Chapter 993: Chill

Having learned to trust his instincts, Vahn entered into a state of passive alertness that, over time, spread to everyone else within the party. Fenrir had sensed the small ‘shift’ early on so she had been paying even more attention to her surroundings than normal while Jeanne changed her tactic from fighting at close range to eliminating enemies in the mid-range with her light-based sword strikes. Though it used up a considerable amount of energy compared to normal attacks, almost every monster within the Dungeon was weak to Light Elemental attacks, making each of Jeanne’s sword attacks highly effective against every enemy that crossed her path. She was only able to fight this way because of Vahn’s assistance, though he avoided direct contact with her body, resulting in their pace increasing nearly twice what it had been previously.

In their heightened state of awareness, it didn’t take long for the group to reach an area of the Dungeon where a massive set of stairs led even deeper into its depths. The problem was, instead of being an unoccupied set of stairs, the massive spiral chamber ended up being converted into a veritable colony of the same Dungeon Maggots the group wanted to avoid. Vahn had been inspecting the area with his ability to ‘move’ his intent around, managing to probe deep into the colony without drawing attention, so he was able to confirm that their presence even extended partially into the 76th Floor. It seemed that the Queen of this specific colony was making use of the increased mana density of the lower Floor in order to further strengthen her evolution.

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After pulling back his intent, Vahn shook his head in mild exasperation before saying, “The way forward is blocked by an incalculable amount of Dungeon Maggots. They have rooted themselves deeply into the surrounding walls and even have a presence as far as the 76th Floor. We’ll need to break through by force or find an alternative way through…” Though it actually wasn’t that difficult for them to reach the 76th Floor, regardless of how many Dungeon Maggots there were, it could still a troublesome affair in the event anything went wrong. As weak as they were individually, the Dungeon Maggots still posed a threat to even Level 7 and 8 Adventurers in great numbers. Unless you had an Innate that allowed you to resist the noxious fumes and the extremely potent acidic blood contained within their bodies, you would undoubtedly be overwhelmed if you tried to break through an entire colony.

Undaunted by the enemies that barred their passage, Fenrir showed a decisive expression on her face as her ears pointed backward in an aggressive manner. With a small wisp of Ice Elemental energy coagulating within her paws, she confidently stated, “I can freeze them all…!” She was still a bit fired up after the encounter with the One-Eyed Black Dragon, causing Vahn to produce a wry smile as he gave a small nod and turned to Jeanne for her opinion. Much like Fenrir, she had a resolute look on her face that showed absolutely no inhibitions about proceeding forward, irrespective of potential dangers. When he looked over at her, Jeanne gave a confident nod before hefting her sword and shield as she said, “If you will it, I will cut a path through the entire colony. I only ask that you protect Helen while I am away…”

Though others might have to show caution when facing a colony of Dungeon Maggots, Jeanne was one of the few who actually possessed the capabilities to do so without concern. Even if she had to bathe in the acidic blood of her enemies until she was completely submerged, she would inevitably emerge unscathed. The same couldn’t be said for her armor but, now that she had the ‘quick storage’ system that had become popular amongst the girls within the Manor, Jeanne could strip down to nothing more than her Aegis undergarments before cutting a path forward without having to worry about damaging her other equipment. Though the complex fabric couldn’t without nearly as much abuse as actual armor, it provided more than enough protection against acid to guarantee that Jeanne’s dignity wouldn’t be compromised.

Just as Vahn was about to inform Jeanne that it would be unnecessary for her to break through on her own, Helen chose this moment to give her friend a slightly questionable look before simply stating, “Can Vahn not simply bore through the Dungeon’s Floor with his own power? Why do we need to use the stairs at all…?” Until now, Helen hadn’t placed any real interest in the Dungeon and had simply been following along to observe what action Vahn would take. Since he had easily broken through the Dungeon with his Qinglong form, she knew he was more than capable of breaking through once again. Instead of fighting tens of thousands of troublesome enemies, she believed it was far more efficient to avoid conflict and simply take the most ‘direct’ route.

