Chapter 996: Mist

Because of the increased size of each successive Floor, it took Vahn’s party nearly four hours to reach a surprisingly small chamber that seemed to connect to the 78th Floor. This was after traversing nearly 370km of complex architecture and mowing down more than a dozen groups of powerful adversaries. Though none of them posed an actual threat to the party, there were a few troublesome enemies that Vahn would rather not face too often. This was especially true for any enemy that specialized in magic as, even though Vahn could ‘cancel’ the spells used by people on the surface, the magic used at these depths was often instantaneous. There was even a feminine monster that looked like an Elf and, if not for her blue skin and white hair, she would have been indistinguishable from a High Elf.

The biggest difference was the fact that her teeth were sharp, much like an animal, and, instead of trying to converse with them, she had barraged the party with powerful Ice Elemental magic from the very moment they entered her domain. Unfortunately for her, Vahn’s flames were a natural counter while Fenrir, seemingly offended by the Elven monster’s use of Ice magic, personally dealt with her in a rather extreme fashion. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Eva’s magic system was from a Tier 5 Record but, regardless of the efforts put forth by the peculiar Elf, she was unable to match up to Fenrir’s standard. The fight hadn’t even lasted three minutes before Fenrir had frozen the unfortunate Elf in a pillar of ice that stretched nearly 200m into the air. Then, without any fanfare, Fenrir used her [Severing Claws] to make a singular blade that was nearly 30m long before cutting the frozen Elf into ribbons while she was unable to resist.

Though there were other memorable moments, Vahn didn’t particularly mind them as he inspected the strange runic patterns on the stone door barring their passage to the 78th Floor. Helen, seeing Vahn stand silent for more than a minute, misunderstood his actions to mean he was confounded by the runic inscriptions so she sonorously murmured, “It says that, to continue forward, you must face a trial of isolation…it does not seem as if the Dungeon will allow us to continue as a group any longer…” Since she had more than a little time on her hands, Helen had often studied ancient languages and, though she could only utter a few syllables, even understood the language of the gods to an extent.

Hearing Helen’s words, Vahn gave a dismissive nod without turning to face her as he had already understood the passage’s meaning long before she made sense of the text. The Path provided him with an instant translation feature and, though he probably should have thanked her for the ‘assistance’, Vahn found himself ignoring Helen more often as of late. Upon realizing this, Vahn released a small sigh before sparing Helen a glance as he explained, “I appreciate your willingness to help, but I had already translated the text with a single glance. One of my ‘Innates’ allows me to translate any language instantly so you don’t have to bother yourself over whether or not I understand the meaning behind any runes we come across…”

In response to Vahn’s words, Helen simply averted her eyes in a seemingly disinterested manner but, even with her proficiency with masking her emotions, it was easy to see she was affected by what he had said. Vahn shook his head at this before returning his attention to the passage and wondering about his next course of action. Though he could break through into the 78th Floor by force, it was one of the few Floors before the 90th that he was genuinely concerned about. This was because, even after inquiring about its contents from the mirror, Vahn had been unable to glean any insight into the 78th Floor’s contents. There had been no enemies listed and, even after asking the mirror to show him the Floor directly, the only thing reflected in its surface was a hazy mist that was impossible to see through…

While her Master was thinking about the best course of action, Fenrir had grown a bit absentminded so she lackadaisically traced one of her claws along the surface of the stone. Though it was several times harder than the surrounding bedrock, her claw easily cut through the surface as if it were nothing more than a thick paste. Fenrir was slightly surprised by its resilience, as there was actually a little resistance whereas even Adamantine, one of the hardest materials known to man, was powerless against her claws. She didn’t get to process the full extent of the stone’s durability, however, as a light quickly enveloped her body in response before she simply vanished from the area in an instant.

Seeing Fenrir suddenly disappear, Vahn furrowed his brows before immediately using the Unit Management function of his system to call her back. Fenrir had been gone for less than a second but Vahn noticed that her scarlet eyes had glazed over slightly as a thin mist slowly receded from their surface. She returned to normal a few seconds later, a confused expression on her face as she looked around before fixing her gaze firmly on his face. Fenrir’s confusion was replaced by relief and affection as she leaped forward, tightly clinging to her Master’s neck as she said, “Master, where did you go? Please don’t leave Fenrir behind again…” Though she had been the one to ‘leave’, it was obvious that the mist that had covered Fenrir’s eyes had affected her mind somehow, causing Vahn’s mind to race as he gently stroked the affectionate Vanargandr’s head to console her.

