As it wasn’t necessary to actually have anyone post up during the night, Vahn gave the order for everyone to rest after dinner had come to an end. When he retired to his own tent, he was accompanied by Fenrir while the other tents were taken by different pairs such as Ais and Lefiya, Tiona and Tione, Ryuu and Haruhime, and lastly, staying in a tent of her own, Riveria. Before everyone had gone to sleep, Vahn had set out three wash basins for the girls that wanted to take a bath and, as promised, he helped Fenrir wash her body before helping her wear a loose nightgown over her combat attire.
Fenrir’s hair always had an earthy and warm aroma and she always slept right on top of Vahn’s chest with her paws bundled up at her stomach, clasped together so she wouldn’t accidentally scratch anyone while she slept. She had gotten much better at controlling herself and rarely ever cut her own clothing anymore, nor did she scratch other people and tear apart the things she touched. She had even gotten to the point that, when she was practicing her writing, the words were always carved in a uniform manner, even though her handwriting was somewhat terrible.
Fortunately, as he had somewhat expected Tiona to try and sneak into his tent, the night passed without issue and everyone woke up very early the next day. Since he wanted to get a jumpstart on things, Vahn handed out a variety of pastries for everyone to enjoy before continuing deeper into the Dungeon. The 24th floor of the Dungeon was the end of the Large Tree Labyrinth and also the official end-point of the ‘Middle Floors’ of the Dungeon. Everything beyond, all the way to the record 59th floor, was considered the ‘Lower Floors’ and a realm only visited by veteran adventurers and high ranking Familia.
Unlike the 19th through the 23rd floor, the 24th floor had a lot more plant life spread all throughout the floor. The ceiling was nearly 40-50m at the highest points and there were several large trees, a variety of bushes, and various plant-like monsters and insects flying about. Soon after entering, Vahn had detected an abnormality within one of the walls and, after having everyone halt their advance, probed it using his bow after verifying what lay within using his [Eyes of Truth].
Once the barrage of arrows penetrated the wall, a giant, bulbous, red ‘creature’ popped out of the wall before slamming down onto the floor. It was around 5-7m long and had a variety of holes covering its body. It writhed about and tried to launch a viscous reddish-yellow liquid at the party but everyone was well outside of its effective range. Riveria, from the side, said in a calm tone, “Bloody Hive, it’s a trap-type monster that immobilizes its enemies before overwhelming them with Deadly Hornets. They don’t have a lot of offensive capabilities on their own, but they can become a major threat if they aren’t dealt with quickly…”
Vahn nodded his head and said, “Thank you, Riveria.” as he knocked a pair of mithril arrows on his bow and, after channeling a large number of fire elements, loosed them toward the Bloody Hive. As Riveria had been speaking, he checked the information within his mind and knew they were very weak to fire. For someone like Vahn, whose main attribute could be considered fire, they weren’t much of a threat. Before it even had enough time to spawn ten Deadly Hornets, the Bloody Hive was already writhing about on the ground as it burned to ashes as a result of Vahn’s deadly flames.
As for the Deadly Hornets, they were nearly a meter long and made an excessively loud noise as they buzzed about in a strange manner. Their bodies consisted of a hard carapace that was covered in a variation of yellows, blacks, and reds, and they had massive 20cm long black stingers to glowed with a subtle purple light. As their named indicated, they had a deadly poison that covered the entirely of their stinger as well as a powerful set of mandibles on their heads. With their large compound eyes, they looked somewhat menacing, at least until they were shredded apart by the swift Ais moments later.
Bloody Hives were a relatively rare monster on the 24th floor, so it was both auspicious as well as unfortunate that it was the first enemy they came across after entering. Amongst Adventurers, it was considered a sign of great fortune if you encountered a rare enemy right after entering a floor and were able to overcome it. With Vahn’s detection ability, most traps were completely ineffective and they were able to make smooth progress while following his directions. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that, with Vahn’s presence with a party, any group could efficiently move through the Dungeon and he would likely be one of the key factors for any expedition into the deeper floors.