Since his intentions aligned with what Helen had in mind, Vahn’s open mouth came to a close as he sent a slightly annoyed look in the immaculate beauty’s direction. Her own brows furrowed slightly in response to his look but she quickly returned to her default expression before averting her eyes, seemingly in disinterest. Vahn shook his head lightly upon seeing this before matching his gaze with Fenrir and Jeanne as he said, “Though I was going to suggest much the same, Helen is right in her analysis of the situation. I believe it is better to proceed through the Dungeon using the established paths but, as we have the power to avoid direct conflict, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with breaking through troublesome situations like this without wasting our time>”

Without any argument, though Fenrir seemed slightly downtrodden after having lost the chance to fight against a large number of enemies, both girls quickly agreed to Vahn’s decision. As a result, Vahn performed a partial transformation by converting his right arm into his Zhuque form and directing pure Yang Elemental flames towards the ground. Even though the bedrock was far more durable at these depths, it wasn’t able to hold up against the purity of Vahn’s flames as they were the natural counter to the Dungeon’s composition. The ground quickly turned into a white puddle of molten stone that became progressively brighter until, two minutes after his initiating his ‘attack’, the puddle began to sink inwards. Vahn had forcibly heated the bedrock in a cylindrical shape that reached all the way to the 76th Floor. As a result, once it had completely liquidized, the bedrock began to drain away into the Floor below before slowly cooling down and regaining its slightly crystalline look.

After boring a hole through to the next Floor, Vahn focused his mind and began to manipulate the ambient Fire Elemental energy to return to his body, causing the surrounding temperature to rapidly drop as a result. Though it wouldn’t have any significant effects on anyone present, Vahn had noticed that Fenrir had grown uncomfortable with the increased presence of Fire Elemental energy, her primary affinity’s natural counter. Jeanne and Helen also seemed to relax a great deal as the surrounding temperature reached a cool 10 degrees Celsius. There was even a breeze flowing through the normally stagnant Dungeon as the rather large hole he had formed caused a backdraft of sorts that continued to persist for several minutes after he had successfully penetrated through the dense membrane of bedrock.

Once it was ‘safe’ to proceed, Vahn gave a small nod before unhesitantly jumping down the 740m deep hole he had created. Even before he had descended ten meters, Fenrir had leaped after him, hugging her paws around his neck as the two fell together into the Dungeon’s depths. As for Helen and Jeanne, the latter looked towards her long-time friend before shifting her kite shield to her back and holding out both arms. Helen gave a rare, albeit light, smile before allowing Jeanne to carry her in a princess hold before the two followed quickly in Vahn’s wake…

After free-falling into the 76th Floor, Vahn quickly decelerated before coming to a stop a few centimeters above the ground. Fenrir didn’t immediately let go of him as the two waited for Jeanne and Helen to finish their own descent. When Vahn saw the rather chivalrous Jeanne carrying Helen in her arms, his brows naturally arced in surprise but he ultimately chose to remain silent since there were no real benefits from commenting on the rather peculiar scene. Once Helen was back on her own two feet, Vahn gave a light smile towards Jeanne before saying, “This Floor shouldn’t be as difficult to pass through as the previous one. Let’s see if we can’t find a passage leading downwards in the next few hours. If it starts to get too late, I’ll bore another hole to the 77th Floor so we can take a proper rest before moving on.”

In response to Vahn’s words, Jeanne unsheathed her sword and shield before confidently saying, “You can leave it to Fenrir and myself, Vahn. We won’t let a single enemy through our vanguard!” For seemingly no reason, Jeanne was now even more fired up than before, causing Vahn to give Helen a questioning look that resulted in the latter immediately averting her eyes. On instinct, Vahn activated his [Eyes of Truth] to see if he could discern anything and, though it was only a very minuscule amount, he could see a small wisp of pale blue energy now circulating through Jeanne’s body. This was undoubtedly the same energy that permeated through Helen’s entire body, causing Vahn’s eyes to flicker as his mind quickly made sense of the newly acquired information…

