenrir would often make Finn feel slightly unnerved at times because she often directed her hostility toward him when Vahn was upset. Though she wouldn’t be able to actually harm him in a direct engagement, just knowing that her claws could tear through his weapons and armor with ease was enough to make anyone sweat a little.

Before Finn had an aneurysm, Vahn explained, “I have items that would easily allow me to escape from the Dungeon in an instant, and I can also have Fenrir enter her core state if things became harrowing. I don’t mean to sound overconfident, but there are few monsters that would actually be able to pose a threat to me, regardless of how strong they are. I can’t explain to you the reasons, but Riveria should back me up if you’re that concerned…” Though he knew she wasn’t fond of it, Fenrir still nodded her head in understanding as Vahn turned her into her core state. In less than a second, her body had dissolved before turning into a midnight blue magic core that had a resplendent rainbow in its core. Seeing this, Finn’s brows arched and he said, “So she really is similar to the dragon you summoned in the past…that is quite the ability you have there, Vahn.”

Since Fenrir’s clothes had dropped to the ground during her transformation, Vahn set up a curtain before resummoning her. Unlike Fafnir, it didn’t take a great deal of source energy to completely reform her body so it wouldn’t be difficult to secure her in an emergency situation. Even if she suffered a severe blow, Vahn could quickly return her to the core before reforming her body completely anew. The only downside was that her clothes weren’t part of her form so it was somewhat awkward if he wanted to make use of the conversion during actual combat. Vahn speculated he could create some soulbound equipment for her, which should also carry with her into the core, but he hadn’t been able to make time for it just yet.

After she took shape once again, Fenrir grimaced slightly as a shiver passed through her body, almost like she was trying to discharge water. She stared up at Vahn with slightly glowing eyes and said, “Fenrir doesn’t like going into the dark place…unpleasant…” Vahn stroked her hair to appease her for a short while before telling her to wear her clothing since Finn looked like he was going to grind through his temples with how hard he was rubbing them. After she was properly dressed, Vahn continued his efforts to convince Finn before he inevitably consulted Riveria and Gareth on the matter. As expected, Riveria backed up Vahn’s claims and, as a result of her relatively complacent attitude, Gareth also agreed that it should be okay.

Vahn had the highest ‘perception’ in the entire expedition and could even avoid Monster Parties which meant the only danger would be if an actual ‘enemy’ showed up. However, Vahn’s speed with [Shundo] was unmatched and there wouldn’t be any enemies that could sneak up on them before Vahn would be able to retreat to safety. Though this might not be the case in an open area, as some Level 5 and 6 could easily close the 500m distance from the periphery of Vahn’s domain, it was almost certain they would never encounter such a situation in the complex corridors of the Dungeon.

Since the other two Chief Executives supported Vahn’s decision, along with the actual goddess of their Familia, Finn had no ground to stand on and reluctantly agreed to allow Vahn to explore on his own. He did, however, encourage Vahn to travel with one of the executives of the Loki Familia whenever possible since it would be much safer. Having Tiona, Tione, or Ais guarding him would almost ensure things went smoothly as they were all capable of dealing with the majority of opponents that might ambush Vahn’s small party. With his own ‘control’ and support abilities, they would likely even be able to defeat the enemy, much like he had defeated the Balor with Ais.

Vahn agreed that, if they planned to venture far into the Dungeon floors below, he would take along one of the girls as protection. However, as Vahn didn’t actually plan to venture far from the corridors connecting to the 50th floor, it shouldn’t be necessary to take such precautions. Though Finn was somewhat worried about the danger they might face, it was nothing compared to Vahn’s own caution regarding the matter. Finn might be ‘inconvenienced’ by the loss of one of the Hestia Familia members, but Vahn himself would be devastated by his failure to protect them. He couldn’t avoid putting them at risk, as it was required for them to become stronger, but Vahn wouldn’t tolerate actually exposing them to mortal peril. The wouldn’t have to venture far into the 51st floor to fight strong enemies, so there was no reason for Vahn explore too deeply at all.

With Finn’s ‘blessing’, Vahn had about a week of time where he could completely devote himself to training his own parameters while promoting the growth of the girls. When they learned of the situation, everyone was excited by the idea and Vahn ended up having a completely filled schedule where he would enter the Dungeon several times a day while escorting different pairings. As he only had two of the [Hero’s Reprieve] unique items, at least when Lefiya was safely in the encampment, Vahn always had to take Fenrir along with him when he went into the Dungeon. There was also the fact that Fenrir was only truly manageable by Vahn himself and it was ‘safer’ for everyone if she accompanied him. Many people in the expedition had already developed a soft spot for the adorable wolf girl, but those with developed instincts were still very wary of her. Most of the Beast-Humans within the expedition were somewhat unnerved by her presence but they fortunately only made up a small percentage of the entire group…

After drawing straws, the ‘winner’ of the small competition ended up being Haruhime, who suffered the ‘glares’ of the other girls with a restrained and elegant laughter. Vahn couldn’t help but feel it was a little unfair that she was the first to accompany him but she had won the game they had all agreed upon so there wasn’t much he could do about it. Since she had the potential of being one of the most powerful people in the entire Familia, Vahn couldn’t lie by saying he wasn’t interested to see the direction her growth would take. One of the things he regretted the most about the Divination was not taking the time to check the status of other people since it would have given him a better idea of their capabilities. He might not have been able to remember all of the details, but just knowing a little would have been a powerful asset to spur their growth.

