Chapter 613: Progress : Triumph : Darkness

In preparation for the upcoming Expedition, where they would be establishing a permanant defensive line and Supply Depot on the 39th Floor, Vahn had put his own ventures into the Dungeon on hold. Tina and Shizune were already aware of this so, for the next few months, they would primarily be studying under Riveria and Tsubaki while spending most of their afternoons training with Chloe and Milan. They were both still very young and, now that Tina had once again shown it was possible to awaken even Development Abilities, there was no particular rush for them to increase their strength. Tina wanted to learn [Featherfoot] while pushing her [Counter] and [Shield Bash] to greater heights while Shizune would be learning tracking, enhancing her [Stealth], and [Mixing].

As for what Vahn would be working on, it was the armor sets for Tiona, Tione, and Lefiya, as they would all be going into the Dungeon on the upcoming Expedition with him. Because of how little cloth was used for Tiona’s and Tione’s outfits, Vahn wouldn’t have to spend that much time on them and was confident it would only take about a week per outfits. Lefiya’s was decidedly more complex, but Vahn believed he would be able to at least finish her prototype if he pushed himself. They were supposed to be heading down in around five weeks, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to push things back a few days if necessary. There was also the option of completing the outfit in the Dungeon itself, but Vahn didn’t really want to deal with any potential emergencies when he was focused on his work.

Since the girls went into the Dungeon after their morning training, Vahn used simplified mannequins that still matched their basic proportions, though with decidedly less detail than the past. Most of the time would be spent forming the circuits in the scales, so he really didn’t have to worry about ‘fitting’ them right now. Remembering how the armor had ‘adapted’ to Ais’ body in the past, Vahn also felt less inclined to make the measurements exact and focused primarily on the strength of each individual rune and the solidity of the underlying formation. It was actually pretty ‘interesting’ work because it felt like he was making a scale brassiere for Tione and a durable breast band for Tiona. Their basic designs matched their current clothing pretty closely, so it almost felt like he was making very powerful underwear instead of armor…

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Around the time he was taking his lunch break, a white figure walked through the wall before leaping up to his head and saying, “Vahn, give us energy…” in a tired voice. Though she knew better than to ‘bother’ him during work, Shirohime usually stayed nearby and would show up whenever he took breaks. Grabbing her from his head, Vahn cradled Shirohime in his left arm and pressed his palm to her chest, asking, “What are the girls up to right now?” Shirohime had her eyes squinted and muttered, “My counterpart is fighting a Goliath…a lot of the other girls are there as well.”

Because they had pushed the Expedition back, the Goliath had actually spawned around this time and had yet to be cleared by anyone else over the last four days. Vahn already knew they were heading down to fight it but it seemed like Haruhime was taking a go at soloing it given how Shirohime was acting. She would twitch around every now and then, almost like she was exerting herself, so Vahn increased the flow of energy into her body to support Haruhime on the other side. Shirohime began to writhe about, saying, “Ah, we feel very pleasant…” in an excited voice before licking around Vahn’s wrist in an affectionate manner. Haruhime got much stronger when she was a little excited and Vahn expected she would be able to defeat the Goliath much easier with a bit of ‘assistance’…

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As he expected, Haruhime did indeed get an edge against the Goliath almost immediately after she felt the energy entering through her chest. Her face became slightly flushed and the marking around her eyes became a deeper shade of red as she side-stepped the Goliath’s attack before running up its arm in the next instant. She actually could have defeated the Goliath much easier but, instead of using her powerful magic and relying on her [Sakura Blossom], Haruhime had wanted to fight it directly. Though other’s might not take it as seriously, Haruhime believed almost every word Vahn spoke as if it was a sacred doctrine. He constantly emphasized the importance of individual strength and not being overly reliant on equipment so Haruhime had been improving her own skills in recent weeks. It was fortunate that she had mentors like Tiona, Tione, Tsubaki, and Lunoire to learn from because her hand-to-hand combat techniques had already reached a very surprising level of fluency.

With her ability to read the tempo of her enemies, Haruhime could exploit their movements better than most people, allowing her to take advantage of the gaps in their attacks to counter with her own. She was lacking in strength, but Haruhime had already learned how to use the mana stored in her bracelets to simulate shockwaves when she touched objects. Using this technique, she jumped forward and placed her palm against the Goliath’s head, sending a pulse of energy into its brain as she flipped over its body in the same motion. Though it was a little jarred, the attack didn’t damage the Goliath that much and it immediately tried to sweep behind itself to intercept Haruhime’s fall. Having already anticipated this, however, Haruhime coiled up her body and evaded the powerful fist by using the barriers generated by her bracelets to ‘roll’ over it.

The Goliath released a loud roar and tried to strike at her with its massive fist, enraged at missing its attack for the umpteenth time. This time, Haruhime couldn’t really evade the attack as easily but didn’t have to as a small figure ‘bulldozed’ into the Goliath’s gut with enough force to completely knock it off its feet. There was a very small hole on the front of its abdomen that quivered slightly before a large explosion of flesh and organs emerged from its back. On the other side, having just struck the Goliath with all her might, stood Lili with an incredibly excited look on her face. Haruhime quickly dashed by her, pursuing the Goliath as she said, “Thanks for the assistance, Lili~.” before continuing the fight.