Instead of pursuing the matter, Vahn gave a curt nod in response to Helen’s excitement before allowing her to take the lead this time while Fenrir continued to ride on his back for a short while. There weren’t any particularly dangerous enemies on this Floor so she was behaving a little more spoiled than normal, likely as a result of Vahn’s current physical state. Since he had been ‘tending’ to Terra back at the Manor, Vahn’s avatar was also in a slightly more ‘active’ state than normal. Though he wasn’t producing any pheromones that could be picked up by a normal Demi-Human, Fenrir was always an exception to this. Her bond with him allowed her to be influenced by his mental and emotional state, even if it was only an ‘echo’ of what his main body was experiencing.

Without incident, it only took a little more than two hours before Vahn’s party managed to reach a large circular pond that became exponentially deeper just three meters away from the shore. Unlike the Floors above, which were either connected by relatively safe stairs or pathways, the Dungeon didn’t seem to be willing to make things easy for its ‘invaders’ in the deeper Floors. This was the thought that crossed Vahn’s mind as he observed the pristine blue water that extended nearly a kilometer downward before looping backward and connecting into a larger chamber. The most peculiar feature of this ‘corridor’ was the fact that the water would deposit them around the roof while the water itself seemed to defy the laws of physics as it clung to the roof, mirroring the massive pond they were about to enter…

Turning his eyes away fro the pond for a short while, Vahn observed the surroundings for a bit before eventually gathering up enough resolve to, quite literally, test the waters. He already knew there was something ‘off’ with the crystal-clear liquid but, even after using his [Eyes of Truth], Vahn wasn’t able to discern exactly what was wrong with it. When his palm touched the surface, however, Vahn quickly got his answer as, instead of giving away like normal water, the surface tension seemed several times higher than normal while the temperature was well below what should have been considered the freezing point of actual water. Much like the small ‘stars’ he would make, the ‘water’ before him didn’t actually give off any energy so it was impossible to discern just how cold it was without directly coming into contact with it.

This momentary contact provided Vahn with a great deal of insight into what the future of the Dungeon would hold for him as, even though he couldn’t make complete sense of the phenomenon, he understood that he was witnessing the pure manifestation of Water Elemental Laws. There was a large amount of what should have been Yin Elemental energy contained within, making it very difficult for his natural constitution to tolerate, but that wouldn’t matter now that he understood what exactly was before him. As for the others, Jeanne showed a slightly concerned expression on her face as she said, “Please, my Lord, allow me to go first and test the water with my own body. I am confident I will be able to tolerate whatever awaits me on the other side…!”

After having seen Vahn’s hand practically freeze over after contacting the water, Jeanne felt it was only right that she be the one to proceed forward so that it wouldn’t trouble him further. She wasn’t the only one with such a train of thought, however, as Fenrir didn’t even bother to ask for permission as she quickly dove into the water. With her natural affinities for Yin, Ice, and Water Elemental energies, she was the most aware of the dangers contained within the water but, instead of fearing its effects, her blood practically boiled with excitement. Vahn, knowing it wouldn’t have any detrimental effects on Fenrir’s body, made no effort to stop her as he instead activated his [Eyes of Truth] to see what changes might occur now that a person had fully submerged in the large and pristine pond.

Immediately after Fenrir had broken through the water’s surface tension, the previously crystal clear pond seemed to rapidly ice over as a small amount of the Yin Elemental energy contained without spread through the surroundings. Jeanne and Helen both felt extremely comfortable, even though the temperature immediately descended to negative 5 degrees Celsius, while Vahn’s body felt like it had become suffused with lead. In response to this, the ‘eternal flame’ in his chest began to rage as it flickered about and caused the energy contained within his blood to increase several-fold in a short period of time. Vahn, however, placed his hand over his heart to calm the flame down as he began to regulate his breathing and absorb the Yin Elemental energy directly, his eyes never leaving the figure of Fenrir beneath the surface…