Before they departed, Vahn confirmed the status of Haruhime and Fenrir to make sure he had a proper baseline to track their growth. As she hadn’t been doing anything but ‘playing’ around the past few days, Fenrir’s parameters hadn’t changed at all. Haruhime’s, however, had increased a fair amount since she was one of the few low-leveled people that could still deal with powerful monsters. Other than those that had resistances to magic, most monsters were incredibly susceptible to magic spells and Haruhime was even able to one-shot Level 4s and 5s if she got a direct hit on their magic core. Since they would often clump up in massive numbers, Haruhime was able to spam her [Icicle Edge] into the crowd and accumulate a fair amount of exilia for her efforts, though it primarily only benefitted he Magic parameter.

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[[STATUS]]

Name: Sanjouno Haruhime

Race: Renard

LV. 2

POW: 440+(I43)->(H183)

END: 648+(I77)->(G232)

DEX: 698+(I80)->(G250)

AGI: 1053+(H153)->(F348)

MAG: 1548+(G218)->(B767)

Skill: [Inari:Innate(E)], [Prometheus’s Blessing:A], [Heroic Strike:F],[Featherfoot:B->A]

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Magic: [Uchide no Kozuchi:B],[Kokonoe:C],[Icicle Edge:D->B]

Development Skill: [Moon Priestess:Innate(sealed)], [Spirit Healing:B->A], [Hunter:I->H], [Mage(sealed)]

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Though she was only Level 2, Haruhime’s Magic was now easily comparable to a Level 3 Mage that had specialized in ‘maximizing’ their Magic parameter. Generally, as 999 was the maximum for most people, a Level 3 Mage would have precisely 1,998 Magic when they reached Level 3. Haruhime, however, was already at 2,315 even though she still had a ways to go before she reached the threshold to increase her level. Only the residents of the Hearth Manor were aware of this since, if it were public knowledge, Haruhime would be touted as a ‘monstrous’ genius that would be targetted by many magic fanatics that would want to know her secret.

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She wasn’t particularly interested in fame either, so it was unlikely she would become famous before obtaining a few achievements and earning her alias. Right now, Haruhime was one of the few girls that didn’t yet have an alias so Vahn wanted to help her reach Level 3 before the next Denatus. Since she was registered as a Level 1 with the Guild previously, her growth would cause quite the stir and it would help to guarantee she didn’t get a ‘strange’ alias as Lili had. Fortunately, the small Pallum had been able to bolster her own reputation on this expedition and she would likely receive a better alias at the next Denatus. Vahn was somewhat annoyed that they hadn’t taken into consideration that she was technically still a child yet had grown a great deal in a relatively short period of time. He wanted the entire City to recognize her efforts in the future so she would have greater confidence in herself…

After making adequate preparations, Vahn put his Mentor’s Mark on the two girls before leading the way through one of the corridors he had discovered in his earlier exploration. This would be the first time they ever ventured beyond the 50th floor so Vahn and Haruhime were both tense and excited. Fenrir’s hair was standing on end a bit, but she was otherwise unaffected by the atmosphere and simply smelled around the corridor as they made their way down the 400m long staircase and into the 51st floor.

Though he had heard about it, Vahn was surprised by the layout of the 51st floor when they finally crossed the threshold of the stairwell and entered the floor proper. Unlike any of the previous floors, the 51st was a series of corridors that all looked to be carved out of the bedrock of the Dungeon with tools. The floor, walls, and ceiling were all relatively flat and the connecting points between them were 90-degree angles with a surprising degree of precision. It was a somewhat eerie sight to behold because there were visible corridors, which also turned sharply, where grass grew at the exact same height and density throughout. It was like the entire floor had been carefully shaped by humans hands and everything looked prim, neat, and organized.

The biggest difference between this floor and the previous ones, however, was the fact that the ceiling was only around 8m in height, as compared to the several tens, or even hundreds, of meters of the previous floors. This meant mobility would be highly constricted compared to the upper floors but also meant they would be able to take advantage of the terrain to ‘channel’ enemies into an area. Vahn, however, had a different thought that crossed his mind and the image of the earth mage once again reappeared from his memories.

This type of terrain was almost identical to the tunnels that had been formed under the streets surrounding the Hearth Manor so Vahn immediately entered a state of increased alertness as he scanned the walls with his [Eyes of Truth] and sent out pulses through his domain. Fortunately, though they were similar, Vahn could tell the Dungeon corridors were distinctly different than the escape tunnels he had previously been entrapped by. These walls had the mana of the Dungeon flowing through them and Vahn could even detect small masses of energy building in the walls that would likely result in monsters spawning once they got near.