Lili originally didn’t like Haruhime that much but they had gotten much closer over the last few months because it was actually very easy to talk with her. While the latter had been the primary combatant against the Goliath, she and Mikoto had been supporting her during sticky situations. Lefiya was standing off to the side with her [Heal] staff at the ready, as she always carried it for emergency situations, while Ais, Tiona, and Tione protected her. The last person present was Naaza, but she wasn’t helping out since her [Yi’s Bow] would actually make pretty short work of a monster like the Goliath. Targetting its joints and head would completely lock down its mobility since, though it was incredibly strong, it didn’t have enough strength to resist the gravitational singularity created by the arrow’s impact.

With Vahn’s energy pushing her forward, and the support of many trustworthy allies, Haruhime’s excitement continued to build until she eventually managed to destroy both of the Goliath’s eyes. Unfortunately, she didn’t actually have enough Power to kill it with her bare hands but it was still a great accomplishment being able to get an advantage against something so large just using her physical capabilities. Satisfied with her progress, Haruhime smoothly dodged the blind attack of the Goliath before jumping away and ‘tagging’ Lili’s hand, saying, “Good luck~.” in an almost sensual voice because of the ‘heat’ in her body. Lili gave her a strange look with a tinge of envy before kicking against the ground hard enough to cause the durable bedrock to crack.

Lili’s leap had sent her forward nearly ten meters in an instant before she kicked off the ground and launched high into the sky, releasing a loud “Iyaaaaaaaaaaaa!” as she smashed both of her tiny fists into the Goliath’s head. As if a meteor had crashed into it, an indentation appeared in the Goliath’s skull and its head was actually pushed into its chest cavity under the might of Lili’s blow. Vahn had roughly calculated her Power output in the past and, with the combination of her [Atlas] and [Atlas’ Grips], Lili’s raw Power could exceed 6,300 at the cost of a large portion of her stamina. The best part of this was that most of the force she generated was based on laws and it had almost no influence on Lili’s body, allowing her to essentially become stationary after smashing down the Goliath’s head instead of being shot away with an equal amount of force.

Even with its head destroyed, the Goliath’s vitality wasn’t a joke and it continued to try and attack mindlessly while a large volume of steam emerged from the gaping hole around its neck. It was slowly regenerating from the damage it had suffered but Lili wasn’t going to simply wait around for it to happen. When she landed back on the ground, she hopped around like a jumping bean on a skillet and sequentially smashed both of the Goliath’s knees, forcing it to to the ground. Getting around behind it, she then jumped off with as much force as her small legs could manage before dropkicking the Goliath in its spine, aiming for the core in its chest. Once again, her attack caused a very small indentation where both of her feet contacted, making a small V-shaped set of footprints before the Goliath’s chest exploded on the other side of its body.

Falling forward, the Goliath tried to support itself before instinctually crossing its arms to protect the core in its chest. Lili, seeing this behavior, immediately jumped onto its back and started slamming her fists over and over, causing the ground beneath the Goliath to actually fracture a bit from the force. Though it tried to resist, Lili’s attacks kept it forced down until her fists eventually reached the magic core below. They were very susceptible to being pierced, but monster cores actually had almost perfect shock resistance unless it was applied internally. This was how the Goliath always survived against Vahn in the past, even though his attacks would make a huge hole all the way through its body. Lili’s attacks were much the same but, when she finally managed a direct blow on the core that was several times the size of her body, it immediately shattered along with the Goliath’s body.

A huge explosion of purple dust surged out from where the Goliath had previously been located before Lili dropped down into a pile of magic cores, several times more than they would actually be able to carry. The others had already come forward at this point so Tiona leaped forward and picked up Lili like a ragdoll, hugging her body tightly as she said, “Well done, Lili, that was amazing~!” Tiona was the type that got excited when ‘unexpected’ situations occurred and it was very peculiar to see a 110cm tall Pallum overpower a 1400cm tall Goliath with brute strength. Even though Lili was covered in an incredible amount of blood, Tiona didn’t care at all and rubbed her cheek against Lili’s while happily laughing.

