Chapter 408: Boon

After making their preparations, Vahn gave the order to proceed into the 30th floor and their hunt for Bloodsaurus finally began. Though it wasn’t a ‘dead zone’ like the last two floors, there weren’t that many enemies present on the 30th floor either and each room was spaced out a great distance from each other. If not for the fact that Vahn was able to detect the presence of enemies, it would take a much longer period of time to actually locate a Bloodsaurus. Fortunately, it only took around ten minutes before they found a pair of the monstrous creatures and Vahn got his first look at the ‘fat cow’ that would become the cornerstone of the Alliance.

Standing approximately five meters in height, Vahn saw a pair of two reptilian creatures this thick, blood red, hide that was covered in wart-like protrusions. They had large, squarish, heads and long tails that got progressively thinner until taking on a whip-like quality. Each one was rated at the peak of Level 2, though there were a fair amount that would even reach Level 3, so they were relatively strong monsters that typically only traveled in small groups. Because of this, Vahn was inspired to fight on his own since it was a good opportunity to test his skills against monsters similar in level to him. Though he could probably end the fight very quickly by using his Xuánwǔ form, Vahn wanted to see how his normal strength compared to the large monsters before him.

Before the three tyrants at the front of the group went forth to slay the Bloodsaurus, Vahn brought them to a stop and said, “Wait, since there aren’t that many enemies on this floor I think it’s a good opportunity to earn exillia for the weaker members in the party. Though I don’t mind sitting in the backline and supporting everyone, I need to improve my own strength as well or it would be a problem in the future.”

Tiona, hearing Vahn’s words, stretched her body in a lazy manner and said in a laid-back tone, “Sounds good to me~!” Tione and Ais also didn’t have any problems with the arrangement, as they had actually killed thousands of monsters on the trip down. It was also good to watch how others fought so that you could have a better understanding of your own capabilities and help polish each other’s skills. Ais had already taken Haruhime under her wing in the past and, now that Vahn was also going to have her and Fenrir fight, Ais wanted to see how fast she was able to grow.

Though it might not have any effect, since the emblem didn’t glow when other allies were nearby, Vahn still placed his ‘Mentor’s Mark’ on Haruhime’s hand and Fenrir’s upper arm. Haruhime stared at the ‘cute’ image of Vahn on the back of her hand and chuckled before unsheathing her [Sakura Blossom]. Fenrir was also happy to have the mark on her upper arm and patted it happily with her paws a few times before assuming a low stance with her butt up in the air. She had ‘copied’ Vahn’s crouching attack in his Báihǔ form and often started fights in the somewhat awkward pose.

As for Vahn, he was loosening his joints as he casually walked toward the pair of Bloodsaurus that finally noticed the presence of the group. He was going to fight one of them on his own while leaving the second one for Haruhime and Fenrir to deal with. Since it would be over the moment he used his Xuánwǔ form, Vahn took on his old favorite transformation before crouching low, similar to Fenrir’s emulation of him, in his Báihǔ form. Vahn preferred the agility of the form as it also made his Shundo more of an omnidirectional skill since he could easily vault of walls by finding his footing using his claws. With flames forming on his forearms, and his claws glowing a fiery orange, Vahn used Shundo to appear beneath the furthest Bloodsaurus before passing his superhot claws through the durable hide of the monster.

The Bloodsaurus roared out in pain before trying to slam its body down to crush Vahn beneath it. He was able to easily evade the blow and assume a position near the back of the Bloodsaurus where its whip-like tail was exposed. As his claws wouldn’t be able to do the job properly, Vahn pulled out one of the mithril blades he kept in his inventory and cut off the entire length of its tail with a swift slash. Since it had lost its counterbalance, the Bloodsaurus fell forward and struggled to try and regain its footing as Vahn leaped high into the sky before spinning several times and planting both of his feet into the head of the monster, forcing it into the ground. Before it was able to recover, Vahn buried his hand into the base of its neck and pulled out the magic core contained within amidst the smell of burning flesh.

Though he was supposed to be trying to ‘harvest’ them, Vahn wanted to fight at least one Bloodsaurus in the normal way to see how strong they were. Now that he knew they weren’t actually that big a threat, Vahn could formulate a plan to deal with the others as efficiently as possible. If it came down to it, he could even use [Enkidu] and just immobilize the monsters before using his [Hands of Nirvana] to lull them to sleep. Since that wouldn’t really allow his parameters to develop at all, Vahn set aside that method for if they weren’t able to gather a satisfactory amount of resources within the allotted time.