After confirming things with his senses, Vahn nodded his head before turning to the two fluffy-eared girls and saying, “From here on, we need to work together to overcome the enemies that appear. It won’t be like the upper floors, where I can easily watch over you and protect you, so stay sharp and try to hone your skills to the best of your abilities. I’m also going to be imposing some strict regulations on myself in order to increase the efficacy of my own training, so pay close attention to your surroundings and positioning…” Both Fenrir and Haruhime both affirmed Vahn’s words in their characteristic manners, Fenrir giving a loud affirmation while Haruhime nodded while bowing slightly, before they formed a triangular formation and progressed further into the floor.

Since she was very receptive of the information received through her connection with Vahn, Fenrir had already started to pay attention to the areas where Vahn expected enemies to appear. The moment the Dungeon walls began to crack, Fenrir’s hair stood on end and she burst forward with a surprising momentum and planted her claws into the face of the Black Rhino before it was able to free itself from the wall. Since they were Level 4 monsters, the fact that Fenrir had one-shot them so easily would make most people stunned. Vahn and Haruhime, however, were completely aware of her capabilities and began to engage their own enemies without showing any major reactions.

The Dungeon had spawned a total of nine Black Rhinos to impede them and Vahn charged toward the largest grouping of them in his Xuánwǔ form. Instead of outmaneuvering them using [Shundo], Vahn wanted to push himself beyond his previous limits and hone his actual combat abilities. Black Rhinos were humanoid monsters that stood around 220cm tall, so they were ideal opponents to practice martial arts and refine his fighting capabilities further. To make matters even more ‘perilous’, Vahn was wearing the [Seal of the Challenger] around his neck with one golden link dangling from it.

The nearest Black Rhinos tried to lunge forward and impale Vahn with its powerful horn but Vahn squared up his feet in a firm stance before punching forward in what would be considered ‘inspiring’ form if he were back on Earth. However, it was the result of his punch that would have filled people with awe as, instead of being forced back by the creature that weighed more than a tonne, it was brought to a complete halt as Vahn’s fist struck against its horn. Almost as if time had slowed down, a wave of energy rippled through the Black Rhinos before it began to bleed from all of its orifices and collapsed to the ground. Moments later, it turned into a pile of purple dust because Vahn’s attack had ruptured the majority of its organs while also liquifying its brain. The only thing that remained to show that it had ever existed was a medium sized monster core and a relatively large Black Rhinos Horn, which was a common drop item from them.

Without showing any signs of satisfaction, Vahn maintained a firm expression on his face as he traced his foot around in a complex pattern and evaded each attack from the monsters as a near-zero distance. His old fighting style, before he learned how to use [Shundo], often made use of the opponents’ movements to exploit the gaps in their attacks. Vahn knew he had been too over-reliant on his mobility in the past few months and wanted to sharpen up his fundamentals while he had the opportunity. He had been ‘suffering’ at the hands of Tiona, Tione, and Tsubaki a lot during their morning training so he had a strong desire to refine his actual hand-to-hand fighting skills further.

Whenever a large gap would appear in the movements of the Black Rhinos, Vahn would strike forward and add to their momentum before knocking them far away. He wasn’t in a hurry to finish them off, as he was still divesting a bit of his attention to Haruhime and Fenrir, so he only killed them when they tried to overwhelm him with their own momentum. The type of combat style Vahn wanted to develop was based on countering with his Xuánwǔ form, so directly opposing powerful monsters was the best way to refine his skills. With the added danger of suffering severe injuries if he failed, Vahn’s senses were pushed to the extreme every time he struck forward with his seemingly indomitable fist.

By the time he had finished off the four Black Rhinos he had been fighting, Haruhime and Fenrir had long finished off the others. Though their charging speed was much faster than her maximum speed, Fenrir was far more agile than the Black Rhinos and could make use of the difference in their size to exploit the openings in their attacks. Her claws easily passed through the tendons and ligaments of one of her opponents when she dashed through its legs and she managed to mount the back of a second one and bite into the back of its skull before it could use its human-like hands to pull her off. As for Haruhime, even though she was only Level 2, her Innate ability seemed like a natural counter to monsters that mindlessly charged at their enemies. She had even been able to goad one into smashing its head into the wall long after she had already moved from her previous location. The illusions created by her movements couldn’t be seen through by such simple-minded creatures so she was actually the first to complete her battle, though Fenrir had technically killed one more enemy than her in a similar amount of time.

As they had both finished before Vahn, the two girls watched him fight with slightly sparkling eyes and it was their gazes that made Vahn want to show off a bit. When he was fighting the final Black Rhinos, Vahn had adopted a casual stance without putting up his guard at all. The Black Rhinos charged toward him with a fierce momentum as Vahn reached out lazily with his hand and completely broke its charge with a seemingly simple palm. If not for the green runes glowing on his forearms, it would have appeared as though he had easily overwhelmed the monster’s momentum without much effort. Only Vahn knew that it felt like his muscles had nearly exploded as a result of his showboating and that his final attack to the Black Rhinos had actually been him venting his own pain and frustrations…

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