Since Fenrir was equipped with several accessories that should have made it borderline impossible for her mind to be affected by external sources, Vahn knew that the ‘mist’ contained on the 78th Floor wasn’t simple. It likely had the ability to hypnotize trespassers and force them to see illusions that also influenced a person’s perception of time. According to Fenrir, she had been gone for several minutes after getting separated from the rest of the group. Though she had tried to find them by relying on her senses, she had been unable to make any headway as even Vahn’s scent, something she could never forget, seemed to have vanished from her sensitive nose. This was why, after embracing him, Fenrir took several deep and audible breaths of Vahn’s scruff to ‘refresh’ her memory…

After making sense of the information provided by Fenrir, Vahn turned to Helen and Jeanne to explain, “This stone seems to transport anyone who touches it to the 78th Floor. I’m not sure if it will forcibly split us up but, going by what Fenrir had stated, there is a good chance the ‘isolation’ it speaks of is related to the illusions. I don’t know what you will see if you choose to proceed further but I’m confident that I will be able to avoid being affected…” Though it may be better to send Jeanne and Helen back to the surface, Vahn knew neither girl would be dissuaded so easily. As for Fenrir, he could simply teleport her to his side after clearing the 78th Floor so she could either wait for his summons or return to her core form to temporarily reside within his Inventory. Since the latter option caused Fenrir’s hair to stand on end, Vahn went with an even better solution, calling Fenrir to his side back in Babel Tower so she wouldn’t face any unforeseen danger.

In response to Vahn’s words, Jeanne hadn’t wavered in the slightest as she proudly raised her chin and proclaimed, “Worry not, my Lord, I will not be bested by a simple illusion.” Though not nearly as impressive as her physical and magical immunity, Jeanne’s resistance to illusions was very near the level of an Innate. This was the result of her Pure Light Affinity which, even compared to Darkness, had the highest compatibility with Illusion-Based magic. At the same time, this meant that anyone with a Pure Light Affinity was almost completely immune to the illusions of others, the only exception being illusions created by Innates and those conjured by those with a Pure Darkness Affinity. Even then, the latter could be broken out of with relative ease while the former would depend almost entirely upon the victim’s willpower and the strength of their own Innates…

Unlike Jeanne, Helen’s expression remained relatively unchanged but, similar to her counterpart, she explained, “I will be fine.” There was absolute confidence contained within Helen’s words, almost as if she treated the thought of being affected by an illusion as inconsequential. Seeing this, Vahn gave a wry smile before placing his hand above the stone door and saying, “If we get separated, I will come to search for you. Let’s regroup on the 79th Floor…”

Without waiting any longer, Vahn placed his palm on the cold stone surface and allowed himself to be transported by whatever mechanism facilitated entrance into the 78th Floor. His vision was clouded by the strange mist almost instantly but, having already prepared himself, Vahn managed to shrug it off without any difficulty. Though his mind felt dull for a brief moment, it didn’t seem like his mind had been captured in the illusion, something that Sis had confirmed for him. Even so, Vahn was unable to perceive his surroundings at all as even his domain didn’t seem to provide him with proper feedback.

Feeling rather annoyed by this, Vahn pushed his [Will of the Emperor] to the extreme in a single burst, causing the mist surrounding his body to retreat as a ‘bubble’ formed around him. With the mist scattered, Vahn was able to sense his surroundings, allowing him to notice that the entire floor was filled with the bones of various different creatures. He hadn’t even noticed it before but, now that the mist had been pushed away, there was a seemingly endless expanse of bones that had been compacted together to form the floor. This wasn’t an exaggeration either as, even after removing a section of the floor to inspect it further, Vahn noticed that the bones had been compacted to the point of becoming a single solitary mass after only 30cm. He couldn’t help but wonder what kind of phenomenon would bring about such a result but, deciding it was best not to find out ‘personally’, he quickly set about looking for Helen and Jeanne.

As expected, the stone door had placed him at a completely random spot on the 78th Floor and, even after creating a bubble more than a kilometer wide, Vahn was unable to see any sign of the two women. He wasn’t particularly worried about them, as even Helen was more than capable of protecting herself, but it was still better to regroup as soon as possible. If this Floor was anything like the others, that meant its size was likely more than 500km in diameter while even the ceiling above was nearly 2 kilometer’s distance from the ground. The density of the mist even constricted his domain somewhat so he was unable to expand his perception even a third of the normal amount without taxing his reserves faster than he could replenish them.

