Chapter 403: Monotony

After successfully defeating the Monster Party, it wasn’t long before the group found a set of stairs leading toward the 21st floor of the Dungeon. They had spent a significantly shorter period of time on the 20th floor compared to the 19th, so it was somewhat refreshing to know they were making good progress. Lefiya had been in high spirits after the battle, primarily due to the fact that everyone in the group, including the generally taciturn Riveria, all praised her for the magic she had used. Tiona, especially, seemed to be hyped up after witnessing the devastating sight and had spun the small Elf around several times in jubilation.

Ais also seemed to be in a very good mood after the fight and Vahn could see that her aura had become very stable after the battle came to an end. When they had discovered the staircase and decided to take a short break, Ais had come over to his side and sat against his shoulder with a happy smile on her face without saying anything. Vahn was a little confused by her behavior, but just accepted her affections as he snuggled up with her, Fenrir, and the boisterous Tiona who didn’t seem to be willing to be left out.

Riveria watched their behavior for a while before shaking her head and commenting, “The Dungeon really isn’t the place to be playing around and flirting…” Though Vahn agreed, he just continued to play with Fenrir’s oversized ears with a casual smile on his face as he said, “You never know what the future might hold, Riveria, it’s good to relax when you can. Don’t worry, though it might not look like it, I’m using my domain to scan everything around us. Even if an enemy tries to attack us through the floor or ceiling, I will be able to know about their presence long before they ever arrive…”

Hearing Vahn’s words, Riveria didn’t really have a way to argue so she just released a small sigh and looked for a spot to sit down on her own and rest. She found a nice flat area that didn’t have a lot of dust, but before she actually sat down a cushion appeared with a small circular table with fragrant tea present. Riveria could feel her brows twitch slightly as she looked over to see Vahn’s complacent smile before sitting down on the cushion he had left for her. After taking a sip of the warm tea, she released another sigh and sat peacefully without ‘complaining’ about Vahn’s behavior.

Tione, Ryuu, and Lefiya also had seats of their own and were playing some kind of gambling game using dice and cards that Ryuu had prepared. Vahn had been surprised when she first brought them out and, after asking about it, Ryuu explained with a somewhat melancholic look that she had learned about gambling from one of her former comrades. According to Ryuu, the Pallum girl named Lyra had claimed that, in order to properly deal with criminals and cheats, you had to understand how they thought and scammed people. The Astrea Familia had been a righteous familia that made many enemies by breaking up criminal syndicates in the past and there were several unique individuals within the group that had a variety of skills suited for capturing criminals.

Ryuu was currently teaching Tione how to gamble and read people’s expressions while all three girls periodically sent glances toward Vahn, Ais, Tiona, and Fenrir. Vahn felt a little guilty every time they looked over but there wasn’t too much he could do about the situation, as he wasn’t the one to initiate it in the first place. Ryuu didn’t really like public displays of affection from the start, while Tione was something of a unique case amongst the rest of the girls. As for Lefiya, Fenrir was ‘on guard’ against the little elf and probably wouldn’t ‘let’ her sit with Vahn, even if she mustered up enough courage to act.

After resting for a half hour, Vahn figured it was time to continue forward since he wanted to try and get through another 2-3 floors before they called it a day. Ideally, they would be able to get to the stairs leading to the 25th floor, but that didn’t seem likely with how long it took to clear each floor. The spawn rate of monsters was much higher and, unless they started bolting through the floors at the expense of their stamina, their progress wasn’t that fast. On average, it took around 3 hours and, since it was already slightly after 3 PM, that would require around twelve hours if they set the 24th-floor stairwell as their goal.

The 21st floor was much like the 20th, being that they were both completely made of wood with only a few areas where grass and herbs grew. Vahn had been collecting everything along the way and organizing it within his inventory because some of the herbs could be exchanged for several thousand Valis each. Of course, he wasn’t planning to sell them and had intended to gift them to Naaza when they returned to the surface. She would be able to use them in her mixing practice, even though she didn’t necessarily need them. Vahn’s wealth, even though he wasn’t doing much, had been increasing rapidly and he wasn’t even sure how to spend it all. He had been purchasing a lot of materials, clothing, supplies, and other miscellaneous items to help out around the Manor since he didn’t have a better use for the funds.

Because of the somewhat monotonous fighting that had been going on, Vahn had started to grow somewhat ‘bored’ as they continued deeper into the floor. The strength of the monsters hadn’t increased much and, other than marginally higher numbers, they were falling likes flies under the combined assault of Ais, Tiona, and Tione. Even Fenrir was able to kill many of the monsters with ease after becoming accustomed to their fighting style. Her battle instincts were actually very high, after she had been trained a bit, and she systematically took out the monsters after identifying their weaknesses. Even though she didn’t use any real weapons or equipment, as she didn’t like being constrained at all during combat, her claws were arguably sharper than Ais’s [Gram] and she cut through the Lizardmen she was fighting as if their scales were an illusion.