Other than the few Killer Wasps that would fly at them from various directions, the majority of the monsters on the 24th floor were Hobgoblins, a type of goblin that stood more than two meters tall and had much larger horns affixed in their heads. Many of them used nature weapons, such as clubs and spears, but they seemed to be somewhat lacking in intelligence and couldn’t coordinate with each other at all. Tiona was happily cutting her way through a large group of them as she spun her giant weapon around playfully. There was even a point where, when she vaulted off the ground, spun through the air, and slashed down at a large Hobgoblin, that her weapon emitted a pulse before smashing the 2m tall Hobgoblin into a small ball less than 50cm in size.
Vahn had seen this from the backline and had both of his eyes open wide after witnessing the sight. He knew this was probably the effect of the [Crushing Blow] that he had imbued into the [Dance of the Amazon], but he had never expected the effect to be so monstrous. Seeing a humanoid monster turned into a compact sphere of flesh was enough to make even Vahn feel a little squeamish so it wasn’t a surprise to him at all when Lefiya released a small amount of ‘rainbow’ liquid from her mouth. Vahn rubbed her back to ease her nausea and looked over to realize that Haruhime, an elegant girl who most people would expect to struggle with such things, showing a plain expression as she scanned the battle looking for an enemy of her own to target.
As if she had sensed Vahn’s gaze, Haruhime turned toward him before smiling widely before chuckling in a playful manner. Though her eyes had been a placid green color, the moment she locked eyes with him, Vahn noticed they began to turn a pale gold. Though she seemed to be perfectly fine, Vahn still asked, “How are you holding up, Haruhime, let me know if you get tired…” Haruhime nodded her head and said, “Thank you, Vahn, I’m fine~.” Haruhime didn’t have much to do so far, other than periodically using her magic to target distant foes, so she wasn’t even remotely tired.
Though she was tempted to pretend, she knew that not only Vahn, but the somewhat troublesome Fenrir would see through her act. She knew Fenrir was envious of her for various reasons, so Haruhime didn’t want to make her upset and lose the opportunity to get closer to Vahn later. Since Vahn had previously spent time with Tiona, Ais, Ryuu, and Tione, Haruhime was planning to get some of his time for herself later. She wasn’t going to jeopardize things before then, so she just did her best to appear as elegant as possible for the time being.
Seein that Haruhime was fine, Vahn showed an encouraging smile as he continued to pat the contradictory Lefiya on the back. She was simultaneously pale, from having witnessed the gory sight, but also blushing slightly from Vahn’s contact. Her appearance made Vahn feel sorry for her so, instead of directly patting her back, he used [Hands of Nirvana] on his domain to make everyone feel more comfortable. Lefiya released a small sigh before doing her best to stand back up on her own two feet. Once she composed herself, she bowed toward Vahn and said in a quiet voice, “Thank you, Vahn…”
For a brief moment, Vahn reached out his hand to pat Lefiya’s bowed head before saying, “No worries, Lefiya, I’m always happy to help. We’ll take a longer break before going to the 25th floor if you’re feeling tired. If necessary, I also have some medicine to help your stomach if you’re still feeling sick later.” Lefiya gently bit her bottom lip with a blush rising on her cheeks before saying, “I-I’m fine…” She then lowered her head as if trying to hide her face and even moved to the other side of Riveria after a while. Haruhime began to laugh from Vahn’s side and he just shrugged in mock exasperation before continuing forward with the rest of the group.
Nearly three hours into the 24th floor, as if proving the superstition of other Adventurers, Vahn sensed a much larger presence in his perception. Though he couldn’t see it at first, he was able to penetrate through the walls of the Dungeon, and any other obstacles, before setting his eyes on a large, emerald green, dragon that was nearly 12m in length. It actually seemed to have a bit of wisdom in its gentle blue eyes as it peered back towards Vahn as if having detected his gaze upon it. Right next to the dragon, there was a small tree, only around 3m in height, that seemed to be made almost entirely of crystal. It had vibrant green ‘leaves’ that glistened in the low-light of the Dungeon and had a variety of yellow, purple, and red gemstones growing from its branches like fruit.