Lili had a mix between a smile and a grimace as she pushed against Tiona, saying, “Unhand me, Tiona! Only Vahn is allowed to touch me like this~!” Tiona, seemingly unperturbed by Lili’s words, just hugged her from behind and said, “Aww, don’t be like that, we’re all friends, right~?” with a happy smile on her face. Lili actually had to work pretty hard to control her strength at times so she couldn’t easily escape from Tiona’s grasp without potentially causing harm. This, combined with the fact that she was kind of happy to be considered as a ‘friend’, caused Lili to eventually give up with a loud sigh that made Tiona laugh even louder…

Naaza and Lefiya had moved over to the pile of magic cores and started putting them away into their large backpacks, but they didn’t have near enough space for the several thousand present. If it had been Lili’s old backpack, she likely would have been able to manage, but she hadn’t used that thing in months and now barely wore anything at all. Other than the [Nezha Lady’s Togi], which didn’t cover below her ribs at all, Lili just wore a pair of small red shorts with black leggings and a set of brown boots, which were now maroon red because of blood. Other than that, she just wore a pouch at her waist, attached to the belt provided by the [Nezha Lady’s Togi], and the [Atlas’ Grips] Vahn had forged for her. She wasn’t even carrying her naginata right now because, much like Haruhime, Lili wanted to increase her individual power instead of relying too much on powerful weapons.

Haruhime, seeing the ‘conflict’ on Naaza’s and Lefiya’s faces just smiled and said, “It’s fine if we leave some behind and just return to the surface. Little Shiro already told Vahn we defeated the Goliath and I’d like to return early to get a reward~.” With her ‘reminder’, Lili’s eyes also glowed expectantly because a Goliath was worth 70,000 points within their reward system. Even if she split it with Haruhime, that would give her 35,000 and bring her total ‘balance’ up to more than 300k, more than enough points to exchange for some big prizes. It only took 100,000 points to get an hour-long massage from Vahn, whereas 300,000 could be exchanged for a private bath time of the same length. Though she could already get Vahn to wash her body, things would definitely be a lot more interesting if they were alone together since there would be ‘heavy petting’ involved…

Tiona had still been holding onto Lili body so she noticed very quickly when the small Pallum began to breathe a little heavily with her body temperature increasing. With an ‘understanding’ look on her face, Tiona nodded her head and said, “Yeah, let’s go home. I want to see how much progress Vahn made on my armor set as well~.” It was already around the time when they would normally head back anyway so it wouldn’t make a big difference if they did so a little sooner. After all, they actually ‘capped’ out on loot and it wouldn’t really be sensible to continue fighting unless they just wanted to have some fun. Monsters this high up were kind of ‘boring’ to fight so Tione and Ais also agreed to head back without any argument. They carried as many of the magic cores as they could, stuffing several kilograms into the two backpacks worn by Naaza and Lefiya, before heading deeper into the 17th Floor so they could ascend the stairs and return to the surface…

On the way back, Mikoto led the way since she was feeling a little antsy after not being able to help finish off the Goliath. Though she had supported Haruhime a bit, the majority of the battle had been fought by her and Lili since using her sword would have defeated the purpose of the fight. Unlike the two girls, who were ‘direct’ disciples of Vahn, Mikoto walked the path of the sword and couldn’t set it aside to make the fight more difficult. She pursued the principles of ‘Godspeed’ and bringing the fight to an end in the shortest amount of time. Thus, on the way back, Mikoto cut down almost every monster that appeared while Naaza sniped the few that were outside her basic range.

The trip through the 17th Floor only took around thirty minutes, but there had been plenty of monsters since their group size was well over the ‘recommended’ amount of four people. However, even after completely bisecting a Lygerfant from head to tail in one clean strike, Mikoko wasn’t satisfied with her progress because all of these monsters were far too weak to test her limits. She never considered herself a battle junky in the past but now she ‘craved’ finding a worthy opponent because one of the principles behind the [Heavenly Flying Sword] was to exceed one’s limits through actual combat. The best method would be by fighting other swordsmen, but monsters were a good alternative if she could find something durable enough to truly test her skills…

Unbeknownst to the girls, a white-haired man was currently watching them progress through the Dungeon with a condescending smile on his face. He had been very tempted to try and fight them several times of the past few weeks but never found an opportune moment to strike. Though he wasn’t afraid of fighting them individually, he knew it would be too ‘troublesome’ to fight them as a group. Unfortunately, they always traveled together and he had never found an opportunity to strike, even when they were fighting against Monster Parties. Damaging the Dungeon and causing a Juggernaut to appear could be a ‘viable’ option, but there was no guarantee it would actually be able to defeat the girls since their weapons and armor seemed very strong. Even the weakest amongst them used a bow that seemed able to destroy anything the arrows touched…very troublesome.

Throwing a peculiar golden magic core into his mouth, the man smiled cruelly before smashing the small crystal ball he had been observing them through. Ein would probably get pissed off at him, but the man was annoyed by the fool’s constant pestering and trying to pressure him to act. He actually hated the fact that his goddess wanted to ‘capture’ Vahn alive because it annoyed him greatly that she was so interested in an ‘inferior’ man. Remembering the ‘taunting’ letter from before, the man’s eyes glinted with a cruel light as he walked through the group of near-death Adventurer’s that he had been toying with earlier. Placing his foot on the head of the group’s leader, the man said, “If you want to blame anyone, blame that stupid brat for your tragic end!” before stomping down and crushing the Adventurer’s skull. He began laughing like a deranged madman before tormenting the remaining survivors to release some of his pent-up frustration…

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