After tossing the magic core into his inventory, Vahn sold it through the system and obtained 2,703OP for a single Bloodsaurus. With a happy smile on his face, he then sat down and patiently watched the ongoing battle between Haruhime, Fenrir, and the remaining Bloodsaurus. Though the girls had never worked together as a duo, they were surprisingly well-coordinated, at least as far as Haruhime was concerned. Making use of her ability to read the ‘tempo’ of a fight, Haruhime was able to easily follow up Fenrir’s movements while drawing the attention of the Bloodsaurus to strike empty space. Fenrir herself, as expected, was able to make use of the gaps created to eventually climb up on the side of the Bloodsaurus.

Just like when she dealt with the Mammoth Fools, the fight was over shortly after Fenrir took the monster’s back. Her unstoppable claws were capable of rending its flesh without any major effort at all, and her teeth allowed her to bite through its thick hide and solid bones as if she were eating pudding. It wasn’t a case of where she had to put in a great effort to eventually bite through a hard object, Fenrir simply chomped down before effortlessly nomming away on the back of the Bloodsaurus. After discovering that she could disable monsters by biting through their spines, it wasn’t long before their target had collapsed to the ground after having become completely immobile.

While it had been thrashing about to try and remove Fenrir’s from its back, Haruhime had used her [Sakura Blossom] to skillfully sever the tendons in one of the Bloodsaurus’s legs before using her [Icicle Edge] to disable the other. Without the ability to thrash around in any meaningful way, the Bloodsaurus had no choice but to accept its fate. After it had fallen, ignoring any sense of propriety, both Fenrir and Haruhime ‘trotted’ over to Vahn with happy expressions on their faces as he patted their fluffy-eared heads. They had managed to defeat the Bloodsaurus without actually killing it, so now they would be able to harvest it for a plethora of valuable items.

Not just Haruhime and Fenrir, but even the girls from the Loki Familia were now able to obtain benefits from the ‘secret’ rewards list. Vahn had been doing his best to keep track of the drops everyone had obtained so that they would be able to redeem the equivalent points when they returned to the surface. Being able to subjugate an entire Bloodsaurus, and obtain its loot, was a huge boon for the two girls and they were quite happy given the situation. Their combined efforts had brought the fight to an end within two minutes, which showed they shouldn’t have any real difficulty fighting the somewhat powerful monsters. Haruhime’s and Fenrir’s Innates were simply too suited for combat, especially Fenrir with her unstoppable claws and ability to bite through and devour anything.

While Vahn eased the mind of the Bloodsaurus and lulled it into a deep sleep, Riveria was walking the girls through how to properly harvest the materials that could be collected from the body before it finally succumbed to its wounds. They began to remove parts, such as the claws and large teeth, and had even cut open the side of the Bloodsaurus to pull out its spleen, which was a very valuable mixing ingredient worth nearly 100KV. After he had finished pacifying the monster, Vahn performed a small funeral rite before fulfilling the most important part of their purpose for coming to the 30th floor and drained a large amount of the monster’s blood before storing it into his inventory.

He managed to do this by finding a large artery connected to the main blood flow from the heart and setting out a massive container to store it. It was a somewhat delicate process, much different than the normal method by far, but Vahn was able to take care of it easily and collected nearly 800 liters of blood from a single Bloodsaurus before it turned into purple dust and vanished entirely. Vahn was very relieved when he didn’t accumulate any negative karma and offered a secondary prayer to thank the monster for its contribution to ensuring that his family would be kept safe in the future.

Since he hadn’t actually gained much from killing the Bloodsaurus, Vahn decided to leave the coming battles to Haruhime and Fenrir. For larger groups, the higher leveled girls began a rotation to thin out the numbers and accumulate points for future benefits of their own. Even Ryuu got involved and they started, against Riveria’s counsel, gambling to determine who would be able to face the next batch. As the largest group to appear had only been five monsters, the group wasn’t in much danger even if they were slacking off. Vahn himself was constantly paying attention to the surroundings and, when Riveria had consulted him about the behavior of the girls, he simply said, “We’re going to be here for a few days so I don’t mind them having a bit of fun with things. As long as they are responsive to orders during an emergency situation, it should be perfectly fine.”

After a momentary period of contemplation, Riveria nodded her head in agreement and began making casual conversation with Vahn about various subjects she was interested in. Vahn was somewhat surprised that she was taking the initiative to talk about things so he indulged and asked a few questions of his own. Riveria had lived for 97 years and had traveled to several other territories before arriving in Orario so she was a veritable wealth of information. As for Riveria, she considered Vahn’s thought process to be ‘fresh’ and borderline ‘revolutionary’, so she was very eager to get his input on matters that had long bothered her.