The only time things got interesting were when an ‘irregular’ or a ‘variant’ monster would show up. However, though it was cool to see their unique capabilities on display, Vahn had yet to see a single monster that could withstand more than one blow from Ais when she got serious. Though Vahn could use his Shundo to move almost anywhere within his Domain, Ais was actually fast enough to close a 200m distance in less time than it took to blink. Vahn had experienced this when, after they encountered a giant purple Swordstag, Vahn blinked and noticed that Ais had completely vanished from his line of sight as the monster’s head spun through the air.

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From this short expedition, Vahn was beginning to understand that he wouldn’t be able to experience any real challenges in the Dungeon unless he was in a smaller group, or if they had ventured even deeper into the Dungeon. Generally speaking, it was very dangerous for a normal sized party to venture beyond the 25th floor, but that was generally for groups comprised of Level 2’s and 3’s. Their current party consisted of a Level 6, three Level 5’s, a Level 4, Vahn and Lefiya at Level 3, and Fenrir and Haruhime at Level 2. The traditional party only had 5 members, so their group of eight was easily progressing, even though the Dungeon increased the spawn rate due to their presence.

The thing that made it ‘boring’ for Vahn was, now that he knew what to look for, he could easily predict the location of random monster spawns and had been using his bow to dispatch them before they could even break free from the walls completely. Fenrir also seemed to have picked up on something, that Vahn wasn’t quite sure how and, when a Troll tried to break free of a wall, Fenrir jumped forward and buried her claws into its face before ripping off the front part of its skull. When he asked how she had detected its presence, Fenrir just cocked her head to the side and said, “Fenrir just felt it~? It was like a tiny voice in Fenrir’s head saying ‘a monster is going to come out’.”

Vahn suspected that, due to the amount of Loyalty she had toward him, his subconscious thoughts might be transmitting to Fenrir and being treated as ‘orders’ in her own mind. This was a bit of a concerning matter because, if such a thing were the case, Vahn didn’t know how he might have been influencing Fafnir and, perhaps most importantly, Anubis. If they were only acting as they were because of the influence of his subconscious mind, Vahn felt like he was slowly brainwashing them to do whatever he thought. Fortunately, when he had this somewhat dark thought, Fenrir reached up and pat him on the head as she said, “There, there, Vahn is a good boy~.”

Either Fenrir was incredibly perceptive or his inference that she was somehow able to understand his thoughts was correct. Vahn would have to test his theory when he returned to the surface as there was also a very real possibility it was just due to the bond they shared. Just like he could sense Hephaestus’s thoughts and emotions when they were nearby, it was also possible Fenrir could do the same. Vahn actually knew next to nothing about her species, Vanargandr, so it wasn’t a good idea to make assumptions and automatically assume he had done some terrible wrong. With a grateful smile on his face, Vahn ruffled the ‘smiling’ Fenrir’s head and they continued further into the Dungeon.

After nearly eight hours, the group arrived at the staircase leading down to the 24th floor, about where Vahn had expected them to reach considering their pace. Other than Lefiya, nobody was really that tired but Vahn still gave the order to make camp since it was better to rest when they had the opportunity. Tomorrow, after they cleared the 24th floor, they would officially be entering the 25th floor to finally begin their descent into the ‘Lower Floors’ of the Dungeon. This was the bottleneck most Adventurers would stop at in their careers since it was very dangerous to proceed any further without large parties or incredible personal strength and equipment.

Vahn gave all the girls the luggage they had prepared and everyone started setting up their tents as Vahn started cooking food. Though he had various dishes within his inventory, it was better to cook some of the rations they had prepared since there was adequate time to do so. Using premade dishes was very ‘convenient’, but that didn’t mean it was necessary, or even advisable since they would be more useful in emergency situations when there wasn’t enough time to prepare other meals. Besides, Vahn actually liked to cook quite a bit and had been getting progressively better at it since his time in the forest.

Other than Lefiya, who was ‘talented’ at making salads, it turned out that none of the girls in the party knew how to prepare meals. Even Riveria, though she was 97 years old, typically left the cooking to the Supporters in the Loki Familia or just ate normal rations. Ryuu wasn’t an exception either, even though she worked at a pub, and this left Vahn as the only practical choice if he wanted the food to taste good. For their meal tonight, Vahn was actually using a piece of meat that had been harvested from a Mammoth Fool that weighed nearly 20kg. He had learned from Aki how to make stew and also had several references available within his mind to help out with the process. Though it was somewhat ‘shameless’, Vahn was even using his ‘eternal flame’ to control the heat within the giant pot and the flame danced about happily at the opportunity to do something new.