With few options available, Vahn decided to pick up a wayward bone and, after marveling at the peculiar glow emanating from it, placed it joint-side down before releasing it. The bone fell slightly towards the right so Vahn chose that as his direction before throwing the glowing bone into his Inventory for identification. There were several unique bones located on the Floor and, though it was strange that all other remains were missing, Vahn could only speculate the reasons as he looted anything that caught his eye. Bones, especially those belonging to high-leveled monsters, were exceptionally good materials so, after offering a prayer to the deceased, Vahn grabbed a few that would be particularly useful for creating spears, javelins, and other unique weapons…

Unlike Vahn, who easily shrugged off the illusory mist, Jeanne hadn’t been nearly as fortunate as her confidence would have made others believe. The moment she placed her palm against the stone, Jeanne found herself standing the middle of a battlefield as hundreds cried out for aid. Instead of her mature, albeit rather petite figure, she was now nothing more than a young girl whose sword was nearly as long as she was tall. The shield in her left hand felt far heavier than normal while the smoke rising up from the burnt corpses of her allies caused a nauseous feeling to rise up in her stomach. Jeanne tried to convince herself that this was simply an illusion but, almost as if to spite her attempt, the nauseous feeling overwhelmed her in an instant as she expelled the contents of her emptied stomach. Since her country was at war, and she was nothing more than a commoner, rations had been tight for the last two weeks…

As this thought crossed her mind, Jeanne’s eyes widened as she shook her head fervently to clear away the invasive memories from her past. She noticed that it was becoming harder to think about her current Lord and the situation she had found herself in, almost as if the illusion was sending her back in time and forcing her to relive her worst nightmares. As if to respond to this line of thinking, Jeanne felt a strong grip around her left ankle as her body was pulled back with incredible force. She instinctually twisted her body and, though she was now much weaker than her ‘future’ self, the heavy blade in her hand moved as an extension of her body as it cut through the neck of a balding man with a ‘hungry’ gaze. His expression turned into an abject stupor as he released her leg and tried to stimy the flow of blood before falling forward onto two other corpses.

Using her gauntletted hand to wipe away the spittle from her mouth, Jeanne looked down into the face of the man as recognition flashed across her eyes. She remembered things going far differently in the past as, instead of deftly killing the man, he had ripped off several pieces of her armor before an arrow had penetrated the side of his head. It was that moment that caused Jeanne to close off her heart to men as, even after hundreds of years passed, to the point that she couldn’t even remember his face clearly, that same hungry gaze had always haunted her. Now that she could see his face clearly, Jeanne found herself breathing heavily as an overwhelming sense of relief replaced the anxiety in her heart. Then, seemingly forgetting she was in an illusion, Jeanne picked up her sword with a fervent gaze on her face as she muttered, “This time will be different…I can change everything…”

True to her words, Helen was completely unaffected by the mist and, after placing her palm against the stone door, she found herself within the confines of a small shrine. With her hand still raised, she sent out a pulse of bluish-white light that caused the mist to slowly recede but, unlike the vast landscape of bones that Vahn had found himself in, Helen instead found that the shrine around her was completely empty while every visible surface was a pure unblemished white marble. At the center of the shrine, a small pool of crystal clear water could be seen situated in a small curved basin. Finding herself drawn to the pool, Helen found that the surface was perfectly reflective and, though she had seen herself in mirrors several times, this particular image caught her eye as, instead of having pure white hair, Helen noticed that there was a subtle green glow present that had never been there before.

Before she realized it, Helen had gently touched the surface of the water with her index finger, causing small ripples to expand outward. Curiously, however, her reflection seemed unaffected by these small ripples. Furrowing her brows slightly, Helen tapped against the surface of the water several times for reasons she herself didn’t understand. No matter how many times she broke the surface of the water, however, the reflection in the pool remained unaffected and, though her own expression had turned dour, the image in the pool had a small smile on its face. Helen felt like the smile cut through her heart like a sharp knife and, though she was usually very calm, emotions she had kept at bay for hundreds of years seemed to break through their confines as she sent a ball of magical energy into the already chaotic pool. This caused the water within to immediately evaporate but, as if to mock her, Helen noticed that the thing that had been reflecting her image was the bottom of the pool and, though she had used a lot of her energy in the attack, it had been completely unaffected by her efforts. Instead, it continued to smile back at her while the peculiar green sheen of its hair became more prominent with the passage of time…

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(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Fenrir won’t let anyone copy her…!’,’*Casually loots bones*’,’What lays within…’) <-(p.atreon link)

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