By the time the day had come to an end, the group had killed a total of 61 Bloodsaurus and a few miscellaneous monsters that had wandered into the 30th floor from different floors. Of the 61 Bloodsaurus hunted, they had managed to safely procure ingredients from 29 of them, which was actually very good considering it was rare to be able to harvest more than 10% of the total resources on a standard expedition. Just converting the drop items, materials, hide, and blood into Valis would net them in the ballpark of 174 million Valis, so they were making good progress considering it had only been a few hours since they had started. This was enough to even keep an S-Rank Familia afloat for more than a month, so it was a major boon for the group and had invalidated any complaints Riveria might have had about the situation. As for Vahn, he was happy to have received an additional 119,547OP to add to his ever increasing reserves.

After backtracking to the staircase between the 29th and 30th floors, Vahn had everyone set up camp before setting out a few basins for them to be able to wash their bodies. Though he couldn’t be sure, Vahn was almost positive the monster girl he had seen was an enemy so he had shamelessly taken the mana-infused water that was in the pool and stored it into his inventory. He could see the mana contained within but was unable to understand how it was able to retain the energy without it diffusing into the atmosphere over time. He wanted to research the principles behind it before replacing his onsen water with the revitalizing liquid in order to benefit the girls living within the Manor. Seeing how happy everyone was while currently using it in their baths, Vahn felt like it would be a worthwhile subject for future research.

Vahn had also taken a bath as well, though he had shared a basin with just Fenrir and had helped clean her body as she happily splashed in the water. Because of the changes he had noticed in her behavior, Vahn had been paying special attention to her for the last few days and she was in an especially good mood, at least when she wasn’t ‘protecting’ him from the other girls. Vahn had experimented with trying to be more receptive to the girls, which is why he allowed them to gamble, and he noticed that Fenrir had released a lot of her tensions and wasn’t as abrasive as before. From this experiment, though it would require further testing, Vahn was able to verify that Fenrir was indeed able to sense his train of thought through the bond they shared as Master and Subordinate.

Because he had initially brought her along as a failsafe to prevent anything from happening between him and the other girls, Fenrir had been proactively keeping them away from him. She even showed a remarkable degree of perception and intelligence in order to complete her mission and had even compromised with the girls to regulate them. Since she was typically very anti-social, this was a red flag in Vahn’s mind and had been one of the reasons he had noticed her strange behavior. Now that he had decided not to mind how the girls were acting, Fenrir did a 180 and was now acting much more casually while also trying to get spoiled by him at the same time.

When she was ‘on guard’ earlier, Fenrir had also stayed in formation and did her best to not deviate from the role she had been assigned. After Vahn loosened up the restrictions, she reverted back to her old self and was proactively seeking his praise after the end of every fight. Vahn didn’t know how much she was influenced by his own thought process, but he decided he would need to take his subordinates into consideration when he acted in the future. He didn’t want to accidentally reshape their behavior to suit his interest and was even worried that Anubis’s ‘strange’ behavior was actually a result of being exposed to him during a period of time where he lacked restraint.

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If it turned out that she only acted that way because of the subconscious thoughts within his mind, Vahn wasn’t sure how he would react. Since she was a goddess, Vahn assumed she was less constrained than a familiar like Fenrir, but he was still somewhat worried about it. He still recalled the time when he had given her a few orders and how she followed them, even when she was a bit conflicted about why she was behaving as she did. Vahn planned to have a long talk with her in the future, just like he planned to do with the other girls, to find out a bit about her past actions and behaviors. If her ‘deviancy’ had been present for a long time, he would be able to verify that his actions might have ‘guided’ her, but weren’t the determinant factor for how she acted.

Because she wasn’t being on guard against the girls, a situation occurred when it came time for bed as Fenrir easily acceded to the request of other girls to sleep in Vahn’s tent. Just like when she had let them stay with him during their first night at the Manor, Fenrir ‘assigned’ sleeping positions to Tiona, Ais, Lefiya, and Haruhime. Ryuu and Tione looked like they wanted to stay in the tent as well, but it was already pushing the limit with five people. Vahn, feeling bad that they were left out, ended up purchasing a larger tent that had one large room and two smaller rooms on the side.