With a large smile on his face, Vahn brought the group to a halt before explaining, “I just discovered a Green Dragon protecting a Treasure Tree that is in the adjacent room. I don’t see the path leading to the room, but we can probably break through the wall if we want to loot the tree. I’m not sure if the dragon is dangerous since there seems to be something special about it, but be prepared to attack the moment it becomes aggressive. Ais, your [Avenger] and [Gram] provide powerful benefits against dragons so I’ll leave defeating it to you. However, don’t attack until it becomes hostile, okay?”
Hearing that Vahn had discovered the incredibly rare ‘Treasure Tree’, everyone was in high spirits, even Riveria. Her staff, Magna Alfs, was an S-Rank item that cost nearly 340MV and made use of nine ‘Magic Treasure Stones’ which could only be found from rare drops and incredibly rare natural treasures like the Treasure Tree in the next room. A single Magic Treasure Stone could cost upwards of 10MV, so it was an incredible boon to be able to discover an intact tree. As for Ais, she had a complex expression on her face after hearing Vahn’s words but still nodded her head in agreement. Though she would generally kill any monster on sight, she had learned from interacting with Fenrir and Fafnir that not all monsters were evil.
Because it was actually very dangerous to inflict too much damage to the Dungeon, lest they incur the wrath of a Juggernaut, Vahn was thinking of other ways to breach the wall. After thinking about the matter for a few minutes, he saw the sky-blue eyes of Ryuu watching him and a smile crept upon his face as he pulled out an intricately designed trinket out of his inventory. This was an item he had obtained when Ryuu reached 100 affection and was known as [Fairy Promenade]. Its use claimed that all trees, plant life, and animals open a path for the user to pass unhindered, so Vahn was hoping it might even work on the ‘tree-like’ walls of the Dungeon. If it proved to be the case, Vahn resolved himself to treat Ryuu when they returned to the surface since it would be through her affections that they were able to obtain the Treasure Tree.
Though she didn’t understand why Vahn smiled at her, Ryuu returned his smile and watched as he activated another one of his mysterious items. A green light appeared around his body and, against the expectations of everyone present, the wall of the Dungeon began to open up as it created a tunnel that Vahn passed through while laughing in a very satisfied manner. Then, as if he had a sudden realization, Vahn turned back and ‘bounded’ over to Ryuu before planting a short kiss on her unprepared lips. Ryuu blushed deeply, especially after seeing the other girls look at her, before pulling the fastener of her cloak to conceal part of her face from view.
Satisfied with Ryuu’s response, Vahn led the way through the Dungeon’s wall as everyone followed behind him with a mixture of intrigue and confusion on their faces. Riveria, seemingly unable to keep her intrigue restrained, asked in an inquisitive manner, “That item…is it another thing you created? How is it able to control the Dungeon walls like this?” Vahn shook his head then, after thinking for a few seconds, explained, “This is an item that serves as proof of the bond I share with Ryuu…” Vahn looked over at the sky-blue eyes, which averted slightly after making eye contact, before continuing, “It allows the user to pass unhindered through forests and the like…since we’re currently inside a giant tree, I thought it might be useful here. Seems our luck is quite high today…”
As he spoke, Vahn furrowed his brows slightly before coming to a stop and scanning his surroundings once again. Everyone else came to a stop at nearly the same time and immediately became alert after seeing Vahn’s expression and behavior. Vahn knew better than anyone that, when things suddenly started going especially well, that was usually when something unexpected happened. Though he didn’t understand why this was the case, Karma seemed to ‘test’ those that had a lot of good karma and, the moment when they let down their guard while assuming everything was going well, that was generally when tragedy befell them.