Contrary to Vahn, Helen paid no attention to Fenrir as her runic eyes instead reflected the changes occurring to Vahn’s body. Most of her attention in the Dungeon, even when she was ‘ignoring’ him, had been directed towards Vahn. When he began to absorb the Yin Elemental energy, not that she knew what it was, Helen had noticed that his complexion immediately shifted from a healthy tan into a pristine and unblemished white. His hair gained a light sheen, almost as if he had treated it with a small amount of rejuvenating oils, while even his eyelashes seemed to extend slightly. Though he had always been rather handsome, Helen felt as if Vahn was beginning to become ‘beautiful’ as the profile of his body seemed to shrink within his clothes…

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Though he hadn’t directed the change, Vahn noticed how his body was reacting to the excessive Yin energy and was slightly taken aback by the fact that he couldn’t maintain a proper balance without ‘dominating’ the energy with his own. Since it was the energy of Law, combined with the fact he hadn’t ‘resisted’ it, Vahn found that his body was adapting far too quickly to the invasive force and there wasn’t too much he could do about it. Fortunately, just as he gained a few inhibitions about the changes happening, Vahn felt the Yin energy mellow out slightly before seemingly turning as calm as the pond before him. He noticed that his body had become decidedly more feminine in appearance but, fortunately, the effects hadn’t completely taken hold so he was able to keep his ‘dignity’ intact.

Noticing Helen’s gaze, Vahn gave a wry smile in response that caught Jeanne’s attention. She had been watching Fenrir with a look of regret on her face but, after seeing what had happened to her ‘Lord’, Jeanne no longer cared about her companion’s relative safety as she quickly came to his side and, exclaiming, “My Lord, what happened to you…!?” Though she would normally never touch him, Jeanne, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, concernedly placed her hand on Vahn’s shoulder before concernedly patting around his body. Vahn quickly grabbed her errant hand, holding Jeanne by the wrist as he coughed embarrassedly and explained, “Relax, Jeanne. My body absorbed a bit too much of the energy contained within the pond and went through some small changes. Don’t worry, I will return to normal after we pass through the pond…”

Realizing how uncouth her actions had been, Jeanne’s face became beet red as she quickly pulled her hand free from Vahn’s grasp, flusteredly stating, “My apologies…I…I…” Before she could get her excuse in order, Jeanne was disrupted when the ice covering of the pond broke, revealing a practically glowing Fenrir as the latter smiled and explained, “I found the way forward! This pond is really great! Master, can we take some back to the Manor with us!?” Fenrir had noticed that spending even a few moments in the water was like staying in the chamber her Master had made for her for several hours. Though her body felt like it was filled to the brim, she noticed that her capacity was never quite at the ‘maximum’, causing Fenrir to feel far more excited than normal as her breathing steadily increased in intensity.

Vahn noticed Fenrir’s abnormal state so he used his telekinesis to extricate her from the ‘water’ as he explained, “We can take back a sample but I don’t believe it will hold the same effect if it is removed from this spot. It would be better if we found the source behind this water, but I haven’t been able to detect anything no matter how much I look around. For now, focus on refining the energy that has already spread through your body while we eat a light dinner. When everyone is ready, we’ll pass into the 77nd Floor together.”

Though she was slightly upset at having been separated from the frigid and comfortable water, Fenrir quickly got over her momentary melancholy when Vahn brought her to rest in his embrace. As if the water was no longer a concern, she nuzzled into his chest as Vahn marveled at the excessive Yin energy radiating off her body. His skin became covered in fine ice particles and, if not for the fact that his body had already ‘attuned’ to the intrusion of Yin Elemental energy, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if even his bones froze after contacting Fenrir in her current state. Though this wouldn’t have had a lasting effect, as his body was perfectly capable of adapting to such conditions, Vahn knew others wouldn’t fare the same. If they were unprepared for what the ‘water’ held, most male Adventurers would likely lose their lives if they attempted to reach the 77nd Floor through this particular entrance…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Vahn activates no-clip~’,’Jeanne is so chivalrous (UwU)…’,’Could Dungeon-chan actually be sexist…!?’)

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