Tiona had finished setting up her tent faster than everyone else and leaned over the pot as Vahn was stirring it before taking a deep breath. She released a satisfied sigh and said, “It smells super delicious Vahn. Not only are you a hero, but you’re even a chef? I starting to wonder if there is anything you can’t do, hahahahaha~!” Vahn smiled before lifting up the ladle and smelling the stew himself before offering it to Tiona. She happily took a sip of the rich and fragrant Mammoth stew before placing her hand against her cheek as she made a happy sound of savoring the flavor.

As if continuing Tiona’s words, Riveria had also walked over and said in a plain tone, “I’m also beginning to wonder where your limits lay. Given how things are progressing, I’m starting to believe you never had any to begin with…” Vahn chuckled at Riveria’s words before filling up a wooden bowl and handing it to Tiona. The lively Amazon girl happily accepted the bowl before sitting next to the patiently waiting Fenrir. Though he had intended the meal for Tiona, she used her spoon and said, “Fenrir, aaaaaaaaaaahn~” Fenrir frowned at first but, after seeing Vahn’s expression, decided to accept Tiona’s assistance as Vahn continued to prepare the meal for everyone else.

Considering Riveria’s earlier words, Vahn ruminated for a moment before saying, “I think that, given the nature of the world, the only limit lays in our understanding of how the world works. As long as you have the resolve to challenge existing conventions, I don’t think it’s that difficult to overcome what most people would have considered the ‘limit’. Even common sense is something that is derived from the compromise made between groups of people in order to make sense of the world around them. It’s not that I try to live my life without ‘limits’, but I don’t believe in constraining myself without having made an effort to understand the reasons for why I’m not able to do something…so, as long as I don’t give up trying to understand why something works the way it does, I don’t believe something like limits exist at all…”

Riveria had a thoughtful expression on her face as she accepted the bowl of salad that Vahn had given her. She simply couldn’t wrap her head around Vahn’s thought process, even though what he said seemed to make sense. There were several parts of his statement that she didn’t agree with, but when she thought about it using the context of his words, they were all things that she considered to be ‘common sense’. In her homeland, it was ‘common sense’ that High Elves were the most superior species, second only to the spirits and the gods themselves.

After leaving her homeland, Riveria quickly realized the error of her people’s ways and now, after having spent nearly seventy years in the outside world and having her perspective shaped by her association with other people, she meets an anomaly like Vahn that causes her to question everything she thought she knew. Even the matter of races having unique traits, skills, and magic associated with them seemed to be fundamentally flawed. Vahn, simply by reshaping the flow of energy in his body, which was something she couldn’t even comprehend truthfully, was able to emulate and become any race as long as he had a strong enough ‘image’ of it. Because of this, Riveria was beginning to feel like the only thing that made anyone special was the achievements they built for themselves after putting in an adequate amount of effort.

Vahn looked over and saw Riveria lost in thought and could see her aura wavering about slightly in a chaotic manner. He wasn’t sure what she was struggling with but, seeing as how she hadn’t gone out of her way to avoid the conversation they were having, he decided to say, “One of the most important things I’ve learned in the short time I’ve experienced living with other people is that it isn’t worth overthinking things at all. The most important thing you can ever do is continue forward along the path you’ve decided for yourself. Don’t be bound by the past, do your best in the present, and continue forward toward a better future. These three things are the only thing I’ve needed to get to where I am today…surrounded by people I care about, trust, and even love…” As Vahn was speaking, he had turned to overlook the other girls that were already enjoying the food he had prepared for them. They each had happy and pleased expressions on their faces and were enjoying the meal together without worrying about unnecessary things at all.

Riveria also looked toward the other girls and saw their apparent happiness…even other Elves like Ryuu and Lefiya were getting along well with everyone and didn’t seem to care that they were all currently in the Dungeon where their lives could be endangered at any moment. Though she had a thought to lecture them for their complacency, she knew that being tense wasn’t any real solution and that Vahn’s detection ability even invalidated the need to keep watch while everyone ate. This situations itself was so far removed from her general understanding of things that it was hard to believe everything happening right now was even real.

Vahn just smiled at Riveria’s complex expression before taking a bowl of his own and joining the somewhat lively atmosphere of the rest of the group. Since Tiona had taken the initiative to spend time with Fenrir, Vahn was freed up, perhaps by design, to sit with Ryuu and Tione now. They all had fun conversations with each other and Vahn even took the opportunity to tease Ryuu a bit by offering her a bit of the desert he had brought out for everyone. When he held the fork holding a strawberry cake toward her mouth, the cool beauty showed a light blush on her face before eventually giving in when Tione offered to eat it in her stead. All the while this was happening, Riveria sat at the periphery of the group on the cushion Vahn had given her as she slowly picked away at her salad…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Vahn’s boredom’,’Fenrir’s Perception’,’Riveria’s Conflict’)

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