Shortly after he came to a stop, Vahn sensed the presence of a strange aura that was located in a passageway within the wall of the Dungeon itself. Its aura was unlike anything he had ever seen before and Vahn was curious so he began to stare directly toward it with his [Eyes of Truth] active. His instincts were sounding alarm bells in his head and, after penetrating into the strange corridor, Vahn came face to face with what looked like a normal woman, if not for the fact that she had green eyes that glowed within the darkness. ‘She’ was a tall woman, around 170cm, and she had a powerful physique with red hair and green eyes. Though she wasn’t a conventional beauty, Vahn thought she would have looked attractive if not for the fierce expression on her face.
Vahn wasn’t sure how they were able to do it but, much like the Green Dragon in the nearby room, the woman seemed to be able to sense his probing gaze. She looked back with her glowing green eyes and mouthed a few words as she covered her naked body with a cloak and walked away into the darkness before eventually escaping his line of sight. Though he wasn’t that confident in being able to read lips, Vahn could replay her words over and over in his mind and was absolutely certain she had said two very familiar words…”Vahn Mason…”
Seeing the serious expression on his face, Ryuu asked, “Vahn, did you see something? Is it an enemy?” Hearing Ryuu’s words, Vahn turned to the group and considered what how to explain that he had ‘peeked’ in on a woman that was taking a bath in a glowing blue pool of liquid. He was almost certain that she was a monster, similar in nature to Fenrir, but he didn’t know if she was actually an enemy or not. However, the cold look in her eyes and the fact that she knew his name was a red flag so he explained, “I saw a woman…I think she is a humanoid monster, one of the ones that the Guild wants to capture or kill. I can’t be sure, but she seemed to be around Level 5 and had a powerful aura radiating from her body…also, though I couldn’t hear what she said, I’m certain she called my name after detecting me.”
Realizing the incongruity in what he had seen, Vahn also said, “Also, there seems to be a corridor nearby that connects to the Dungeon, but it doesn’t appear to be a part of it at all. Instead of wood, like everything else on the floor, it is made of stone…almost like it is manmade?” Vahn was very tempted to investigate further but decided against it since it was more important to procure the Treasure Tree at the moment. After making his decision, Vahn turned to the group and said, “We’ll capture the Treasure Tree and then backtrack to investigate the unknown corridor afterward. I don’t think it would be a good idea to pursue the humanoid monster right now, as it has nothing to do with our objective, but we should inform the Alliance when we return to the surface.”
Riveria also agreed with Vahn’s decision and even put forth the idea of concealing the matter from the Guild entirely, at least until they were able to discern of the woman was an enemy or not. As for the ‘man-made dungeon’, she actually had a bit of knowledge regarding the rumors that Daedelus street actually connected to the Dungeon through a labyrinthine structure located beneath the somewhat infamous district of the City. As Vahn had seen the structure for himself, he knew that it wasn’t a simple ‘rumor’ and his desire to investigate Daedelus Street increased quite a bit after listening to Riveria’s words. Knowing there was a monster girl that knew his name prowling about, Vahn didn’t feel very at ease, especially since his instincts had been sounding dangers signals during the brief encounter.
Thinking about the ‘woman’, Vahn couldn’t stop himself from recalling her relatively ‘powerful’ looking body that had been displayed openly. Though she wasn’t very shapely, at least compared to many of the women he had seen, her figure was very womanly and emphasized the power contained within by the visible lines of her muscles. She had a thin waist with exceptionally pale skin, almost as if she had never seen the light of day, and her breasts were rather large. Her medium length red hair was somewhat wild and her glowing green eyes, even when he recalled them in his mind, sent chills down his back. Though he often felt like some of the girls gave him ‘predatory’ looks, Vahn now knew for certain what it was like to be viewed as the prey of another person…
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘You ain sneaky!’,’Literal money tree’,’Vahn’s over here expecting a woman not to be mad when he peeks at them in the bath…’)
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