After helping clean up the extra tents lying around, everyone in the party moved into Vahn’s large tent before sharing several futons that had been strung together instead of using sleeping bags. Riveria ended up staying in one of the side rooms, but everyone else shared the same bed and Vahn got to enjoy the experience of being surrounded by the fragrant girls while enjoying the ambient heat from their bodies. Everyone had enough sense to not try anything sexual, as Tione, Haruhime, and Fenrir were present, so it was a pleasant experience and made Vahn feel much closer to the girls. Ryuu had been restraining herself the entire trip, so she ended up procuring a spot at his side while, for the first time since they had known each other, Tione ended up on his right…

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Deep within an undisclosed area of the Dungeon, a diminutive figure sat around on a small stone chair while surrounded by several large pillars where thousands of yellow crystals, reminiscent of magic stones, were embedded. The figure looked very thin and frail and was wearing a black cloak covering its entire body while its face was adorned with a black and orange mask that created a jagged spiral pattern. It sat there upon the stone chair while tapping a black gauntleted finger against the armrest as it contemplated the information it had received earlier in the day. One of the primary targets of its Master was currently in the Dungeon, well within their operative range, but it was far too soon for them to take any action against him.

Though their plan was nearing completion, there were still more than three years before things were ready to be taken to the next phase in their operation. They didn’t have the forces to divert to try and capture the person of interest, Vahn Mason, and it was currently struggling with how best to proceed. The figure had been tasked to capture the boy alive and bring him to its Master, but there was almost no method it could think of to actually complete its task. It could muster some of its pawns to take action, but the target was currently being escorted by powerful first-class Adventurers and there was a minimal chance of success.

It had seen, through its observation network installed throughout the Dungeon, how fast the target was and knew it would be nearly impossible to lock him down. Any method to trap the target would likely result in its death or, as had been observed previously, the target would be able to move through the very walls of the Dungeon by some unknown method. The most problematic thing of all was that, even when it had tried to order one of its pawns to take action, the figure was met with a rebuttal and told to find someone else instead.

Based on the information they had obtained about Vahn Mason, it thought the best course of action to take would be to lure it into a plot by potentially using a ‘woman’ as bait. The target seemed to be licentious by nature and even traveled with a group that exclusively consisted of beautiful women. If they could take advantage of his nature, they might be able to capture the target without much of a fight…

Releasing a long and shrill sigh, the masked figure picked up a blue orb within its hand that contained a small creature. Though there was no one around to hear its words, it still spoke out to the void in a contemplative fashion, “Vahn Mason…Sage Aldrnari…what a troublesome mortal…” Placing the small orb into its robe, the masked figure stood up and walked into an adjacent room where several mirrors were embedded into the walls of the Dungeon itself. Each one showed a different floor of the Dungeon and the image was constantly changing to the viewpoint of other rooms and corridors. They had designed it so that there were various glow stones and crystals spread throughout the Dungeon, which were often overlooked by Adventurers, that were actually magic tools used to record images and transmit them to the mirrors connected to this room.

The figures master had told it to not provoke the humanoid monsters known as the Xenos, as they were technically comrades by fate, but now it was considering how best to make use of the foolish creatures that sought the sun. When it had received information about Vahn earlier, the figure learned that he had moved into an area they had been observing recently and tamed a Green Dragon through an unknown method. This wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive a feat if not for the fact that the Green Dragon was actually a nascent Xenos that hadn’t fully formed its intelligence. Since Vahn seemed to have an interest in taming such creatures, the figure was now considering if it could use one of the Xenos under observation to lure the boy into a trap…

Regardless of if it was a success, Vahn would either end up in their hands, or he would end up dead. The masked figure didn’t share his Master’s interest in the boy and saw him more as a threat to their plans than a potential ally to aid them in their cause. Though it would do its best to serve its Master, it didn’t care if Vahn ended up dying while putting up a futile resistance. It was better to remove him from the equation entirely, especially considering they were about to transition into the next phase of their plan.

After swiping through several images, the figure stopped on one which showed a small village hidden deep within the 20th floor of the Dungeon. There were several humanoid monsters reflected within its view and the figure was considering which would be the most useful. Since Vahn seemed to be ‘weak’ against women, the figure waved its hand through several candidates and compared them to the information it had received about Vahn’s companions. Though it didn’t often interact with the Xenos, they were all under observation since many were comparable to first class adventurers and would make worth pawns for their future plans. After passing through more than twenty different images, the figure stopped its hand before placing its gauntleted palm against the surface of the mirror and releasing a shrill laugh…

(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Fenrir is the nemesis of large monsters~!’,’Casually earning 174MV…’,’Within the Darkness lurks even more Darkness’)

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